CLARE 0-21 CORK 0-13 IT IS a measure of Clare's supremacy in the hurling world these days and Cork's irrelevance that Cork wing-back Sean Ó hAilpín could say after this eight-point defeat that ``at least, we have put down a foundation.''
Ó hAilpín's words were not ridiculous, for Cork went hip-to-hip with Clare three-quarters, or more, of the way, but when the match was there to be won, the Leesiders were face down on the canvas and struggling to make the count of eight.
This threatens to be the most important twist of the hurling season. No-one leaving Semple Stadium was in any doubt about Clare's appetite for another season.
It was not a flawless performance, but it improved exponentially and by the end of the 70 minutes, Cork were torn to shreds.
Anthony Daly's 100-yard free in the 63rd minute put Clare 0-16 to 0-13 ahead, and it also sent the floodgates crashing open. An attack which had missed from every angle for most of the game now swung them over from all sides.
Jamesie O'Connor, Niall Gilligan, Alan Markham, Eamonn Taaffe and O'Connor, again, all pointed in one of the most devastating bursts ever produced by this Clare team.
A Clare win wouldn't be the same without some controversy, however. Yesterday, it came in the shape of a `dummy' team in the programme and provided to the media during the week.
In the week leading up to last year's All-Ireland final, Fergal Hegarty carried Niall Gilligan's load; last week, Michael O'Halloran and Conor Clancy were the front-men for another audacious managerial ploy.
They were named in the team announced on Tuesday night. In Clancy's case, family members took their places in the stand expecting him to play.
But when the team ran out onto the field, they must have been astonished to see Clancy and O'Halloran in their tracksuits with Alan Markham and Brian Quinn starting at left corner-forward and left corner-back respectively.
There was confusion about when exactly Clancy and O'Halloran knew they would not be playing, despite the public announcement of their inclusion.
``I got a few hints during the week. I thought when the team was picked on Tuesday night that I would be in, but I had an idea I mightn't be on Friday night,'' said O'Halloran.
Clancy said he only learned on Sunday morning. Other members of the squad had an inkling that there might be a change in the forward line, but O'Halloran's demotion apparently came as a surprise.
Neither player was livid with anger, though even if they were they would scarcely rock the boat carrying the most successful Clare team ever to leave the county.
``In fairness, I would be the first to tell a fellow to stop whinging and get on with it, so I can't start complaining now. All that matters is that we won and the lads played well,'' said O'Halloran, who admitted to a loss of form.
Similar sentiments of squad unity were expressed by Clancy, though O'Halloran's was the more articulate of the two. He also made a speech to the players before they left the dressingroom.
``We want to use every tactic we can to win for Clare fairly,'' said Loughnane. ``We don't have men sent off, we don't strike anybody off the ball. Some people say we can be arrogant and they can say what they like, but we play for each other.
``We told the players whatever team appeared in the papers, pay no heed to it. We would tell them on Sunday morning, that was it. We had decided since last Saturday that this was the team we were going to play.
``When you have young or new players coming in, you must protect them. If we picked those players last Tuesday, all you fellows would be down interviewing them like happened to Danny Scanlan in the league semi-final. It ruined him.''
This explanation for Scanlan's failure to make the breakthrough cannot surely be ascribed to an unrelenting media spotlight did anybody interview Scanlan?
And with the thrust of media coverage over the past week focusing on Loughnane and his opposite number, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Markham and Quinn could have gone about daily life without much interruption since last Tuesday.
BOTTLE OF SMOKE
The story of Loughnane's stand ban transpired to be a bottle of smoke. Last year, he claimed almost the full back-page of the Clare Champion in a Tipperary/Clare/Liz Howard controversy.
Last week his terse, one-line letter to the GAC found temporary disapproval. In Loughnane's defence we can defend him, too, when the occasion demands! it was mere semantics.
``Tá mé thar a bheith sásta glacadh leis na rialacha go léir a sheol tú chugaim le deanaí,'' wrote Loughnane. For those not au fait with the Gaeilge, Loughnane explains: ``I am more than happy to accept all the regulations you sent me recently, and I signed it, that was it. What more could I say?
``All they were mentioning was two regulations. I told them I was happy with them. I got a fax back saying it wasn't acceptable. I told them I wasn't going to change and I wanted no more to do about it.''
The ban was lifted and Loughnane paraded up and down the touchline and occasionally on to the pitch. The GAC chairman Frank Murphy is also Cork county secretary. Did Loughnane consider this unusual?
``Some people would consider it highly unusual. Maybe he should have stepped aside when the controversy was on and left it to somebody else,'' he replied.
We had a match in Thurles, too! And it was a splendid contest in the first-half, tame enough for over half the second, and a glorious Clare procession for the remainder.
Clare won because they weathered an early Cork storm, when Alan Browne won good ball ahead of Brian Lohan, Seanie McMahon was distracted at centre-back, and the Clare forwards malfunctioned.
This period, lasting about 30 minutes of the first-half, saw Cork twice open up three-point leads. But little of Browne's probings resulted in the scoreboard operator being troubled. And they relied too greatly on frees. Goal chances came their way but they were squandered.
By half-time, Clare had it back to 0-9 to 0-8, and the wearing-down process was now well underway. McMahon claimed complete control at centre half-back. Brian Lohan sussed out Alan Browne and this duel swung around completely.
Cork had to take Browne off Lohan in the second-half and, as an indication of how far Cork had plunged, they had to put him back in again when Sean O'Farrell couldn't knock a stir out of Lohan at all.
Through their first-half travails, Colin Lynch and Ollie Baker were superb at midfield for Clare. It was their steadiness which created the many openings fluffed by an ineffectual attack.
Clare's way is the dogged, persistent way. With Baker and Lynch still plugging away, and with Liam Doyle, McMahon and Anthony Daly propping them up, the scores eventually started to trickle in the second-half.
David Forde, O'Connor, Taaffe, Markham and Gilligan scored the first five points of the second-half and and from there to the finish, they were merciless, each point drawing wild whoops of delight from the Clare fans.
SCORERS Clare: J O'Connor 0-5 (2f), E Taaffe 0-3, A Markham 0-3, N Gilligan 0-3, O Baker 0-2, D Forde 0-2, PJ O'Connell 0-2, G O'Loughlin 0-1, A Daly 0-1 (f) Cork: J Deane 0-7 (6f), P Ryan 0-3 (2f, 1 65), S McGrath 0-2, F McCormack 0-1.
CLARE D Fitzgerald (8); F Lohan (8), B Lohan (8), B Quinn (7); L Doyle (8), S McMahon (9), A Daly (8); C Lynch (9), O Baker (9); D Forde (8), PJ O'Connell (6), J O'Connor (8); N Gilligan (8), E Taaffe (8), A Markham (8). Subs: G O'Loughlin (7) for PJ O'Connell (46); F Hegarty (not on long enoguh to be rated) for A Markham (70).
CORK G Cunningham (8); F Ryan (8), J Browne (8), D O'Sullivan (7); S O hAilpin (7), B Corcoran (8), M Landers (7); P Ryan (8), M Daly (6); S McGrath (7), F McCormack (6), K Morrisson (5); S O'Farrell (5), A Browne (7), J Deane (8). Subs: D Murphy (7) for F Ryan (inj 38); B Egan (7) for K Morrisson (45); K Murray (5) for S O'Farrell (60).
REF W Barrett (Tipperary).