ALTHOUGH handicapped by the absence of several panelists through injury, Cork got their Munster Intermediate Hurling Championship campaign off to a positive start at the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday.
Their merited semi-final victory over Clare greatly pleased team manager Liam Hayes, who was worried beforehand that his depleted squad would be hard-pressed to survive.
"There was obvious pressure on us coming in, and I expected a massive performance from Clare, who had looked very impressive against Waterford in the first round.
"But I knew our fellas had potential, and it was just a case of hoping they would produce it on the day, and thankfully they did.
"I was worried at half-time, because we were just seven points up and had to play into a very strong wind in the second half, but Colm Casey got a goal to give us a bit of breathing space, and we defended well after that," said Dromina man Hayes.
Casey's goal ten minutes into the second half was unquestionably a crucial score, coming at a time when Clare were threatening to build up a bit of momentum.
The Inniscarra clubman rattled the net as well in the first half, and it was a splendid individual effort after he cut in from the right to finish with conviction.
Preceded by points from Peter O'Brien and Mark Kennefick, it pushed Cork 1-2 ahead inside eight minutes, and wing-forward Brian Lawton quickly stretched the gap to six before Clare responded with a brace of converted placed from centre-back Alan O'Neill midway through the first half.
Cork continued to force the pace in the second quarter, with John Cronin shining at midfield, and half backs Tadgh Healy, Ross Cashman and Mikey Walsh well in control.
Peter O'Brien, Brian Lawton and Mark Kennefick - a late replacement for the injured Adrian Mannix - led the charge up front as eased into a 1-6 to 0-2 lead by the19th minute.
They were rocked back on their heels a minute later when Clare's Aidan Lynch eluded the attentions of otherwise flawless full-back Eoin Dillon to fire in a goal, which was quickly followed by a point from substitute James Shanahan.
While Cork responded with a flurry of points from ace free-taker Peter O'Brien, their interval advantage of 1-10 to 1-3 was by no means intimidating in view of the strength of the wind.
Within seven minutes of the restart, Clare had trimmed the deficit to five points, but then came goal number two from Colm Casey, who neatly flicked a delivery from ever-impressive midfielder John Cronin to the net following a move initiated by effective substitute Barry Lawton.
Lawton certainly paid his way after being introduced before half-time, while his brother Brian dropped back from wing forward in the second half to provide invaluable assistance to a Cork rearguard in which Mikey Walsh excelled on the left wing.
The result was that the rebels comfortably held the whip-hand following Casey's second strike, with points from Peter O'Brien - after man of the match Walsh had made a storming run from the back to set him up - and substitute Anthony Watson completing their second half tally.
Cork will now meet Tipperary in the Munster final on July 18, and, with many of their walking wounded expected to be available by then, it means the management won't find it easy to pick the team.
It's a problem that Liam Hayes is happy to have, and he says that Cork will draw a lot of confidence from developments last Sunday.
"There is no doubt we have a lot of options in terms of team selection now, and we will have some hard calls to make just to finalise the panel alone, but that's all positive stuff, and we are delighted to be in what's going to be a traditional Munster final against Tipp," he enthused.
Cork: P O'Brien 0-7, 0-5 frees, C Casey 2-0, M Kennefick 0-2, Brian Lawton, M Coleman, free, and A Watson 0-1 each
Clare: A Lynch 1-1, J Shanahan 0-2, C O'Connell 0-2, 0-1 free, A O'Neill, frees, and N Arthur, frees, 0-2 each
CORK: M Coleman (Ballinhassig), J O'Callaghan (Innniscarra), E Dillon (Milford), E Finn (Ballinhassig), T Healy (Buttevant), R Cashman (Kilbrittain), M Walsh (Kildorrery), J Cronin (Lisgoold), S McCarthy (Ballinhassig), Brian Lawton (Castlemartyr), P O'Brien (Kildorrery), S Dineen (Ballinhassig), C Casey (Inniscarra), K Canty (Valley Rovers), M Kennefick (Ballygarvan) Subs: Barry Lawton (Castlemartyr) for Canty, A Watson (Milford) for Dineen, B O'Sullivan (Fermoy) for O'Callaghan, K Hallissey (Eire Og) for Casey, N Kelly (Mayfield) for McCarthy
CLARE: K Hogan, J Browne, D Corry, K Ryan, S O'Halloran, A O'Neill, C Chaplin, P Sheehan, J Colleran, G Guilfoyle, M O'Neill, C Malone, N Arthur, A Lynch, C O'Connell Subs: J Shanahan for Guilfoyle, E Boyce for Corry (injured), G O'Connell for Sheehan, G Arthur for Arthur, S O'Brien for M O'Neill
REFEREE: P Casey (Waterford)