A late scoring burst from Patrick Horgan got Cork across the line in this misty All-Ireland SHC qualifier round two clash, the Rebels beating Clare to the tape after a tense game in Semple Stadium, one marred by wayward shooting on both sides.
Compared to the preceding game, between Dublin and Limerick, the touch and intensity was first class, but both managers referred to their wide count at the final whistle, which tallied exactly with their scores: 20 misses for Cork, 17 for Clare.
Clare opened well with three good points - Shane O’Donnell, Tony Kelly and Conor McGrath on the mark - before Cork tied up through Seamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane and Patrick Horgan (free).
Cork again played with two forwards in the inside forward line, Harnedy and Lehane, and had Alan Cadogan and Patrick Horgan in the half-forward line. Clare gave their key playmaker Tony Kelly licence to roam outfield, and Cork responded by putting Brian Lawton on his trail.
Clare nudged two ahead by the 21st minute, by which time Cork had racked up ten wides, but the men in red were in front on 26 minutes after Lehane, Horgan and Alan Cadogan points - Colin Ryan tying it up from a free a minute later.
Conors McGrath and Ryan pushed Clare two ahead but a late burst from Cork - two Horgan frees and a Patrick Cronin effort - put them one up at the half, 0-10 to 0-9.
The teams exchanged points on the resumption before wayward shooting took over.
Both sides had runs of two consecutive wides and three consecutive wides - afterwards Davy Fitzgerald pointed out that in the modern game the compression of play by half-forwards and half-backs means space is at a premium in the traditional point-scoring zones, and that certainly seemed to be the case on Saturday evening.
Cork eventually got their noses ahead by two in the 51st minute thanks to a good point by substitute Jamie Coughlan.
The teams then exchanged wides again (Cork two, Clare three) before Shane O’Donnell equalised. Clare pushed two ahead thanks to Darach Honan and sub Colm Galvin with ten minutes on the clock. In a tight game that looked enough to put the wind in their sails for the win, but then Cork hit those five on the bounce to set up a quarter-final bout with Galway in two weeks’ time.
Horgan was irrepressible on the wing in that period, and sub Paudie O’Sullivan hit the final score to see Cork through.
Cork can take many positives from the game - Bill Cooper gave the proverbial covered-every-blade-of-grass performance, Cormac Murphy and Aidan Walsh thundered into the game, and their forwards looked sharp, even if a goal never seemed on the cards.
An optimist could even take some solace from their wides - 0-20 and 20 wides means 40 scoring chances in 70 minutes, but Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy and his management team mightn’t take as much comfort.
“I didn’t realise we had 20 wides,” said Barry-Murphy.
“That’s an awful high total for a team trying to win a match. Normally you pay for that but we didn’t tonight, thankfully. They had 17? They had a lot of play as well. There wasn’t much in that really,” he added.
On the other hand, they restricted Clare to half-sights of goal; in a game like Saturday night’s one goal would have won it for either team, and keeping the green flag still for another outing is a positive for Cork.
For Clare, the outlook isn’t as rosy.
Manager Davy Fitzgerald pleaded the case for his players afterwards, pointing out that many had been through tough U21 campaigns, but the hurt within the county will run deep.
“It’s disappointing,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s hurting us all, Cork won the game and fair play to them, they took their opportunities at the end.
“Maybe we had a few opportunities, if you get goal opportunities you have to take them. We both had bad wides, us probably more crucial at the end which we should have scored, but I’m not going to cast blame on my players because I know they gave me every single ounce we had out there.” Saturday evening’s loss means the Banner have won just one championship game since collecting the All-Ireland in 2013, a win which now seems very distant.
P Horgan (0-8, 5 frees); P Cronin, S Harnedy, C Lehane (0-2 each); A Walsh, C Murphy, B Cooper, A Cadogan, J Coughlan and P O’Sullivan (0-1 each).
T. Kelly (0-5, 2 frees); C. McGrath (0-3); Colin Ryan (2 frees), S. O’Donnell (0-2 each); D. McInerney, Conor Ryan, D. Honan, S. Golden and C. Galvin (0-1 each).
R. O’Shea for Kearney (42); J. Coughlan for Cadogan (49); P. O’Sullivan for Cronin (57); D. McCarthy for Lawton (64); J. Conlon for Honan (66).
A. Cunningham for Conlon (HT); P. Donnellan for Colin Ryan (42); C. Gavin for Golden (48); D. Reidy for Morey (56).
B. Kelly (Westmeath).
Bill Cooper. Immense. Was involved in everything for Cork
Patrick Horgan’s spell on the left wing in the last 10 minutes.
Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s alignment worked better, and he also got two crucial scores from his substitutes.
Barry Kelly made some odd calls but generally handled the game well.
Cork play Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final, Clare go back to lick their wounds.