Despite two relatively comfortable wins in the space of a week to set up a Munster final meeting with Tipperary on July 23, there is still the gnawing sense that this Cork side has plenty more to offer.
For the second Wednesday in-a-row at Páirc Uí Rinn, Cork sped out of sight in the closing 20 minutes of action, but it is what they did - and didn’t do - when the game was still a contest that management will hone in on ahead of the trip to Thurles on Tuesday week.
Certainly, that Clare were within two points of their opponents after 41 minutes had as much to do with the hosts as it did the visitors. Wastefulness, on two separate fronts, was again an issue. Cork’s wides tally finished up in double-digit territory, while they were far from clinical in their use of possession further back the field, particularly when transferring the ball from defence to attack.
All of this, of course, is fixable and after two games in eight days, there is no doubt that management will be glad of the fortnight lay-off ahead of the Munster final. If nothing else, it will allow for a sustained block of training to iron out the few creases from the victories over Limerick and Clare. The mood within camp should definitely be sprightlier in the days and fortnight ahead for even if the result goes against them on Tuesday week above in Thurles, Cork are still guaranteed an All-Ireland semi-final outing. In other words, this nine-point win, watched by a crowd of 2,965, has moved Denis Ring’s charges within one hour of an All-Ireland final.
As mentioned above, it was the final 20 minutes or so where Cork pushed on the accelerator. Three without reply from Rian Considine (sideline), Mark Rodgers, and Aidan Moriarty had brought Clare from five down to within two of their hosts, 0-14 to 0-12. There was a sense the Banner challenge was about to catch blaze, but Cork’s response put paid to any such development, with Brian Turnbull (0-2), the lively Tommy O’Connell, a crowd-lifter from Daire Connery, and a trademark fetch, swivel, and score from Shane O’Regan establishing a gap of seven between them.
Indeed, from the 42nd minute to the final whistle, the winners outscored the visitors by 0-10 to 0-3. Included in this was a second five-in-a-row burst during the five minutes of stoppage time played, three of these minors supplied by the strong finishing Shane O’Regan. Between his strength and Turnbull’s pace, the Tipperary full-back line should expect a busy Munster final evening. Turnbull was once more so effective in offering himself as an outlet for deliveries from his defensive and midfield colleagues.
Three-in-a-row approaching the break meant Cork held a four-point interval lead, 0-12 to 0-8, an advantage that just about reflected their first-half superiority. It could have been more substantial but for six first-half wides and a number of poor deliveries during a rather lifeless first quarter where both sides struggled to make that final pass stick.
With both teams having clipped three apiece in the opening five minutes, the next 13 minutes produced just two scores, both of which were struck by men in red - Brian Turnbull and Craig Hanifin (free) - to shove the hosts two clear. Rian Considine did reply for the visitors to half the deficit, but Clare, rather crucially, were unable to get back on level terms for the remainder of proceedings.
From there, it was a slow grind by Cork until they picked up the pace well into the second period. Tommy O’Connell and Aidan McCarthy would swap a pair of points and while a massive Diarmuid Ryan effort from inside his own half after he pickpocketed O’Connell reduced the margin to the minimum on 29 minutes, Cork, as they did all evening, quickly answered back.
Scorers for Cork: C Hanifin (0-4 frees), T O’Connell, S O’Regan (0-5 each); B Turnbull (0-4); S Twomey (0-3); B Roche, D Connery (0-1 each).
Scorers for Clare: A McCarthy (0-5, 0-3 frees); D Ryan (0-4); R Considine (0-1 sc), M Rodgers (0-2); K McDermott, A Moriarty (0-1 each).
Cork: G Collins (Ballinhassig); C O’Callaghan (Dromtarriffe), J Keating (Kildorrery, Capt), E Roche (Bride Rovers); G Millerick (Fr O’Neill’s), S O’ Leary Hayes (Midleton), R Downey (Glen Rovers); T O’ Connell (Midleton), B Roche (Bride Rovers); D Connery (Na Piarsaigh), C Hanifin (Na Piarsaigh), S Twomey (Courcey Rovers); B Turnbull (Douglas), S O’ Regan (Watergrasshill), E Sheehan (Na Piarsaigh).
Subs: L O’Shea (Lisgoold) for Sheehan (42 mins); R Walsh (Kanturk) for B Roche (45); S Kennefick (Glen Rovers) for Hanifin (48); D Hanlon (Blarney) for Connery (62).
Clare: E Foudy (Inagh/Kilnamona); K White (Inagh/Kilnamona), A Moloney (Kilmaley), P Casey (Ballyea); D Lohan (Wolfe Tones na Sionna), R Hayes (Crusheen), D McMahon (Clonlara); A McCarthy (Inagh/Kilnamona), K McDermott (Clarecastle); A Moriarty (Clonlara), D Ryan (Cratloe), R Considine (Cratloe); M Rodgers (Scarriff), G Cooney (O’Callaghan Mills, Capt), B Horner (Crusheen).
Subs: C Darcy (Kilmaley) for Lohan (HT); T Agnew (Sixmilebridge) for Horner (40); P Donnellan (Broadford) for Casey (44); D Cullinan (Inagh/Kilnamona) for McDermott (53); W Halpin (Tulla) for Moriarty (65).
Referee: K Jordan (Tipperary).
In Connacht, Galway are Eirgrid Under-20 football champions.
Padraig Joyce's side beat holders Mayo by 16 points to 10 tonight at Tuam Stadium.