Your eyes don’t deceive you. Yes, Cork have won a championship game scoring fewer points than their opponents.
A trawl through the archives suggests the last time they managed to do such a thing came in the 1991 Munster semi-final when their 2-10 was too good for Waterford's 0-13. Before that, it was the 1990 All-Ireland final when 5-15 bested Galway's 2-21. Not that anyone is suggesting Cork are again country beaters just yet but the scoreline does underline the change in emphasis this group have been espousing going back to the league.
Goal chances were the difference between the teams in the end. Clare took one from four clearcut opportunities, Cork three from seven. Patrick Collins and Robert Downey made vital interventions in the closing stages to ensure Clare’s conversion rate read poorly but it was Seamus Harnedy’s vision to find Shane Barrett for what turned out to be the clinching goal in the 66th minute that also served as the case in point.
“The handy point”, which Shane Kingston recently mentioned Cork are trying to sacrifice for goal opportunities, was jettisoned as Harnedy found his young team-mate inside and the Blarney man’s finish was clinical. Right there, everything that Cork have been working towards was on show. No wonder their sideline erupted in elation.
Regarding the goal opportunities, Kieran Kingston said: “We were successful in doing a fair bit of that at the start of the league. We went away a little bit from it toward the latter end of the league. But today we tried to get back at it and I suppose it's really trying to get the balance between when to pop it and when to try and take it on and not go take the point.
“While you're evolving in that scenario, you will fall between two stools at times. You'll say it didn't work out, I gave a 50-50 pass and I should have put it over the bar. That's the evolution of the group and I think we're trying to work on it. When it comes off it's great and when it doesn't, it's not great.
“Seamie had a point that he probably would have popped and a point that was needed but the goal chance was there and it wasn't a 50-50 goal chance, it was a 70-30 goal chance because Shane was gone inside. That's something we really encourage that we should be giving.”
Again impressing when introduced, Barrett, scoring 1-1, along with Alan Connolly (0-1) have put up their hands high for inclusion from the outset next weekend, but Kingston is minded to continue utilising them from the bench.
“They are young and they have great legs,” he acknowledged. “And there is less pressure coming into the game. Both came in and did really well. For the moment that is the role they have and they are very good at it.
“We have to be careful how we integrate lads. If you look around the country there are not a lot of U20s playing so we have to be careful how we introduce them so they will become permanent fixtures for the next decade for Cork hurling. We have nine now on our panel.”
Had Tony Kelly beaten Collins at the death — dare it be said had it struck off his stronger left side — the result would be different and there would have been groans about Kingston not banking on youth from the start. The Cork goalkeeper’s save, just as Downey’s block on Gary Cooney seconds prior to Barrett’s goal, was impeccable but being the perfectionist he is Kelly may look back on his shot with regret.
Not that Brian Lohan, whose team were cheered by their following afterwards, was going to blame anyone. “Cork got a couple of chances, they got their goals, we got a couple of chances and just didn’t take them. I wouldn’t be criticising anyone for that. They (Cork) just took their shots and some good defending from Cork and excellent goalkeeping from Cork. You have to give credit to the Cork lads and the Cork defence rather than saying anything about the lads.”
Down 2-9 to 0-11 at half-time, Clare’s third-quarter rally was strong and they continued it into the fourth quarter when they went ahead in the 58th minute through Diarmuid Ryan. After appearing listless for large swathes of the third quarter, Ryan’s score appeared to rise Cork from their torpor and they were back ahead in the 62nd minute following scores by Barrett and Connolly.
Connolly passed to Patrick Horgan for a point to put Cork two up in the 65th minute and then came the virtual six-pointer, Downey managing to recover to stop substitute Cooney followed quickly by Barrett’s goal at the other end.
Horgan (free) and Rory Hayes swapped points before Niall O’Leary was sin-binned and Kelly dispatched the goal. But he couldn’t add a second thanks to the sprawling Collins and Cork’s passage into the last six was confirmed.
As fare, aside from the dramatic close, it wasn’t much to look at as Clare racked up wides and Cork fell off after half-time, but the victors won’t mind the ugliness especially when they responded so impressively.
For Downey to perform as stoutly as he did with little full-back experience this season was a plus as was Seamus Harnedy’s performance. Not everything worked out for the former captain but his work-rate couldn’t be faulted and he initiated the move for Shane Kingston’s first-half goal as well as teeing up Barrett.
Jack O’Connor’s double yellow red card will be forgiven easily given how he harried Clare defenders, his 17th-minute goal when he rounded in-form Hayes a real sign of intent. As well as two further two goal attempts of his own, he forced a turnover to create another in the opening half.
“There was a lot of uncertainty coming into it from our point of view,” said Kingston. “We were apprehensive as to how that would work out. Relief is number one but fierce proud in the way the lads reacted and the character they showed for basically a very young team.”
It was a game that will do them wonders.
: P. Horgan (0-10, 4 frees, 3 65s); S. Kingston, S. Barrett (1-1 each); J. O’Connor (1-0); D. Fitzgibbon, S. Harnedy (0-2 each); R. O’Flynn, L. Meade, A. Connolly (0-1 each).
T. Kelly (1-11, 1-0 pen, 0-8 frees); C. Malone (0-3); A. McCarthy (0-2 each); I. Galvin, D. McInerney, C. Galvin, S. Golden, D. Ryan. R Taylor, R. Hayes (0-1 each).
P. Collins; S. O’Donoghue, G. Millerick, R. Downey; M. Coleman, N. O’Leary, T. O’Mahony; D. Fitzgibbon, L. Meade; R. O’Flynn, P. Horgan (c), S. Harnedy; J. O’Connor, S. Kingston, A. Cadogan.
S. Barrett for A. Cadogan (h-t); C. Cahalane for R. O’Flynn (58); A. Connolly for S. Kingston (60); T. Deasy for S. Harnedy (70); B. Cooper for D. Fitzgibbon (70+2).
Red card: J. O’Connor (67, second yellow); N. O’Leary (70+2, yellow and sin bin).
E. Quilligan; P. Flanagan, C. Cleary, R. Hayes; D. Ryan, J. Conlon (c), D. McInerney; R. Taylor, C. Malone; D. Reidy, T. Kelly, C. Galvin; A. Shanagher, A. McCarthy, I. Galvin.
M. Rodgers for I. Galvin (28); S. Golden for M. Rodgers (52); J. Browne for C. Galvin (57); G. Cooney for A. Shanagher (65);
J. Keenan (Wicklow).