Cork up and running but summer yet to catch fire

Cork 2-23 Clare 1-21: Is nostalgia ever justified?

A word with Greek roots, though not an invention of theirs like democracy and ouzo, it denotes the special pain for somewhere you can never go again.

In yesterday’s Munster SHC clash between Cork and Clare in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, there were passages which provoked just that response. Take the Cork goal, when Patrick Horgan’s eye and touch didn’t betray him as Shane Kingston’s effort drifted wide.

Horgan had to go into his bag of unlikely strokes and improbable shots to find the skill to somehow knock the ball back across goal and Conor Lehane — in where it hurts, as Johnny Giles like to say — improvised a finish to beat Clare’s Donal Tuohy from close range.

For some of those in the 24,490 attendance there was surely a vague echo of another goal, almost 20 years ago, when Seanie McGrath, a club-mate of Horgan’s, chased down a Fergal McCormack effort to knock the sliotar across the Clare square for a Joe Deane goal.

Here, however, the resemblance ends. That 1999 game was a Munster final clash which saw the torch pass from one county to another, epochal; yesterday was the first of each side’s four round-robin games. Not winner-takes-all, more winner-takes-a-slight-advantage-to-next-weekend.

Yesterday was also the modern game par excellence — deliberate puck-outs and cautious handpassing, with both sides creating space at either end yet reluctant, much of the time, to exploit that space.

The amount of play between the two 45s was noticeable, but the compression of so many bodies in that area made it all the harder to shoot. It hardly escaped the attention of those in attendance, for example, that in injury-time one of Anthony Nash’s longer deliveries bypassed the traffic jam in the centre and ended in Seamus Harnedy’s hand: the Cork captain then seared through for the game-clinching goal. Direct play, but hardly of a piece with the rest of the proceedings.

A brief summary: Clare started well, Cork overhauled them; Cork nudged ahead, and Clare reeled them in.

If it were the game of the people — coughs — then arm-wrestle would have been a good description of the first half. Neither side seemed keen to indulge in the goalfests of yore, if yore equals the All-Ireland final and replay of 2013.

True, Robbie O’Flynn and Peter Duggan saw the whites of the opposing keepers’ eyes in the first half, but neither chance was converted, and by half-time, it was 0-11 to 0-10.

The second half was much the same until a heavy clash between O’Flynn and Conor Lehane saw the former forced off on a stretcher, and the game held up for 10 minutes.

When it resumed, Cork struck for goal, Shane Kingston’s long delivery drifting wide until Horgan flicked it back from the end line for Lehane to strike the net. A kind of tribute band recreation of that ’99 goal: 1-15 to 0-13.

The score galvanised Clare, however, and after two points Tony Kelly ran onto Shane O’Donnell’s beautifully weighted pass into space, and his ground stroke made it a draw.

Horgan’s class kept Cork ahead, however, and deep in injury-time Harnedy fielded that puck-out, soloed through and finished to the net.

“A tough, close, hard game,” said Cork manager John Meyler afterwards.

“First half was levellish and then, well into the second half, Lehane got a goal which turned it our favour.

“Fair dues to Clare, they came back with 1-2 in reply to level it. The character then showed and we got a goal up at the top end and that really drove it on.

“We went off the rails a small bit for about five minutes when Clare got 1-2 and levelled it. We stuck to the process after they levelled it, worked the ball up the field, which I was delighted with, so it was good character.”

His opposite number, Clare joint-manager Donal Moloney, concurred in broad terms: “It was touch and go, see-sawing back and forth there for a long time, very tight.

“Maybe Cork got that little bit of daylight a couple of times, and in the last minutes of injury-time. Ultimately that gave them the little bit of space there at the end.

“We created five or six goal chances — we created them but didn’t take them, that was the issue. We were not clean through but we had opportunities on five or six occasions but they didn’t come off.

“But the guys had the courage to go for them, the build-up play was really good but the finish wasn’t there today.”

The new dispensation was manifest in other ways. When the announcement was made of the score above in the Gaelic Grounds, the traditional cheer was absent. Calculations were already being made: what would Tipperary be like next week after their defeat? Limerick, availing of a weekend off, how formidable would they be on their next outing after yesterday’s tidy win?

Perhaps that was understandable with the quality on offer. There were plenty of handling errors and some passes into space — and over the line — which suggested team-mates who hadn’t quite committed their patterns of movement to memory.

The Cork and Clare management should perhaps dip into their Erich Fromm ahead of future games (“We know of individuals who are — or have been — spontaneous,” Fromm said once, “Whose thinking, feeling, and acting were the expression of their selves and not of an automaton.”)

Fromm described these individuals as artists, and it’s likely there were more artists in 1920s Frankfurt than driving wing-backs, but his plea for spontaneity and freedom strikes a chord today.

The day of the mindless clearance is gone, and no-one misses it. The day of mindful fury is upon us, but more fury wouldn’t hurt. It might lessen the need for nostalgia at least.

Scorers for Cork:

P Horgan (0-10, 6 frees); S Harnedy, C Lehane (1-2 each); D Fitzgibbon (0-3); M Ellis (0-2); M Coleman, R O’Flynn, B. Cooper, D Brosnan (0-1 each).

Scorers for Clare:

T Kelly (1-3, 1 free); J Conlon (0-5); P Duggan (0-4, frees); C Galvin, D Reidy (2 frees)(0-3 each); S O’Donnell (0-2); C McGrath (0-1).

CORK:

A Nash, S O’Donoghue, D Cahalane, C Spillane, C Joyce, M Ellis, M Coleman, D Fitzgibbon, B Cooper, D Kearney, C Lehane, R O’Flynn, L Meade, S Harnedy (c), P Horgan.

Subs:

B Lawton for Kearney (blood, 33-HT); S Kingston for Meade (42); T O’Mahony for O’Flynn (inj, 45); D Brosnan for Kearney (inj, 59).

CLARE:

D Tuohy, P O’Connor, C Cleary, J Browne, D Fitzgerald, D McInerney, S Morey, C Galvin, T Kelly, C Malone, J Conlon, D Reidy, C McGrath, P Duggan, S O’Donnell.

Subs:

C Dillon for Browne (blood, 17-20); D Corry for Duggan (56); M O’Malley for O’Connor (60); I Galvin for Reidy (64); J Shanahan for C Galvin (66).

Referee:

S Cleere (Kilkenny)


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