We nearly had the full reprise late on, when Cork keeper Patrick Collins took on the Anthony Nash role, jogging the length of the Sixmilebridge pitch to try for goal from an injury-time free. Unfortunately for the visitors, his shot whistled over the bar, and victory was Clare’s.
That also meant victory for the Banner’s newest addition, former Cork keeper Dónal Óg Cusack. The managerial move which sparked a hundred off-season headlines was a natural topic of discussion for Clare boss Davy Fitzgerald after the game.
“Dónal Óg has specific responsibilities,” said Fitzgerald. “He and Michael Browne would be responsible for our defence, which is something we badly need to shore up.
“After the Cork game last year, I did nothing but think for two or three weeks about what to do to change it up. Was it an easy decision (bringing in Dónal Óg Cusack)? The most important thing is I do the best I can for Clare. It’s not about Davy Fitzgerald, my job is to put the best team I can in place, and Dónal Óg can add to that. There’s no point in judging him straight away.
“Aengus O’Brien is serious, so is Jimmy Payne, and I may have another addition to make. They’ll all add to our thing.”
Cusack spent the game along the sideline from old comrades like Pat Ryan and clubmate Diarmuid O’Sullivan but the interaction was minimal. Cork team medic Dr Con Murphy looked to hit Cusack with a one-liner before throw-in, but that was it.
Sixmilebridge was playable but heavy, and an even contest took its decisive twist with less than ten minutes to go and the sides tied on a dozen points each. Clare free-taker Bobby Duggan mishit a free from the wing and when Cork failed to clear, O’Donnell goaled from close range.
Fitzgerald’s side led 0-8 to 0-6 at the half, thanks largely to the energy and distribution of Tony Kelly at centre-forward. Cork were reliant on Mark Ellis and William Egan in that first half, but looked set for a heavy beating when Clare rattled off three points on the resumption, pushing them five up.
However, with Paudie O’Sullivan showing up well, Cork then hit six points on the bounce to nudge themselves ahead. It looked as if a draw might be on the cards if neither side could come up with a goal to break the deadlock, and the Banner had just the man to do so in O’Donnell.
There was unhappiness on the Cork side with Clare’s goal — their management were trying to get a sub on at the time — and referee Johnny Murphy wasn’t too decisive about the off-the-ball incidents which saw Clare’s John Conlon put on the ground and Cork’s Conor Twomey taken off injured, but it was a game to suit the day and date alike.
“I’m very happy with the display, firstly,” said new Cork manager Kieran Kingston.
“With the amount of guys we had making their senior debut with the conditions that were out there and thirdly, with the fact that we haven’t had an outdoor training session yet.
“A lot of guys were playing their first game at this level and they showed great hunger and that’s all we asked of them, and in fairness they didn’t let us down.”
His opposite number had positives to take as well. “What I was happy with
today was that we didn’t have too many wins last year against county teams,” said Fitzgerald.
“I thought we fought it well. Was it skilful out there? It wasn’t. But there was a bit of fight out there.”
T. Kelly (0-6, 4 frees); S. O’Donnell (1-0); G. O’Connell, J. Conlon (frees), B. Duggan (frees) (0-2 each); P. Duggan, M. O’Malley, (0-1 each).
P. O’Sullivan (0-7, 6 frees); W. Leahy (0-2); P. Collins (f), L. Meade, P. Haughney, M. Ellis, D. Brosnan (0-1 each).
D. Tuohy, E. O’Brien, P. O’Connor, P. Flanagan, J. Browne, C. Ryan, G. O’Connell, C. Galvin, S. Golden, D. Fitzgerald, T. Kelly ( c), P. Duggan, J. Conlon, D. Honan, D. Reidy.
S. O’Donnell for Honan, 45; B. Duggan for P. Duggan, 48; M. O’Malley for Galvin, 55; C. McGrath for Ryan, 65.
P. Collins, C. Twomey, P. O’Mahony, C. Spillane, B. Moylan, D. Cahalane, W. Egan, P. Haughney, M. Ellis, W. Leahy, P. O’Sullivan( c), D. Brosnan, S. Moylan, C. Cormack, T. Horgan.
L. Meade for Horgan, 41; P. O’Rourke for Cormack, 50; D. Browne for Twomey (inj.), 55; N. Cashman for B. Moylan, 63.
J. Murphy (Limerick)