WRITTEN off in many quarters, Cork made a mockery of most pre-match predictions in last Sunday's Munster senior hurling championship semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds.
The consensus before the game was that the Rebels would struggle to overcome the loss of three key players through injury, and that Clare, boosted by a first round win over Waterford, were going to take a lot of stopping on their best form. It was expected, of course, that Cork wouldn't go down without a fight, and how the youthful Clare side coped with the burden of favouritism had to be factored in when assessing the likely outcome.
As things transpired, Clare were found wanting when the pressure came on, losing their way completely in the second half as their confidence drained and Cork's rose in equal measure. It was obvious that Cork, having played into a strong wind, were in a good position when they finished the first half just three points, 0-11 to 0-8, in arrears. They made a very positive start on the turnover, drawing level inside 40 minutes, with wing-back William Egan completing a quick hat-trick of points at that juncture.
Shortly before that, excellent Cork custodian Anthony Nash had proved equal to an effort for a goal by Darrach Honan, adding to the feeling of self-doubt that was beginning to engulf Davy Fitzgerald's men. It increased again when Clare corner forward Conor McGrath, having slipped Conor O'Sullivan, hit the side-netting with another golden opportunity before McGrath dropped an easy chance to break the deadlock short.
Once Seamus Harnedy nudged Cork in front in the 46th minute, they never looked back, overwhelming Clare with the sheer intensity of their play to run out decisive winners. They were 0-16 to 0-11 to the good before Padraic Collins finally broke Clare's second half duck in the 52nd minute, and they continued to tighten the screw after that, outscoring their demoralised opponents by seven points to three.
It was a compelling performance from the fired-up Leesiders and there is no denying that the management were entitled to take a bow in the wake of it. The decision to restructure the defence before the start certainly yielded rich dividends, not least because of the manner in which seasoned stalwart Brian Murphy curbed the influence of Clare's talismanic centre-forward Tony Kelly.
Handing a championship debut to Seamus Harnedy at wing forward paid off handsomely as well, with the St Ita's clubman embellishing a workmanlike display with three points. Along with Cian McCarthy and Conor Lehane, Harnedy did his bit to prevent the much-vaunted Clare half back line from dominating to a significant degree, although it was primarily due to the efforts of half backs Tom Kenny, Murphy and the outstanding William Egan, not to mention midfielder Daniel Kearney, that Cork laid the foundations for victory in the first half.
Clare began promisingly enough, with Cork experiencing a share of problems in the full-back line where Stephen McDonnell clearly had his hands full against Clare No 14 Darrach Honan. Honan sent Padraic Collins through in the eighth minute, but the latter was fouled by Conor O'Sullivan, resulting in a free that saw Anthony Nash saving brilliantly from Tony Kelly.
Two minutes later, Collins moved menacingly goalwards again only to blast a shot wide from close-range, and the signs were fairly ominous for Cork after Clare, with Honan chipping in with two points, moved 0-5 to 0-2 ahead with 12 minutes gone
Gradually, however, Cork managed to stem the tide, with Kearney swinging the battle in their favour at midfield where Colm Galvin had been the leading light early on for Clare against Christopher Joyce, who had been shifted from his customary position in the half back line to facilitate Brian Murphy's installation in the pivotal berth.
As well as posting one of the best scores of the match, Kearney supplied a delivery that broke kindly for Seamus Harnedy, who shot narrowly over the bar when a pass to Stephen Moylan, standing in splendid isolation at the edge of the square, would surely have produced a goal.
Cork were just a point in arrears, 0-5 to 0-4, after that, and, with Patrick Horgan and Luke O'Farrell showing up well in the inside line of attack, they were still snapping at Clare heels with over 20 minutes gone. Clare did manage to stretch the gap to four points, and they again threatened a goal when a pass from Honan was fumbled by Conor McGrath, but their three-point cushion at the break hardly seemed sufficient to sustain them against the wind in the second half.
One sensed it wasn't destined to be Clare's day after they failed to avail of two more goal chances early in the second half, and, trailing by 0-22 to 0-14, they were a beaten team by the time substitute Seadna Morey tested Anthony Nash again approaching the last five minutes.
Cork came up with all the answers in the interim, with the tenacity of their defence, to a man, ensuring that Clare's running game regularly came unstuck against the wind. In addition, the dynamic Daniel Kearney went from strength-to-strength at midfield, while their attack really cut loose, picking off the scores more or less for fun, with seven different forwards – including substitutes Jamie Coughlan, who made a big impact following his introduction shortly before half time, and Pa Cronin – finding the target after the interval.
Cork: P Horgan 0-8, 0-5 frees, S Harnedy 0-3, L O'Farrell, C Lehane and J Coughlan 0-2 each, A Nash 0-2 frees, D Kearney, W Egan, C McCarthy and P Cronin 0-1 each
Clare: P Collins 0-5, C Galvin, D Honan and C McGrath 0-2 each, C Ryan 0-2 frees, T Kelly and S O'Donnell 0-1 each
Cork: A Nash, S O'Neill, S McDonnell, C O'Sullivan, T Kenny, B Murphy, W Egan, C Joyce, D Kearney, S Harnedy, C McCarthy, C Lehane, L O'Farrell, P Horgan, S Moylan Subs: J Coughlan for Moylan, P Cronin for McCarthy
Clare: P Kelly, D O'Donovan, D McInerney, C Dillon, P O'Connor, P Donnellan, B Bugler, C Galvin, N O'Connell, J Conlon, T Kelly, C Ryan, C McGrath, D Honan, P Collins Subs: A Cunningham for Conlon (injured), F Lynch for Ryan, S Morey for O'Connell, S O'Donnell for McGrath
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath)