While the sides were level with nine minutes of normal time left, four points from Pa O’Callaghan and one from Anthony Spillane, only answered by a Bobby Duggan free for Clare, gave the hosts victory by four points.
It was a first win in the grade for Cork against somebody other than Kerry since 2010, and manager Pat Kenneally did not attempt to downplay the significance of their success.
“It wasn’t pretty by any means, but there was nobody interested in performance tonight, it was just about getting this monkey off our backs and we succeeded in doing that,” he said.
“There was a lot of pressure, whether we liked it or not, mounting around us and this was important, there was no doubt about that.
“It wasn’t pleasant at half time [at which stage they trailed by three points], we were a trifle rude to a couple of players, but to eke it out in the end tells you something about the heart of the squad.”
Cork got off to a flyer, as early points from Trevor Horgan and Kevin O’Neill were followed by the winning of a penalty, corner-forward Aaron Ward fouled in trying to gather the rebound after O’Callaghan had a shot blocked on the line by Clare corner-back Niall Bolton.
Though O’Callaghan did not catch the penalty perfectly, it still went in off a Clare hurley, and things got evenbetter for the hosts moments later as Peter Kelleher found Spillane, who found space well and fired home for a 2-2 to nil lead.
The rest of the first half was all Clare’s, however. A goal from Duggan — who finished with 2-8 — got them back in contention immediately, the talented corner-forward adding two points among a raft of scores before being fouled for a penalty after David Begley had picked him out with a perfect pass.
Duggan drilled to the net for a 2-4 to 2-3 lead, and though the introduction of Mark O’Connor gave Cork a bit more impetus in the half-forward line, they continued to struggle at half-back and Begley and Ian Galvin both scored further Clare points as they led by 2-8 to 2-5 at the interval.
That deficit was blitzed in quick fashion by Cork at the start of the second half, however, O’Callaghan pointing before poking the loose ball to the net after Spillane had an effort half-blocked in the 32nd minute, making it 3-6 to 2-8.
Duggan’s frees ensured that Clare never allowed their opponents to kick on fully, but Kelleher, who had relocated to midfield after O’Connor came on, was linking well with Michael Cahalane at midfield and he sent over two storming points while Horgan got his third of the game.
It was nip and tuck during the middle of the second half, but Cork had pushed two clear, 3-10 to 2-12, when Clare won a second penalty on 49 minutes as sub Alex Morey was fouled. This time, Duggan’s shot was kept out by Cork captain Cathal Cormack, and though he converted the 65, O’Callaghan took control in the closing stages to ensure the win for Cork.
The Rebels could play Clare again if the latter overcome Waterford in next week’s losers’ play-off but Kenneally is not too concerned.
“We have a break now until the end of June, but it’s a break we haven’t had for a while,” added Kenneally.
Scorers for Cork: P O’Callaghan 2-6 (1-0 pen, 0-2f), A Spillane 1-1, T Horgan 0-3, P Kelleher, K O’Neill 0-2 each, M O’Connor 0-1.
Scorers for Clare: B Duggan 2-8 (1-0pen, 0-5f, 0-1 65), I Galvin, D Begley 0-2 each, E Tuohy (1f), C Downey 0-1 each.
CORK: P Collins; S O’Brien, K O’Connor, K Histon; M O’Keeffe, C Twomey, C Cormack; M Cahalane, R Cahalane; P Kelleher, K O’Neill, T Horgan; A Ward, P O’Callaghan, A Spillane.
Subs: M O’Connor for O’Keeffe (24), S Hayes for Ward (45), S Burke for Hayes (59).
CLARE: L Corbett; S O’Leary, D McCarthy, N Bolton; A McGuane, E Tuohy, S Gleeson; D Conroy, C Downey; B Duggan, I Galvin, S Ward; C Deasy, D Begley, C Moloney.
Subs: A Morey for Galvin (47), M Lynch for Moloney (56), O Donnellan for Conroy (60).
Referee: J O’Brien (Tipperary).