Shane O'Donnell not being protected insists Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald
Clare 1-14 Cork 0-14
Published 04/01/2016 | 02:30
A small footnote for Clare in Sixmilebridge with a first competitive win over Cork since the 2013 All-Ireland final replay.
It might not mean much in the greater scheme of things but it was still Davy Fitzgerald's opening post-match bat as he acknowledged the importance of just putting down a win, irrespective of the vaguely familiar opposing cast on show.
Cork had just two of their last starting championship team involved, Clare were weighted with much more experience with seven starters from that July championship meeting in Thurles and four more having some involvement in both games.
"I don't really mind how many they had out or they didn't have out, to win the game is good. We're delighted," declared Fitzgerald.
A nudge in the right direction perhaps? It had the feel of a new page turned in this opening round of the revamped Munster Hurling League.
A first outing as a coach with Clare for Donal Óg Cusack left him in the slightly awkward position of facing his one-time Cork and Cloyne gatekeeper Diarmuid O'Sullivan who has joined Kieran Kingston's backroom team as a selector.
For two great friends and former colleagues to be crossing paths in this way gave the afternoon an added sub-plot.
A hooded Cusack was prominent in the warm-up and stood shoulder to shoulder with his manager as the anthem boomed out over the tannoy.
But after that he stepped back and it was the familiar voice of the 'boss' which crackled across O'Garney Park.
Cusack's integration into the Clare backroom team will provide one of the more interesting threads through the hurling season but as he considered one of the most 'left field' moves of the off-season Fitzgerald stressed personalities had nothing to do with the appointment of the former Cork goalkeeper.
"After the Cork game last year I did nothing only think 'what can I do to change it up?' It was an easy decision," he reflected.
"The most important thing is that I do the best for Clare, that's my job. It's not about Davy Fitzgerald, my job is to put the best team I can in place. I feel Donal Óg can add to that, I feel he will need a bit of time, there is no point judging him straight away.
"Aengus O'Brien (another coaching appointment), trust me, is a serious lad as well. Jimmy Payne (strength and conditioning) as well, they are all decent and I still might have one more addition. They will all add to our team," said Fitzgerald.
"Have we changed much of the stuff we were doing? Probably not, I think Donal Óg will be very much onto the way we play and the way we do things. He will add different things, as will Aengus. It wasn't a hard decision. I'd bring in anyone if I thought it would help us get over the line and I'm delighted he's here. He will give everything, as will Aengus and Jimmy."
The game was effectively decided by a Shane O'Donnell goal on 64 minutes when he pounced to flash home a rebound after a Bobby Duggan free had been parried by Cork goalkeeper Patrick Collins.
O'Donnell had been introduced as a substitute and was richly praised by his manager who had interesting views about the treatment he has been receiving since the 2013 All-Ireland final.
"He caught that ball today and he's a savage ball player," said Fitzgerald. "But there is just so much attention on him and he's being pulled constantly," he continued. "I looked at the DVD after the Cork game last year and I could pick three frees easily. If you look back you'll see it and you could see it today.
"And I wouldn't give out about the referee today because I thought he was very good. But that's just the only thing that might need a look at in our view. In fairness, with the refereeing in general last year we can't say anything. It was fair enough," he added.
"I thought Shane did very well when he came on, he caught a great ball - I thought he was held up, how it was a free out I don't know. It should have been a penalty, I thought.
"To me, he finds it very tough to get frees. I think it's something that seriously has to be looked at, because that's what happens every time he gets the ball. He's just getting absolutely killed."
Whatever Clare do in 2016 will be indexed. not so much by the dynamic of Fitzgerald, Cusack and company as the form of Tony Kelly, who was outstanding again yesterday.
He finished with six points, two from play and even if he struggled with some frees in such difficult conditions, his fingerprints were on everything. Fitzgerald noted how he finished the match at centre-back due to a deficit of defenders with David McInerney and Cian Dillon absent, Seadna Morey recovering from a double hip injury and Brendan Bugler recovering from a shoulder operation.
But in their absence Pat O'Connor and Conor Ryan held the central positions impressively while Gearoid O'Connell chipped in with plenty of fire and two points.
New Cork manager Kieran Kingston was nonplussed about the result, stressing the rotation policy they will adapt for this pre-season league.
In that sense Brian Moylan, William Leahy and Patrick O'Mahony did themselves no harm while Paudie O'Sullivan showed greater leadership.
"Today wasn't about the result, it was about our own performance, in particular giving lads an opportunity to stake a claim for a panel place.
"You can't judge anything on it, whether our performance was good, bad or indifferent. We are where we are, we know where we are ranked. We are ranked lowest in Munster, ranked seventh in the country. These are the expert opinions out there.
"My role is to get us to the best we possibly can be and see where that leaves us," said Kingston.
For Fitzgerald the steps are also small, but he saw enough for now.
"All I want to do is get us into the top four or five teams in the country. If we get back in there, then we've a shot and today I saw a bit of fight and that's what I wanted to see."
scorers - Clare: T- Kelly 0-6 (4fs), S O'Donnell 1-0, J Conlon (2fs), B Duggan (2fs), G O'Connell all 0-2 each, M O'Malley, P Duggan 0-1 each. Cork: P O'Sullivan 0-7 (6fs), W Leahy 0-2, P Collins (f), L Meade, M Ellis, P Haughney, D Brosnan all 0-1 each.
Clare - D Tuohy; E O'Brien, P O'Connor, P Flanagan; J Browne, C Ryan, G O'Connell; C Galvin, S Golden; D Fitzgerald, T Kelly, P Duggan; J Conlon, D Honan, D Reidy. Subs: A Shanagher for Golden (26), S O'Donnell for Honan (48), B Duggan for Duggan (51), M O'Malley for Galvin (55), C McGrath for Ryan (64).
Cork - P Collins; C Twomey, P O'Mahony, C Spillane; B Moylan, D Cahalane, W Egan; P Haughney, M Ellis; W Leahy, P O'Sullivan, D Brosnan; S Moylan, C Cormack, T Horgan. Subs: L Meade for Horgan (41), P O'Rourke for Cormack (50), D Browne for Twomey (55), N Cashman for Moylan (65), T O'Mahony for Brosnan (65).
ref - J Murphy (Limerick)