'Attacking players as they have done, it's not very respectful' - Clare's Donal Moloney fires back at critics
Clare 2-23 Cork 2-18
The rain in Cusack Park at times had an almost biblical feel to it but there was no miracle for the home side as Clare crashed out of the Munster Championship in strange circumstances.
It had been a tumultuous couple of weeks for the Banner after the insipid performances against Tipperary at home and Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds. So they came to Ennis as much to rediscover themselves as to find a way to survive beyond June.
Ultimately, events in Thurles dictated that what they achieved against a team that has beaten them consistently since their 2013 All-Ireland final replay meeting was in vain as far as progress was concerned.
By the end, there were only ripples of applause around the ground to greet a couple of scores from substitute Cathal McInerney to stretch out their lead, not the guttural roar the players might have identified as a message to keep their foot to the floor with the prize of survival still in sight.
Clare needed Limerick to beat Tipperary to engineer a head-to-head with Cork and make their victory count. But with the Thurles game ending earlier, the concluding stages were slightly surreal. By then Cork had clearly got word on to ensure their players that they were safe with a much stronger score difference than Clare, enough to secure a preliminary All-Ireland quarter-final against the Joe McDonagh Cup final losers, Westmeath or Laois.
On the covered terrace, a knot of supporters did break into a chant in support of their team at the final whistle, gratitude for the response they produced after the hiding in Limerick seven days earlier. But there was no celebrating a first championship win over Cork in six attempts.
Joint-manager Donal Moloney conveyed that sense of pride while taking to task critics of the team who had laid into them, especially after Limerick.
"We're just so proud of them, our county should be proud of them and they shouldn't be proud of some of the stuff they said over the last two weeks," he said.
Agreeing it was a tough week Moloney said the attacks, which came from social and local print media he said, were unwarranted. "They can attack us all they want, we're around a long time, we don't have any issue with that. But attacking players as they have done, it's not very respectful."
Moloney and Gerry O'Connor have been in charge in a joint-capacity for three years now and there was doubt in Ennis afterwards as to whether they would pitch to stay on.
Moloney was keen to point out that they had improved Clare's dismal Munster record, reaching back-to-back provincial finals and winning six games in the three years.
"When we started the first thing we said we'd do is try to win respect in Munster. We had two bad outings in three years, I'd say, and they cost us. To do what they did today, to get up off the floor and do that, it really reflects the courage and character of the players."
Clare needed an early message of defiance and who better to deliver it than Shane O'Donnell, scourge of Cork in that last win six years ago.
Within 16 seconds he had the ball flashed past Anthony Nash, racing onto Jason McCarthy's ball from the throw-in, rounding Niall O'Leary and moving menacingly towards Nash along the end line with eyes fixed on only one outcome.
O'Donnell might have had two more goals, drawing one great save from Nash in the second half and it was that willingness to cut loose than engaged the Clare crowd among the 16,856 attendance instantly.
The whirlwind start continued at the other end, however, when Patrick Horgan goaled just one-and-a-half minutes in, following up the rebound after Clare goalkeeper Donal Tuohy had saved from Aidan Walsh at close range.
Cork had more defensive issues than O'Leary's early concessions to O'Donnell. Eoin Cadogan, replaced at half-time after picking up a yellow card, couldn't get to grips with John Conlon, fouling him for three converted Peter Duggan points before the big full-forward landed one himself on 31 minutes. By then Clare were 1-10 to 1-5 clear, Duggan a big influence. Tony Kelly played a more advanced role, often making it a three-man inside forward line and he profited with 1-2, the goal after taking a Duggan pass off a Tuohy puck-out on 35 minutes.
It had been a fractious, feisty affair. When Cathal Malone shoved into Daniel Kearney on 14 minutes, Kearney clipped him in the head with his hurl but referee Paud O'Dwyer produced yellow instead.
As a measure of how fired up Clare were, the normally placid O'Connor was sent to the stands for remonstrating vociferously with the officials and members of the opposition backroom.
For Cork, Alan Cadogan was sublime, landing four points but Horgan, despite his goals, and Harnedy, who set up his side's second goal with a touch of class, were quieter. Clare were ravenous and in such frantic exchanges it was invariably a Cork player who picked himself ruefully off the ground.
They led by 2-10 to 1-8 at the break but Cork were back within a point inside four minutes. But Clare renewed their efforts and Malone and Jack Browne delivered towering performances.
Horgan's second goal on 65 minutes was superbly engineered by Harnedy and Bill Cooper to close the gap to a point again, 2-18 to 2-17, but Clare kicked on to salvage something from an otherwise disappointing season.
Cork manager John Meyler should be able to quickly put this result behind them. "I'm delighted we've achieved that top three. I'm disappointed we're not in the Munster final but based on that performance today, we don't deserve it."
Scorers - Clare: P Duggan 0-12 (9f); T Kelly 1-2; S O'Donnell 1-0; C Galvin 0-3; D Ryan, C McInerney 0-2 each; A McCarthy, J Conlon 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 2-9 (8f); A Cadogan 0-4; D Fitzgibbon 0-2; S Kingston, D Kearney, S Harnedy 0-1 each.
Clare - D Tuohy 8; P O'Connor 6, D McInerney 6, J Browne 8; C Malone 8, C Cleary 7, S Morey 7; J McCarthy 7, C Galvin 8; D Ryan 7, P Duggan 8, A McCarthy 6; S O'Donnell 7, J Conlon 7, T Kelly 7. Subs: R Taylor 7 for A McCarthy (h-t), D Fitzgerald 6 for O'Connor (54), S Golden for J McCarthy (62), A Shanagher for Conlon (66), C McInerney for Ryan (69)
Cork - A Nash 7; S O'Donoghue 6, E Cadogan 5, N O'Leary 7; R Downey 5, M Ellis 6, M Coleman 7; B Cooper 7, D Fitzgibbon 7; L Meade 7, S Harnedy 7, D Kearney 6; P Horgan 7, A Cadogan 8, A Walsh 6. Subs: S McDonnell 7 for Downey (h-t), D Cahalane 7 for E Cadogan (h-t), S Kingston 6 for Kearney (47), C Lehane 6 for Walsh (52), D Dalton for Meade (66).
Ref - P O'Dwyer (Carlow)