The home outfit needed to overcome the Rebels last night to dislodge Limerick from second place in the table, but failure to do so means Cork will now meet the Treaty County in the final this weekend.
Kieran Kingston’s charges, having walloped Limerick to the tune of 21-points when they met at the Gaelic Grounds a week and a half ago, can expect a much stiffer examination in what will be their final outing ahead of the league’s commencement on February 4.
Clare had sought a postponement of this fixture owing to the Fitzgibbon Cup involvement of 13 of their squad on Tuesday. Five of that group - Bobby Duggan, Colm Galvin, Peter Duggan, Jason McCarthy and Jamie Shanahan – started here, with LIT pair David Reidy and Ben O’Gorman introduced in the second-half.
The hosts played with a strong wind in the opening period, but little use did they make of it. Aside from Aaron Shanagher’s repelled goal effort approaching the break and the sporadic bursts of Cathal O’Connell, their full-forward line cut a largely subdued bunch for the opening 35 minutes.
The home side clocked seven first-half wides, while a litany of handling errors and poor passes further out the field put paid to several more attacks. Cork, mind, were also guilty of a couple of basic errors in what was typical January fare.
Aaron Cunningham and a pair of Cathal O’Connell frees had the Banner 0-3 to 0-1 clear after eight minutes. Then the wides started to mount and with Cork hitting six of the next eight scores, Clare found themselves 0-7 to 0-5 in arrears after 23 minutes - Shane O’Keeffe, Dean Brosnan and four from the stick of the lively Conor Lehane turning the tide in the visitors’ favour.
Points from Aaron Cunningham, O’Connell, Shane Golden and Bobby Duggan returned Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor’s side in front at the break, 0-9 to 0-8. It was never going to be enough, though.
Mind you, the table-toppers, for whom last night’s fixture was effectively a dead-rubber having already been assured of a final berth, took a while to shake off their opponents and proceedings were tied at 0-12 apiece when Bobby Duggan threw over a 54th minute free.
Lehane (two frees), Cormac Murphy, Kearney and Shane O’Keeffe fired over the next five scores and all of a sudden, daylight had been established. Bobby Duggan kept the home account ticking over. It was a goal, though, they required. And with Killian Burke and Cormac Murphy minding the house well, a green flag never looked on the cards.
Goalkeeper Declan Dalton, with his second long-range free, and sub Tim O’Mahony swelled the winners tally. The former was called into action late on to deal with a Duggan 20-metre free. It amounted to nothing and so ended Clare’s January campaign.
C Lehane (0-8, 0-4 frees); D Kearney (0-3); D Dalton (0-2 frees), S O’Keeffe (0-2 each); T O’Mahony, M O’Halloran, C Murphy, D Brosnan (0-1 each).
C O’Connell (0-6, 0-5 frees); B Duggan (0-4, 0-3 frees); A Cunningham, S Golden (0-2 each); S Morey (0-1).
D Dalton; J Sheehan, D Griffin, C O’Sullivan; K Burke, C Joyce, C Murphy; M Ellis, P Haughney; S O’Keeffe, C Lehane, D Brosnan; L Meade, M O’Halloran, D Kearney.
S McDonnell for Meade (31 mins, inj); T O’Mahony for Haughney (52); D O’Driscoll for O’Halloran (65).
A Fahy; J McCarthy, C Dillon, S Morey; J Shanahan, C Ryan, B Bugler; S Golden, C Galvin; A Cunningham, C Malone, P Duggan; B Duggan, A Shanagher, C O’Connell Subs: E Quirke for Galvin (HT); D Fitzgerald for Ryan (HT); D Reidy for P Duggan (HT); C O’Donnell for O’Connell (46); B O’Gorman for Shanahan (51).
J Murphy (Limerick).