Clare storm to Munster hat-trick against Cork as journey gathers pace
Clare 1-28 Cork 1-13 - Munster U-21 HC final
Clare's joint-managers Gerry O'Connor and Donal Moloney have continually spoken about this Clare underage crusade being about more than just cups and medals and titles, about how it is part of a special journey they are all on together as a group.
They all want that journey to extend as far as they can possibly go and this road looks to have no end in sight as Clare annexed their third Munster U-21 title in a row in a canter last night in Ennis.
A third straight All-Ireland U-21 title is still firmly within their sights and this win just confirmed how Clare have produced the most talented crop of players in their history. The performance also underlined their experience and worldliness.
Four of this team started the 2012 All-Ireland U-21 final, while a fifth, Cathal O'Connell, came on after a lengthy return from injury. Shane O'Donnell is underage again next year, while five more of last night's starting team played for the senior team this year in either league or championship.
Cork had no answer to that experience and class and were submerged in a deluge of scores and smothered under a relentless tide of Clare power, class and precision.
The gulf in class was evident from the first five minutes, when Tony Kelly had two points from his first three plays and while Cork set up with a sweeper to try and limit the early onslaught, they were forced to abandon that tactic after the 23rd minute.
By that stage, the levees had been washed away in the storm and Cork were trailing by 1-12 to 0-1.
When Cork threatened a mini-revival midway through the half, Clare stepped on the gas once more, finishing with six of the last eight scores. In total, they bagged 1-18 from play as Cork spent most of the match washing blood off the floor. They could have been slaughtered even more brutally if Clare felt like being more bloody-minded.
Clare led by 1-15 to 0-5 at the break, the goal coming from O'Donnell in the 21st minute. Much of Cork's gameplan focused on their senior star Alan Cadogan, but he was well contained by a superb full-back line of Ja Colleran, Seadna Morey and Jack Browne.
When Cork had set up with their sweeper, Colleran played the same role for Clare to devastating effect. Over the 60 minutes, Cadogan was restricted to eight plays. While he won two frees, set up one point and had a goal effort brilliantly saved by Keith Hogan, he only managed three shots at the target.
Colm Galvin was majestic once more at midfield but Clare were in control in every sector.
On Clare's journey, there are signposts and targets at every juncture. In his acceptance speech, Kelly thanked every player who had been part of the group at some stage since 2010.
O'Connor and Moloney have now presided over a perfect 14-match unbeaten record in Munster at minor and U-21 in that time.
Last year's successful team were spurred on by the memory of losing the 2010 All-Ireland minor final but this side has equally as much motivation for success and atonement, having lost the 2011 All-Ireland minor semi-final to Galway after extra-time.
Last night, Clare ended their 82-year hoodoo against Cork in Munster finals. The journey continues along with the crusade. At a relentless pace.
Scorers: Clare: B Duggan 0-10 (5fs, 1 '65'), A Cunningham 0-4, S O'Donnell 1-0, D Reidy, T Kelly (1 '65'), C Galvin 0-3 each, P Duggan, S Gleeson 0-2, C O'Connell 0-1. Cork: R O'Shea 0-7 (4fs, 1 '65'), A Spillane 1-0, M Collins 0-3, K McIntyre, S O'Keefe, M Sugrue 0-1 each.
Clare: K Hogan; J Colleran, S Morey, J Browne; G O'Connell, C Cleary, J Shanahan; C Galvin, E Enright; P Duggan, Tony Kelly, B Duggan; D Reidy, A Cunningham, S O'Donnell. Subs: S Gleeson for B Duggan (42), C O'Connell for O'Donnell (54), A O'Neill for Cleary (56), S McGrath for Enright (57), B Carey for Colleran (59).
Cork: P Collins; S Murphy, C Barry, C Buckley; K Kavanagh, K Burke, D Brosnan; C Walsh, R Cahalane; S O'Keeffe, C Spillane, M Collins; R O'Shea, A Spillane, A Cadogan. Subs: M Sugrue for Walsh (13), K McIntyre for Cahalane (h-t), M O'Connor for A Spillane (52).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).