O'Connor hits form as Cork flex muscles
It was a script that could have been written well in advance and signed off on with the knowledge that revisiting the pages would not be required.
Clare manager Michael McDermott had called on his players in advance of their trip to Pairc Ui Chaoimh to invoke the spirit of 1997 (their last championship victory over the Rebels).
Sadly, however, the gulf in class between the counties 14 years on is all too enlarged for a renewal of spirit to make a substantial difference. In the order of merit Cork are currently at No 1, Clare near the bottom, and it told too often.
McDermott got plenty of what he asked for all the same, and in Rory Donnelly, David Tubridy and Gordon Kelly there was plenty of drive.
But ultimately, across every line of the field they were in deficit to a Cork team that went through the gears effortlessly and were only sporadically tested.
By the end of the first half they were queuing up to score goals, with Clare goalkeeper Joe Hayes, the crossbar and a matter of inches at the base of an upright limiting the concession to just one, a walk-in effort from Donncha O'Connor on 21 minutes after he and Paddy Kelly had conspired to prise open an already gaping defence.
That element of the day was a disappointment to Conor Counihan, but really there is little else a manager, especially the manager of the All-Ireland champions, can say after a 15-point win of this nature.
Still, the day hadn't brought him much satisfaction, save for Graham Canty's safe return.
"We could have made life an awful lot easier for us if we had put away one or two of those. We need to improve a good bit from that performance -- the scoreline flattered us," he said.
It didn't in fact, and his opposite number McDermott, while happy with some aspects of their play, admitted as much afterwards.
"With the power and the strength and the physicality of Cork at times there were mismatches on a lot of areas on the field," he conceded.
"We're a Division 4 side, but teams in Division 2 and Division 3 would struggle to live with Cork the way they are playing at the moment."
What disappointed McDermott most was the manner in which they allowed Cork to send the scoreboard into overdrive in the last 10 minutes.
When Donnelly landed his fifth point of the afternoon, capping a fine individual display that will have Counihan and Co reviewing their full-back line, Clare were nine points down. But the floodgates opened after that as Cork cruised in for six more points to frank their dominance. It left the Clare manager lamenting a dearth of leadership.
The plus points for Cork were Canty's return after a long competitive absence. He was combative and forceful, finishing the day at full-back, and the afternoon was all about getting a game under his belt. Newcomer Denis O'Sullivan picked up a lot of ball in the second half, Alan O'Connor and Aidan Walsh controlled midfield, while Donncha O'Connor had a hand in almost all of Cork's best moves.
Prior to his goal he had a hand in Cork's six opening scores and his runs to either sideline gave Cork a perpetual outlet. Canty, Walsh and O'Sullivan were all in tune with the policy of letting it go long up the wings, and O'Connor appears to have picked up from where he left off last September.
Ciaran Sheehan's development will also be watched with interest, and on a day when Paddy Kelly and Daniel Goulding were less influential than usual, Sheehan really stepped up to the mark. Clare had no answer to his powerful running as he skipped past tackles and moved with a grace that marks him down as one of the players to watch this summer.
O'Connor's neat work ensured a safe first-half passage for Cork as they played with the wind. They were already 0-6 to 0-3 clear when he stepped in for the only goal after involvement from Walsh, Pearse O'Neill and Kelly.
Just a minute earlier, Sheehan had charged through some feeble tackles to illustrate his power and pace, but directed his shot straight at Hayes.
Later in the half, O'Connor batted a Sheehan pass off the crossbar. Just before that Goulding had glanced a shot just outside the post after Laurence Healy had failed to cut out Walsh's delivery inside.
A 1-9 to 0-4 interval lead was quickly tackled by Clare on the restart, and three successive points in as many minutes from Alan Clohessy, Donnelly and Tubridy jolted Cork back into life. Within eight minutes the gap was back out to eight again and Clare's brief enthusiasm was dented.
The match ended on a sour note. Clare half-forward Graham Kelly picked up a red card when he and John Miskella (who was yellow-carded) tangled. It was Kelly's second yellow. Words were exchanged as the red card was being shown, prompting Kelly to headbutt his Cork opponent in front of the referee. McDermott said he couldn't comment on the incident because he hadn't seen it, but wouldn't condone such an action.
So all too easy for Cork on a day that was grist to the mill for those who believe that the provincial championships are unfairly calibrated.
Man of the Match: Ciaran Sheehan (Cork)
Scorers -- Cork: D Goulding 0-8 (6f), D O'Connor 1-4 (0-2f), C Sheehan 0-4, P O'Neill 0-2, A Walsh, A O'Connor, M Shields, P Kerrigan, J Miskella all 0-1 each. Clare: R Donnelly 0-5, D Tubridy 0-3 (1f), G Brennan 0-2, A Clohessy 0-1.
Cork -- A Quirke 7; R Carey 6, M Shields 7, J O'Sullivan 6; G Canty 7, N O'Leary 7, D O'Sullivan 8; A O'Connor 7, A Walsh 7; C Sheehan 9, P Kelly 6, P O'Neill 6; D Goulding 6, D O'Connor 9, D Goold 5. Subs: P Kerrigan 6 for Goold 46, F Lynch for Kelly 62, P Kissane for Shields 62, N Murphy for Walsh 65, J Miskella for D O'Sullivan 66.
Clare -- J Hayes 8; K Hartnett 6, B Duggan 6, L Healy 6; J Hayes 5, G Kelly 7, M McMahon 5; N Browne 5, G Brennan 7; G Kelly 5, D Tubridy 7, C O'Connor 5; R Donnelly 9, D O'Neill 5, A Clohessy 6. Subs: G Quinlan 5 for Browne (28), S McNeiles 5 for John Hayes (h-t), S Brennan 5 for O'Connor (h-t).
REF -- E Kinsella (Laois).