Walsh proves Cork inspiration as early goals derail title hopes of brave Banner
Cork 3-16 Clare 0-13 Munster SFC final
If they were going to go down, Micheal McDermott was adamant it would be with a bit of honour. And that's how Clare's first Munster football final appearance in 12 years transpired in the Gaelic Grounds yesterday.
Cork rolled in three first-half goals that cemented a first provincial title in three years and after that Clare were only playing for whatever scraps fell from the table.
Quite a few did, as it happens. Between them, their full-forward line -- Michael O'Shea, David Tubridy and Rory Donnelly -- scored eight points from play from a total of 13 and forced Cork defenders and goalkeeper Alan Quirke to scramble balls to safety off the line on at least three occasions. For Conor Counihan, there is more to ponder than the scoreline suggests.
But if ever a game was set up for underdogs to drop numbers back and see where it takes them, it was here yesterday. Last year's match between the sides in Pairc Ui Chaoimh almost demanded they should employ not just one but two sweepers behind their own 45-metre line.
Would the same gaps have appeared in the opening 20 minutes for Aidan Walsh and Fintan Goold, whose two goals gave Cork a 2-5 to 0-4 lead?
But McDermott wouldn't have had it any other way. There was too much romance attached to Clare's return to a Munster final for them to go down that road, so they went 'man for man'.
One way or another, McDermott would contend they would still be arriving at the same place. This way, it was over and out by half-time. "Watching Cork closely over the last 12 months, if you drop a defender back, you are going to invite them on, and when you do that, they'll kick 25 or 26 points against you," McDermott figured.
"That's the quality you are dealing with, Division 1 champions and favourites to win the All-Ireland. We wanted to go out here to play our way. We had confidence in our game and we wanted to take the game to Cork. The goals came from our mistakes, more so than from them penetrating.
"If there was a sweeper there, those goals probably still would have gone in. It's a chance in a lifetime to get into a Munster final. You don't go in to keep a scoreline down. You go out and try to win it, we were brave enough to try and win it today."
Counihan wasn't pleased that Cork sat back as they did. They won the second half by 0-9 to 0-6, but the concession of so many scores by their full-back line poses a concern.
Graham Canty and Paddy Kelly failed fitness tests and joined Pearse O'Neill on the sidelines, leaving Cork with plenty of artillery reserves for the next four weeks.
The danger is that this will be their only game in an eight-week period and that isn't the best preparation against a team that could possibly have three games played over the next three weekends.
"We can't be too negative about it," said Counihan. "We won a Munster championship for the first time in three years. The second-half performance would be most disappointing. At this level you expect and demand more of players. We'll be asking the questions of our lads over the next few weeks as to why we didn't push on."
The benign nature of the play was reflected in the number of yellow cards shown (three), and the free count (just 26) was way below the average for a game like this. Clare won the free count 20-6, but McDermott was still perplexed by some of the decisions referee Eddie Kinsella made in the second half.
"We had some crazy decisions against us in the second half, but we held our discipline and took it on the chin. That was one of the most pleasing aspects of it.
"I'm not here to criticise any official at all. It wasn't going to change the game, but it hurts. You have decisions that in my view should be going your way and they weren't there for the Division 4 team today," he argued, mirroring the views of his hurling counterpart, Davy Fitzgerald, who had a similar message back in April.
"The decisions didn't cost us the game but it could have given us hope. It could have left us with that little bit more to take out of it if the scoreline was closer."
Unlike Pairc Ui Chaoimh in that Munster quarter-final last year, they didn't drop their heads and Gary Brennan was central to that as he mixed it up impressively against Walsh and Alan O'Connor at midfield.
But Cork's exploitation of space was crucial. Paul Kerrigan and Ciaran Sheehan knew they had the legs on their opponents and always sought to break the tackle and power away. Centre-back Gordan Kelly was quickly switched off Sheehan with John Hayes moving over, but the space kept opening up.
Goold got in for the first goal after Donncha O'Connor's ball over the top put him clear. Walsh made 30 metres to plant the second off his left foot, while Kerrigan raced through to set up Nicholas Murphy for the third on 31 minutes and secure a 3-6 to 0-6 lead.
All the time Colm O'Neill was putting himself in the right positions to land four points.
That Clare only lost the rest of the game by three points is a credit to their resilience as much as it was to Cork's slumber mode. In fact, they could have been closer had Ray Carey not cleared a Tubridy shot off the line early in the second half after great approach work involving Niall Browne, Shane McGrath, Alan Clohessy and Kelly. Late on, Quirke got down smartly to parry a shot from Browne.
It was a noble effort from Clare, with McDermott sounding the right notes about the next three weeks as they head for the fourth-round qualifiers. "This bunch are hurting from the manner of the defeat.
"I can guarantee you, this week they will have their goals refocused. We still have a chance to get to a quarter-final.
"For the last number of years we have been fighting it out in the first-round of the qualifiers. We are in round four. That's fantastic for Clare."
Scorers -- Cork: A Walsh 1-1, C Sheehan, C O'Neill 0-4 each, N Murphy, F Goold 1-0 each, D O'Connor, D Goulding, P Kerrigan all 0-2 each, B O'Driscoll 0-1. Clare: M O'Shea 0-4, R Donnelly, D Tubridy (2f) 0-3 each, G Brennan 0-2, Gordan Kelly 0-1.
Cork -- A Quirke 8; R Carey 6, M Shields 7, E Cadogan 6; E Cotter 6, N O'Leary 7, P Kissane 6; A O'Connor 7, A Walsh 8; F Goold 6, C Sheehan 8, P Kerrigan 8; C O'Neill 8, N Murphy 6, D O'Connor 6. Subs: D Goulding 7 for Murphy (51), D O'Sullivan 6 for Kissane (54), J Fitzpatrick 6 for A O'Connor (56), M Collins for Goold (65), B O'Driscoll for Sheehan (65).
Clare -- Joe Hayes 7; K Hartnett 6, B Duggan 6, L Healy 7; E Coughlan 5, Gordan Kelly 6, John Hayes 6; G Brennan 8, G Quinlan 5; S Brennan 6, S McGrath 6, A Clohessy 6; R Donnelly 7, D Tubridy 7, M O'Shea 8. Subs: N Browne 6 for Quinlan (h-t), Graham Kelly 6 for Coughlan (h-t), D Russell 5 for Clohessy (58), S McNeilis for Duggan (67), C Talty for S Brennan (70).
Ref -- E Kinsella (Laois).