That afternoon Cork had survived against Waterford, and a massive and a marked improvement was called for.
The replay win over Waterford went some distance in achieving this objective, but it was yesterday afternoon Cork showed the full distance they have travelled since their first outing of the summer — a great deal learned in three weeks of championship fare. No, scratch that — a great deal learned since last September’s replay defeat.
It is widely acknowledged Barry-Murphy isn’t a great champion of tactics and prefers hurling to be off the cuff, a strong advocate of the “innocent hurling” we witnessed during last year’s All-Ireland final saga.
He made a valid point after the draw with Waterford that tactics count for little if the heart isn’t in the battle. “When we don’t reach the required work-rate all over the field, then we become an average team. When we play to high intensity and commitment, we can be a very good team. We just can’t afford to let that dip.”
Yesterday, the perfect balance was struck.
Savage intensity and unrelenting hunger was carried by each Cork shirt, while the tactics employed by the Rebel management were on the money. There was nothing as sophisticated as a Cork forward dropping back into the sweeper role or a two-man full-forward line employed.
No, the winners simply focused in on their match-ups, each defender assigned a Clare shirt that they would follow for the afternoon, regardless where it took them.
Christopher Joyce followed Tony Kelly into the left corner, Stephen McDonnell stood alongside Conor McGrath on the edge of the square, with Damien Cahalane drifting out to the 40 in keeping tabs on Peter Duggan. Tight leashes in operation across the Cork rearguard. The net result: the Clare forward unit were smothered into submission. Davy Fitzgerald accepted as much in his post-match assessment.
Clare’s mobility and fluidity had destroyed Cork last year and so Jimmy Barry-Murphy ensured pace and physicality would rise to the surface on this occasion. Total hurling would have to be content with the passengers seat.
Daniel Kearney acknowledges tactics won out at Semple Stadium. Mind you, he’s not complaining.
“The management had fellas earmarked at the back to pick up their forwards. We had been working on how we would set up against them. It all seemed to pay dividends. The way we set up, we all have to be very disciplined. A lot of fellas have to sacrifice their game for the whole system to work and for the benefit of the team.
“We had a great feeling the last day and same again today. We are just happy with the performance and how everybody contributed. Delighted to be in the Munster final.
“The games against Waterford kept us sharp and we knew Clare were going to pose a massive challenge. We had to up it again. They are the All-Ireland champions for a reason. They deserved to win last year. We knew we would have to play our best today and I thought we played up to our ability. It just shows that we are a good team. It shows we are a match for any team when we do play up to our potential.”
The Cork defence had been annihilated in their last championship meeting and with plenty of new faces now occupying jerseys numbered two through seven, Conor Lehane said his colleagues were out to prove a point.
“Damien Cahalane got his first championship point today and what a day to do it. You heard the place when he got it. A full-back getting a point is the stuff of legends, really. Brian Murphy retired at the end of last year and it was going to be hard to fill that slot. Mark Ellis has done more than enough to prove his worth. They are two huge men, two great hurlers. They performed as well as we ever needed them to.”