Rebels hit the ground running by lowering Banner after young guns 'risk'
Cork 0-21 Clare 1-11
With five debutants in the starting 15, there was an element of uncertainty as to how Cork would fare in their Allianz HL Division 1A opener against Clare at Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday night.
The memories of a sorry 2016 had been slightly overlaid by a successful run in the Munster Hurling League in January, but a clash with the reigning League champions was likely to provide a better barometer of just where the Rebels are.
From that point of view, this seven-point win can only be viewed in a positive light. Defenders David Griffin and Mark Coleman and forwards Luke Meade, Darragh Fitzgibbon and Shane Kingston - son of manager Kieran - made positive contributions to this, Cork's first regular League win since beating Galway in March of 2015. In addition, full-back Colm Spillane, who missed last year with a cruciate injury, showed up well at full-back.
Two more debutants, Chris O'Leary and Robbie O'Flynn, came off the substitutes' bench, leaving manager Kingston happy with how the night had gone. He wasn't trying to attach any extra significance to it, however.
"It's a risk when you play so many players together making their debut, we had five tonight in what was a tough game against tough opposition - and we brought in two more, so half the team was making its debut in the league. That's a risk but how else are they going to learn? It's chicken and egg.
"The safe option might be to put one or two in but between injuries and so on we put a lot of them in there. They're honest, they want to hurl for Cork, they're hard-working and want to learn, but we have to keep it in context. It's two points and no more than that."
Cork never trailed in this encounter, Clare were only level after John Conlon replied to stand-in captain Alan Cadogan's opener and even that was after four early wides. The Banner would have eight shots go astray in the first-half, and Cork surged clear, leading by 0-7 to 0-2 after 25 minutes, with Cadogan particularly lively.
With half-time almost at hand, it was 0-8 to 0-3 but then Clare had a lifeline as Podge Collins netted the rebound after Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash had done so well to save from Tony Kelly.
A manageable two-point deficit for Clare could and should have been turned into a lead on the resumption when Collins was fouled by Colm Spillane for a penalty but once again Nash repelled Kelly's effort and also kept out Aron Shanagher's pulled rebound.
Cork made the most of that let-off as they scored five of the next six points, the irrepressible Daniel Kearney with two of those from midfield, and any hopes Clare had of a comeback were eradicated as Spillane and David Griffin executed brilliant blocks on Collins and Shane O'Donnell to prevent goal chances.
Kingston, who would finish with four points, Meade and Fitzgibbon were on target as they pulled clear. Kelly did have some late Clare points to give him a tally of six, but it mattered little to the final outcome.
Clare joint-manager Gerry O'Connor, taking charge in the League for the first time alongside Donal Moloney, acknowledged that Cork's puck-outs were key.
"The way the game was developing our biggest challenge was that the Cork puck-out was putting us under huge pressure and we didn't seem able to reset quick enough," he said.
"When we look at the stats we'll probably be upset with the number of opposition puck-outs we lost."
They will look to regroup when Kilkenny visit Ennis next weekend, while Cork will seek to make it two from two when they welcome Dublin on Saturday night.
Scorers - Cork: P Horgan 0-5 (4f), S Kingston, A Cadogan 0-4 each, D Kearney, L Meade 0-2 each, S Harnedy, B Cooper, D Fitzgibbon and D Brosnan 0-1 each. Clare: T Kelly 0-6, P Collins 1-1, D Reidy 0-2f, A Shanagher and J Conlon 0-1 each.
CORK - A Nash 8; K Burke 6, C Spillane 7, D Griffin 7 ; C Joyce 6, M Ellis 7, M Coleman 8; B Cooper 7, D Kearney 8; D Fitzgibbon 6, S Harnedy 7, S Kingston 8; A Cadogan 8, P Horgan 7, L Meade 7. Subs: C O'Leary 7 for Ellis (59), R O'Flynn 6 for Fitzgibbon (62), L McLoughlin for Cooper, P Haughney for Kearney (both 69), D Brosnan for Kingston (70).
CLARE - D Tuohy 7; S Morey 6, C Dillon 7, J Browne 6; J Shanahan 6, C Cleary 6, B Bugler 6; S Golden 6, T Kelly 7; J Conlon 6, P Collins 7, C Malone 6; A Shanagher 6, S O'Donnell 6, D Reidy 6. Subs: J McCarthy 6 for Reidy (half-time), D Fitzgerald 6 for Golden (46), A Cunningham 6 for Conlon (62).
REF - J Keenan (Wicklow).