It started as a puck-around and ended with managers tangling on the sideline, the kind of pre-season game that picks up momentum before a breathless finish.
Clare hit some terrible wides in this Co-Op Superstores Munster SHL game, and they coughed up scorable frees to Cork all day — but they hit their stride at just the right time.
The Banner were four points down when Colin Guilfoyle’s ground stroke found the net, and they drove home with late points from Ryan Taylor and Diarmuid Ryan. The 1,987 in attendance were loud in their approval, and all the interested parties left with something of value.
“It wasn’t a good start, but it was a good finish,” said Clare joint manager Gerry O’Connor afterwards. “It was pleasing from our point of view.
“At half-time we’d have taken any sort of result because we felt we were going to get a bit of a trimming, but in fairness to the lads, they tidied up.”
O’Connor’s assessment of the first half was fair enough. Both teams had an unfamiliar look — underlined by numerous pre-game changes on both sides — but Cork were far more efficient than Clare and the unerring
Declan Dalton helped them to a healthy 0-13 to 0-7 first-half lead.
Clare had to thank keeper Keith Hogan for two good saves from Dalton as well, or the game might have been out of reach altogether.
Clare were transformed on the restart, hitting four points in the opening four minutes of the second half.
Cork then got to grips with their opponents and the sides swapped points for much of the second period. Cork were four points up late in the game thanks to a fine Jamie Coughlan score engineered by two newcomers, Robert Downey and Conor Cahalane.
Then sub Guilfoyle’s ground strike found the net, and an energised Clare side surged decisively. In an exciting finish Ryan Taylor and Diarmuid Ryan sealing the game with injury-time points.
Cork boss John Meyler wasn’t too disappointed: “I think there were a lot of positives. Robert Downey did really well, he is a young lad of 19, and that’s what we’re looking for.
“A few decisions at the end didn’t go our way, we thought Jamie (Coughlan) was fouled but we’ll take a lot of positives from it. We’re out against Kilkenny in the (national) league four weeks from yesterday, so if we can get someone from these games — that’s the important thing, to see if lads are ready for the national league.”
Meyler and Clare joint-manager Donal O’Connor differed vocally over a late sideline decision: management on both sides look ready for the national league, anyway.
O’Connor echoed Meyler’s point on auditioning talent with half an eye on the springtime: “It’s the end of December. We probably created a huge number of scoring chances, Ryan (Taylor) got the clinching score after a few poor wides by his standards.
“From our perspective, it was two experimental sides and Cork looked a lot fitter than us in the first half, but we got organised at half-time and turned in a very good performance in the second half.
“Teams get settled very quickly once the national league starts. The teams don’t change that much, so it’s vital when you come in that you take your opportunity.”
Guilfoyle’s decisive strike will likely pick up the headlines, but visitors to Ennis from Cork yesterday will have had an eye out for the likes of Downey and Cahalane with the coming seasons in mind.
Likewise the home crowd, who’ll be encouraged by youngsters like Gary Cooney, singled out O’Connor after the game for praise.
Every career starts somewhere, Brian Cody is fond of saying.
Supporters of every county like to be in on the start of those careers.
Scorers for Clare: N. Deasy (0-10, 7 frees); G. Cooney, D. Ryan (0-3 each), C. Guilfoyle (1-0); D. Conroy (0-2); C. Malone, R. Taylor (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cork: Declan Dalton (0-10, 7 frees, 2 65s, 1 sideline); M. O’Halloran, J. Coughlan (1 free)(0-4 each); R. O’Flynn (0-2); Cormac Murphy (0-1).
CLARE: K. Hogan, J. McCarthy, D. Fitzgerald, R. Hayes, A. McCarthy, C. Galvin (c), C. Malone, S. Golden, D. Conroy, D. Ryan, N. Deasy, R. Taylor, G. Cooney, A. Shanagher, M. O’Neill.
Subs: C. Guilfoyle for Conroy (51); C. Cleary for Galvin (54); J. Browne for Fitzgerald (58); C. McInerney for Shanagher (65).
CORK: P. Collins, S. O’Donoghue, D. Griffin, D. Lowney, C. Joyce, T. O’Mahony, R. Downey, Wl Kearney, C. Cahalane (c), C. Murphy, M. O’Halloran, A. Walsh, J. Coughlan, D. Dalton, R. O’Flynn.
Subs: C. Beausang for Kearney (63); P. Leopold for O’Halloran (71).
Referee: F. Horgan (Tipperary).