The win against Tipperary might have been a one-off. The win over Waterford came against opponents who barely turned up. But this was a third victory on the trot, for a hugely worthy provincial triumph, and it was executed in calm and mature fashion.
Even when Clare got it back to two points a minute from the end of normal time, was there ever the slightest chance that Cork would do anything other than close matters out? History provides the answer to that one. None whatsoever.
It may be too early to be touting the possibility of a Cork/Galway All Ireland final, but the prospect — particularly the putative clash of styles — is a fascinating one. Six teams remain in the championship and most people’s idea of a current top three would, surely, be Galway, Cork, and Tipperary in that order. Leeside folk would have happily taken that two months ago.
One yardstick for potential All Ireland champions is the ability to hit more than 20 points every day they take the field; Kieran Kingston’s charges are categorically not being found wanting on that count. After hitting 2-27 against Tipperary and 0-23 against Waterford the 1-25 they racked up here gives them an average of — yes — precisely 1-25 per outing this summer to date.
They managed it without a significant input from Conor Lehane, in such blistering form in the previous two outings. But that was alright given that Pat Horgan’s graph continues to rise (three points from play), while the standout attacker yesterday was Alan Cadogan with 1-4. All six members of the strikeforce found the target from play, as they had versus Tipp, a rare enough feat for a forward line. From which we can infer that the attacking load is being shared equally and that if on a particular day one forward is off his game or being held, the chances are the others will compensate.
An assertion made by the Cork management midway through the National League cannot be restated often enough. At the time, as a result of their Fitzgibbon Cup commitments, Luke Meade and Shane Kingston had played a preposterous number of matches in the space of three weeks. As a result, Pat Hartnett warned, these still-growing boys weren’t going to be jumping out of their skins every day.
After sparkling in the provincial quarter-final, where they hit 0-3 and 1-5 respectively, Meade and Kingston were less prominent against Waterford and both failed to score. Yesterday they did slightly better, hitting a point apiece. There’s nothing hugely wrong with that, unless you’re minded to be hyper-critical, and even less wrong with it in view of the continued fine form of Mark Coleman and Darragh Fitzgibbon, the other junior members of the ensemble. Coleman’s crossfield switch balls to Cadogan and Seamus Harnedy have become a recognisable feature of Cork’s play and with six minutes remaining yesterday he sallied up the field as if to the manner born to land the point that put the winners five ahead.
Clare weren’t going to win yesterday without a star turn from the 2013 Hurler of the Year. In the event they didn’t quite get it, but they weren’t far off one either and Kelly was clearly far more effective than he had been last time out against Limerick. He’ll have regrets over the first-half penalty, which he put a couple of inches over the bar, and he’ll also rue a bad wide from the left early in the second half, the first in a sequence of three misses in quick succession that served to let the air out of the balloon and prevented the underdogs putting their opponents under serious pressure at a key juncture. Even a small improvement in form in the next fortnight could render Kelly a nightmare for Clare’s quarter-final opponents.
The Clare management would have been in dereliction of duty had Lehane succeeded in dropping deep and latching on to as many of Anthony Nash’s puckouts as he had in the Munster semi-final. In the event they ensured there were enough bodies in the middle third to prevent a repeat, but this meant that Nash then had the option of going short to one of his full-backs and Cork working the sliotar up the field from there. In addition, their goal came from a puckout that found Meade in space on the left side of midfield and was promptly transferred to Cadogan. Bottom line, Nash’s status as the Stephen Cluxton of hurling was franked.