Thursday 23 November 2017

Heart but no miracles from Micko's men

Cork's class tells despite battling Banner display CORK 1-20 CLARE 1-11

John O'Rourke gets away from Graham Kelly at Cusack Park
John O'Rourke gets away from Graham Kelly at Cusack Park

Christy O'Connor

Ten minutes after the final whistle, the Clare players were still gathered in a huddle, arms wrapped tightly around each other, different voices dominating a discussion that was raking over the remains of the day.

Ten minutes after the final whistle, the Clare players were still gathered in a huddle, arms wrapped tightly around each other, different voices dominating a discussion that was raking over the remains of the day.

Mick O'Dwyer (pictured below) stood just inside the edge of the group, his peak cap and blue jacket insulating him from the spilling rain.

The ground was long deserted by then and whatever little colour splashed across the day had been washed away.

This was O'Dwyer's first game as a manager against Cork in the championship since the 1989 Munster final and the greyness of the afternoon's sky and the solitude within the ground reflected the contrasting world O'Dwyer now inhabits from those eternal summer Sundays.

The atmosphere was soft and muted and O'Dwyer's voice could often be heard from the touchline. His side was game, gutsy and hard-working but there was never a sense that this could be one of those days of days that have defined O'Dwyer's career.

STRUGGLED

Cork were gone off the field almost as soon as the final whistle blew. They got the job done but know how much work they still have to do.

Much of their play was devoid of structure. They didn't play with any clearly defined system and they again struggled to break down a defence that got bodies back in numbers.

That was reflected in their creation of just one clear goalscoring opportunity, which only popped up after the ball had bobbled around the square like a dinghy in an angry ocean.

Still, they kicked 1-20 at their ease. Their freetaking was exceptional in tricky conditions and their bench looks stronger than ever. When you pan the grit from their performance, there were enough sufficient flashes of hidden gold to keep them content for now.

At face value, Paddy Kelly seemed to have had a quiet game. His 20 plays were well below his average of at least 30 but he had seven scoring assists.

Economy was the key that kept unlocking the door. Brian Hurley, Daniel Goulding, Fintan Goold and Paul Kerrigan made a combined total of just 42 plays – a low average for four top-class forwards – but they mined 1-11 from play from that return.

Cork have also unearthed a real diamond in the former Antrim player James Loughrey. He was their best player by a distance, making more plays than any other player on the field.

He brings a defensive feistiness, a cutting attacking edge and a massive level of energy. When Cork did a fitness test last week, he topped the group.

On any other day, Loughrey would have been man of the match but this game absolutely confirmed Gary Brennan's status as one of the best players in the country.

Brennan came in to the game carrying an injury but he bestrode the match with his class and immense ball-winning ability, making 24 plays in total.

When Clare launched their first sustained scoring burst, hitting seven points in 12 minutes, Brennan set up four of them.

Physically, Cork couldn't compete with him under the dropping ball, which will be a concern in three weeks time if Kieran Donaghy is in fetching form.

Brennan scored one excellent goal and probably would have had another if referee Derek Fahy hadn't harshly penalised him as he was just about to pull the trigger when Clare were trailing by just six points.

The difficulty for Brennan was that they needed him at midfield and full-forward.

Clare moved him out to midfield midway through the second half as their primary kick-out target but he tired in the last quarter and couldn't give any more than he already had.

Kick-outs were a huge issue for Clare up to that point because they got slaughtered 17-5 on kick-outs in the opening half. Clare did change to a shorter strategy in the second half – until Brennan arrived out – but they still managed to turn around that kickout stat 14-9 after the break.

Cork still dominated possession but their finishing was nowhere near the standard they reached in the first half. Cork had six scores from their first six shots at the target while their first-half wide count of just three was up to 11 by the end of the match.

Three of those wides were from inaccurate or over-hit ball but they still won 20 out of the 29 balls kicked in to their forwards. Those stats neatly illustrated the extra gear Cork always had at their disposal.

This was still an admirable performance from Clare. It appeared that they would be overrun in the opening 18 minutes when they trailed by 0-7 to 0-0 and had managed only two clear shots at the target. Yet they responded with five scores without reply.

Cork's goal in the 30th minute ripped away that momentum, however, and the match resumed its fatalistic trend.

Ahead by 1-11 to 0-7 at the break, Cork responded to Brennan's goal by outscoring Clare by 0-6 to 0-1 over the following 15 minutes.

The match then just played out to its expected backing track. By the time Clare and O'Dwyer trooped off the field, the music was long over.

Scorers – Cork: D Goulding 1-5 (0-3fs), B Hurley 0-5 (2fs), F Goold 0-4, P Kerrigan, J O'Rourke 0-2 each, C Sheehan, D O'Connor 0-1 each. Clare: D Tubridy 0-4 (2fs), G Brennan 1-0, R Donnelly 0-2, J Hayes, J Kean, C Dunning, S McGrath, I McInerney (f) 0-1 each.

CORK – K O'Halloran 7; E Cadogan 7, M Shields 7, D Cahalane 7; J Loughrey 9, P Kissane 8, Tomas Clancy 7; P O'Neill 7, G Canty 8; J O'Rourke 7, P Kelly 8, F Goold 8; D Goulding 8, B Hurley 8, P Kerrigan 7. Subs: A Walsh 7 for O'Neill (43), C Sheehan 8 for Kerrigan (48), D O'Connor 7 for O'Rourke (57), A O'Connor 7 for Kelly (64), Thomas Clancy 7 for Kissane (66).

CLARE – J Hayes 7; M McMahon 8, L Healy 7, Gordon Kelly 7; D Callinan 7, J Hayes 8, Graham Kelly 7; G Brennan 9, C O'Connor 8; R Donnelly 8, G Quinlan 8, S McGrath 7; A Clohessy 7, I McInerney 8, D Tubridy 8. Subs: C Dunning 7 for Clohessy (45), F Hayes 7 for C O'Connor (56), J Kean for Quinlan (60), S Ryan 7 for McGrath (60), P McMahon 7 for Graham Kelly (61).

REF – D Fahy (Longford)

Irish Independent

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