As soon as the provincial championship draws were made last October, Cork were fancied to bow out to Tipperary. Bookmakers placed them as the rank outsiders in Munster and most hurling followers concurred. Plenty of their own following doubted. Among the social media-minded of them, there was a collective groan the evening they were drawn against the All-Ireland champions.
Tipperary, however, were felled, as were Waterford, in a manner befitting Cork’s tradition. Yesterday, Clare became the latest victim and, while it wasn’t without some drama, it was consistent with the previous two triumphs in terms of how Cork were able to absorb what was thrown at them in the second half.
Also, Cork never went behind here. Cheered on by most of the 45,558 in attendance, their composure set them apart. They lived dangerously on a couple of occasions, but their durability shone once more, captured in one passage of play in the first minute of additional time at the end when Damien Cahalane emulated Galway great Martin Naughton and soloed peerlessly out of defence for the guts of 100 metres. The ball was transferred to Pa Horgan and the score was as much the defender’s as it was the Glen Rovers man’s.
This was a momentous day too for Alan Cadogan, who, despite being Cork’s sole All Star nomination last year, had disappointed slightly in the win over Waterford. Here, he was anything but, opening the scoring after 20 seconds, grabbing a goal after 12 minutes and compelling Clare to replace his marker Oisín O’Brien in the 33rd.
He was ably assisted by Horgan, who was flawless from frees and tidy in general play where he just about had the better of a great tussle with David McInerney. Greenhorns Luke Meade and Shane Kingston figured more than their last day out and Darragh Fitzgibbon put in a shift that further underlines why manager Kieran Kingston and his selectors favour him so.
Yet again, though, it was the precocious talent of Mark Coleman that has Cork supporters beaming from ear to ear. After a relatively quiet opening half, his coolness and cleverness shone after the interval. His sideline cut to push Cork five points up in the 63rd minute was a fine piece of skill, but to back it up it with a gem from open play two minutes later illustrated why he is the most exciting hurler Cork have produced in years.
Clare won’t need to go back over the tape to realise where it went wrong for them:
Indiscipline — 10 frees scored by Horgan.
Wides — 15, Tony Kelly hitting five of them.
Woodwork — struck twice, on each occasion by Cathal Malone.
Penalty — pointed by Kelly.
As for Cork’s puck-outs? Well, most if not every Clare camp member who spoke to the media mentioned Anthony Nash’s restarts and how important it was to negate them.
However, Dónal Óg Cusack’s knowledge of his former understudy’s strikes didn’t seem enough to hurt the Cork No 1. Whether it was picking out Meade, who in turn set up Alan Cadogan for his goal, or using Cahalane as an outlet to launch ball forward, Nash proved the victor.
Clare’s start was shaky, but they responded well to that goal with three Kelly scores, the latter of them the penalty point in the 19th minute after Shane O’Donnell had been fouled.
However, as in the Limerick game, they switched off midway through the half. Cork sent over five points on the bounce, two of them Horgan frees. Kelly (free) and John Conlon subtracted two from that lead, only for Horgan to punish two fouls late on to ensure Cork went into their dressing room 1-10 to 0-8 ahead.
Conor McGrath eventually found the net, but Nash had to be alert to stop his mishit raising a green flag two minutes into the second half. Aaron Shanagher at least scored a point to guarantee the attack wasn’t in vain, but Clare’s wide count continued to grow. Eleven minutes into the second half, Horgan had added another three frees to his collection, McInerney guilty of conceding two of them. He sent over another in the 51st minute and Cork jumped six ahead. That became seven two minutes later, when Meade became the last of the Cork’s six starting forwards to register a point from play.
However, Clare sparked into life. After a Kelly point, Conlon was supported by McGrath’s run and his shot was too good for Nash. Kelly then sent one over from a silly angle to make it a two-point game and the decibel level of the monster Cork crowd on the Town End, who had cause for celebration for most of the afternoon, dropped.
Their men didn’t panic, though and, while Malone hit the crossbar, Cadogan and Horgan, fed by a lovely Coleman stick pass, doubled Cork’s lead. After Conlon’s second point, Horgan (free) and Seamus Harnedy put a little more distance between the teams. Substitute Aaron Cunningham hit one back for Clare, but Coleman was happy to oblige in tit-for-tat scores.
A brace of Kelly frees and a McGrath point broke that pattern and Clare were again within two, but Cork’s character presented itself in the form of a Horgan score either side of one from Cadogan.
Undeniably, the better team won, but the question now is how far this bunch of seemingly unlikely lads can go.
P Horgan (0-13, 10 frees); A Cadogan (1-4); S Harnedy, M Coleman (1 sideline) (0-2 each); C Lehane, D Fitzgibbon, S Kingston, L Meade (0-1 each).
T Kelly (0-10, 6 frees, 1 pen); C McGrath (1-1); J Conlon (0-2); S Morey, P Collins, A Shanagher, D McInerney, C Galvin, A Cunningham, J McCarthy (0-1 each).
A Nash 8; C Spillane 8, D Cahalane 7, S McDonnell (c) 7; C Joyce 6, M Ellis 6, M Coleman 8; B Cooper 7, D Fitzgibbon 7; L Meade 6, C Lehane 7, S Kingston 6; A Cadogan 9, P Horgan 8, S Harnedy 7.
D Kearney 6 for S Kingston (57); L O’Farrell 6 for D Fitzgibbon (61); M Cahalane 6 for L Meade (66).
A Fahy 7; P O’Connor (c) 6, D McInerney 7, O O’Brien 5; S Morey 7, C Cleary 7, D Fitzgerald 6; C Galvin 7, T Kelly 7; C Malone 7, P Collins 6, J Conlon 7; A Shanagher 6, S O’Donnell 6, C McGrath 7.
J McCarthy 7 for O O’Brien (33); D Reidy 7 for P Collins (h-t); C Dillon 7 for P O’Connor (43); A Cunningham 6 for A Shanagher (60); P Duggan 6 for C Malone (65).
F Horgan (Tipperary).