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Christopher Joyce, Cork, prepares to clear under pressure from Clare's Colm Galvin

Christopher Joyce, Cork, prepares to clear under pressure from Clare's Colm Galvin

Colm Galvin, Clare, in action against Daniel Kearney, Cork

Colm Galvin, Clare, in action against Daniel Kearney, Cork

Conor McGrath, Clare, in action against Stephen McDonnell, Cork.

Conor McGrath, Clare, in action against Stephen McDonnell, Cork.

Apart from Sean Cavanagh in the second half, Tyrone were out-fought and out-thought in every department.

Apart from Sean Cavanagh in the second half, Tyrone were out-fought and out-thought in every department.

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Christopher Joyce, Cork, prepares to clear under pressure from Clare's Colm Galvin

Jimmy Barry-Murphy has negotiated the championship circuit far too often to be overly-impressed by one particularly good lap, but Cork were so smooth on all the straights and bends in Semple Stadium that they appear to have plenty of scope for further acceleration.

They will be back home in Pairc Ui Chaoimh for the next big drive in the Munster final on July 13 when they will be on a major retrieval mission against Limerick, who overpowered them with unexpected ease last year.

They will do so with three championship games behind them, each contributing to an ever-widening base from which to advance their All-Ireland ambitions.

Their character was tested to the limit first time out against Waterford when they had to recover from a nine-point deficit to force a draw.

PERFORMANCE

A much-improved performance saw them safely through in the replay and they moved up another gear yesterday to out-gun Clare more comprehensively than the scoreline suggests.

All-Ireland champions always start the defence of their title in the privileged position of being afforded maximum respect by the opposition, a reality that was very much in evidence early on yesterday when Cork were playing so carefully that their natural instincts appeared to be put on hold.

Clare were quick and energetic, zooming into a two-point lead after seven minutes and looking very much as if they were in the right groove, despite having had no competitive outing for eight weeks. Gradually, however, the pattern altered as Cork worked their way into the game, improving across every line.

The most significant area of gain was around midfield, where Aidan Walsh and Daniel Kearney imposed their contrasting styles on Clare to huge effect. Walsh's aerial skills, combined with his long-striding treks to wherever he was required, made him the dominant figure in what was high-yield territory for Cork.

Kearney did most of his best work at ground level, sweeping on to breaking balls as if radar-guided and also embarking on speedy solo runs, which caused a wide range of problems for the Clare defence. Walsh's decision to double up on football and hurling this year is a massive plus for Cork, for whom midfield was something of a problem area last year.

There are other improvement factors too, brought about by arrival of Alan Cadogan and Mark Ellis, who is settling in well at centre-back.

Cadogan has been one of the finds of the season, a skillful, busy No 13, who tormented both the Waterford and Clare defences over the last few weeks. He ran Jack Browne into trouble from the off yesterday, resulting in Davy Fitzgerald replacing his No 4 with Seadna Morey at half-time.

Morey fared little better, but then most defenders would have difficulty coping with Cadogan. As well as scoring 0-3, he won quite a few frees, which were converted into scores by Patrick Horgan, whose unerring eye helped him to 2-11.

His first goal came from a 24-metre free in the 32nd minute after Cadogan was fouled, while his second was clocked up in the 59th minute when he whizzed a penalty to the net following a despairing foul on Seamus Harnedy as he bore down on the Clare goal. The change of rule, which demands that the striker can be no closer than the 20-metre line has, presumably, ended Anthony Nash's deployment as a hit-man.

His ability to end up on the 13-metre line before unleashing a ferocious drive is no longer a factor – hence Cork's decision to opt for Horgan, who spins the ball with deceptive subtlety, which is more valuable than sheer power in the new environment.

Clare were deeply unhappy that Horgan was afforded so many chances from frees, especially in the first half when they were penalised 12 times, nine of which were within Horgan's range.

He posted 1-8 of Cork's 1-13 first-half total, leaving Cork three points ahead. It might well have been six points, but Clare struck for their first goal in the final seconds when John Conlon whipped the ball to the net after a skirmish in the square.

The sides had been level six times in the opening 25 minutes, but Cork were the better side in the remaining 10 minutes, which featured some ominous signs for Clare.

The hunting pack mentality, which underpinned their march to All-Ireland glory last year, wasn't as pronounced and, with Cork growing in confidence, Clare's pressure points became more problematic.

Still, they started the second half well enough and were only two points adrift after 43 minutes, but when Walsh struck a superb point from out on the sideline, it signalled the start of a match-defining five minutes.

Cork added four more points in quick succession, leaving them 1-20 to 1-13 ahead after 48 minutes. Briefly, it appeared as if Clare might be facing a really heavy defeat, but they managed to stop the bleeding and responded with three points to cut the margin to four points with 20 minutes remaining.

Cork reacted coolly, closing their defensive channels and reasserting themselves further afield before making another decisive break when Horgan goaled from a penalty.

They hurled their way comfortably through the final 10 minutes, with Clare chasing them from a distance, a pursuit which yielded a consolation goal for sub Darach Honan in the 69th minute.

Heading for the All-Ireland qualifiers after losing a Munster semi-final is familiar territory for Clare, who recovered from an even bigger defeat by Cork last year to win Liam MacCarthy.

That comforting thought will fortify them for the qualifier relaunch (they can be drawn against Antrim, Laois, Offaly, Wexford or the Kilkenny-Galway losers), but they also know they must sort out their problem areas if the adventure is to be anywhere near as successful as last year.

Being forced to repair their full-back line at half-time and removing both midfielders before the three-quarter mark wasn't the scenario anticipated, but it became necessary once Cork exploited the weaknesses.

The running-passing game, which Clare perfected last year, wasn't as slick either, but that may be down to this being their first championship game whereas Cork were having their third outing.

It greatly enhanced the smooth running of a team whose confidence levels will rise considerably after this hugely significant victory.

Scorers – Cork: P Horgan 2-11 (1-11fs, 1-0 pen), D Kearney, A Cadogan 0-3 each, C Lehane 0-2, D Cahalane, A Walsh, P O'Sullivan, W Egan 0-1 each. Clare: Colin Ryan 0-6 (5f, 1 '65'), J Conlon 1-2, D Honan 1-0, N O'Connell, C McGrath, C Galvin 0-2 each, P Collins, T Kelly, P Donnellan, C McInerney 0-1 each.

Cork – A Nash 7; S O'Neill 7, D Cahalane 7, S McDonnell 8; C Joyce 7, M Ellis 7, L McLoughlin 7; D Kearney 8, A Walsh 9; C Lehane 7, B Cooper 6, S Harnedy 7; A Cadogan 8, P Cronin 7, P Horgan 8. Subs: S Moylan 7 for Cooper (59), W Egan 7 for Kearney (59), P O'Sullivan 7 for Harnedy (60), E Cadogan for Ellis (67).

Clare – D Tuohy 5; D McInerney 6, C Dillon 6, J Browne 5; B Bugler 6, Conor Ryan 6, P O'Connor 6; C Galvin 6,P Donnellan 5; J Conlon 7, T Kelly 6, Colin Ryan 6; P Collins 6, C McGrath 7, P Duggan 7. Subs: S Morey 5 for Browne (h-t), N O'Connell 7 for Donnellan (45), C McInerney 7 for Galvin (51), D Honan for Conlon (62).

REF – J McGrath (Westmeath).


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