Kevin Kennedy’s side qualified with an emphatic ten-point victory over a Cork side seeking three successive titles at this level in yesterday afternoon’s semi-final in the Gaelic Grounds.
A powerful closing quarter enabled Clare to pull clear after the match was delicately poised. Clare led 0-14 to 0-13 but they produced a devastating scoring spree that yielded 2-5 in the last 15 minutes. In contrast Cork could only muster two points with Clare goalkeeper Andrew Fahy denying them the opportunity to raise green flags with a series of outstanding blocks.
Clare were grateful to the blend of experience and youth in their attack. Central figures Tony Carmody and Niall Gilligan are more famed for their exploits on the senior stage yet they have thrown their lot in at intermediate level this season.
Gilligan’s pinpoint accuracy from dead balls saw him claim five points while he knifed through the Cork rearguard for the 45th minute goal that opened the floodgates.
Sixmilebridge clubmate Carmody weighed in with three tidy points at centre-forward. The contribution of Dáire Keane, who featured for the Clare minor side that reached last September’s All-Ireland final, was also to be admired. The Kilmaley youngster grabbed 1-2 and his stylish finish to the net in the 51st minute was the moment that this match swung firmly in Clare’s direction.
Cork, forced to field without four of the team that defeated Tipperary in last month’s quarter-final including their entire full-forward line, were competitive in the first-half.
They overcame an adverse start when they trailed 0-6 to 0-2 within the opening ten minutes against a bright and purposeful Clare outfit.
By the 16th minute Cork had recovered to draw level at 0-7 apiece with Maurice Sexton, Brian Corry, David Drake and Michael O’Sullivan all chipping in.
Clare surged ahead again with a brace of points from Gilligan and one from Shane Golden, yet Kevin Hartnett and Corry split the posts before the break to leave Clare ahead 0-10 to 0-9.
The teams traded points throughout the third quarter but Clare grew in strength through defenders Patrick Kelly and Kevin Moynihan.
Gilligan’s goal came at a critical stage and Clare built on the momentum of that strike with Keane netting six minutes later.
Cork had their chances to bridge the deficit but Maurice O’Sullivan was adjudged to have been in the square when he bundled the ball into the net in the 53rd minute, while Fahy brilliantly stopped late shots from O’Sullivan and Eamonn Brosnan.
Scorers for Clare: N Gilligan 1-5 (0-5f), D Keane 1-2, T Carmody, R Keane 0-3 each, P Hickey 0-2, S Golden, K Moynihan, D O’Rourke, A Lynch 0-1 each.
Scorers for Cork: D Drake 0-4 (1 s/l), M Sexton (2f), E Conway 0-3 each, B Corry 0-2, K Hartnett, M O’Sullivan, E Brosnan 0-1 each.
CLARE: A Fahy; M O’Regan, P Kelly, A Brigdale; M Hawes, C Earley, K Moynihan; R Keane, S Golden; D Keane, T Carmody, K Dilleen; M Duggan, N Gilligan, P Hickey.
Subs: J O’Connor for Hickey (46), D O’Rourke for Duggan (56).
CORK: D McCarthy; J Carey, E Dillon, S Corry; T Healy, M Ellis, K Hartnett; R Cashman, M Sexton; B Corry, M O’Sullivan, C Casey; D Drake, E Conway, E Brosnan.
Subs: M O’Sullivan for Casey (37), B Coleman for Healy (54), S Harnedy for Conway (54).
Referee: Shane Hourigan (Limerick).