Classy Cork secure Munster title with hard-earned win over Clare
Cork 1-25 Clare 1-20
Cork were Munster champions as recently as 2014, but such was the outpouring of joy from the thousands of the Rebels fans when the final whistle sounded in Semple Stadium that it felt like a long famine had ended.
Over 45,000 fans – two third of them from Cork - were in Thurles to witness what was essentially a disappointing final which only sparkled into life in the closing minutes 15 after a Conor McGrath goal for Clare.
A first-half goal from the game's in-form forward Alan Cadogan from Cork – who finished with 1-4 – set the pattern for the first half which was largely top-start in nature.
Cork led 1-10 to 0-8 at the break and Clare looked to have squandered their chance of a historic with a succession of wides in the third quarter.
McGrath's goal sparked his team and the contest into life. While Cork dealt with that challenge they had to survive another bigger one at the death when Clare's three points on the spin left two points between the sides with a minute of normal time remaining.
However, Cork as they had done all day, rose to the moments and scored three points in injury time to secure the silverware. Clare will look back with regret having only scored a point from a penalty, struck the crossbar twice and hit at least a dozen wides.
Fittingly, Pat Horgan, who became Cork's leading all time scorer in championship hurling - overtaking Christy Ring - hit the game's final score deep in injury time to bring his individual tally to 0-13.
This was only the thirteenth ever Munster final between Cork and Clare and the first since 1999 with the Banner aiming to beat the Rebels in the provincial decider for the first time since 1932.
Clare, in particular, looked nervous in the early exchanges as they played into the breeze and made unenforced errors, particularly with their cross field passes with a least three going over the sideline in the first quarter.
Their finishing was sub-standard too – they hit six first-half wides but Cork's was even worse as they hit seven. As a result the contest had little rhythm in the first half.
All eyes were on Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash – whose accurate re-starts had played such a pivotal role in their wins over Tipperary and Waterford.
But he had been understudy to Donal Og Cusack, now a Clare selector, for seven years and his master surely knew most of his plays.
Nash went short with several of his puck-outs but Cork retained possession from all but two of them. Indeed, it was from one of Nash's long puck-outs that the Rebels achieved their first breakthrough when Alan Cadogan – who formed a two-man full forward line with Seamus Harnedy – skipped past Oisin O'Brien at the left flank and drove it past Andrew Fahy.
Essentially it was a five-point turnaround as in the previous attack a shot from Clare midfielder Cathal Malone had rebounded off the crossbar and although Podge Collins slotted over the rebound, it went down as a missed goal chance.
The 12th-minute goal put Cork 1-3 to 0-3 ahead but Clare hit the next three points but again there was an element of what might have been. Aron Shanagher won a crucial ball before off loading to Shane O'Donnell who was fouled in the parallelogram. However, Nash got a stick to Tony Kelly's penalty and pushed it over the bar.
But Cork dominated the scoring in the last 15 minutes of the first half, outscoring their opponents 7-2.
Clare's discipline deserted them as they conceded a succession of frees which enabled Patrick Horgan to convert four placed balls which together with a single point from play brought his championship tally to 12-269 (305), which meant he overtook the legendary Christy Ring - 33-205 (304) - as the Rebels' leading scorer in championship hurling.
It also moved him into fifth place overall in the list behind Henry Shefflin, Eddie Kehir, Eoin Kelly and Joe Canning.
But it was Alan Cadogan who was the game's outstanding forward in the first half with his 1-2 contribution from play and such was his influence that his marker Oisin O'Brien was replaced three minutes before the break. Interestingly, at the other end the Clare full forward line, which featured Shane O'Donnell and Conor McGrath, failed to raise a flag in the first half.
So Cork deserved their 1-10 to 0-8 half-time advantage.
After a subdued first half, Shane Kingston burst into the game in the early stages of the second half which forced Clare into another defensive change – Cian Dillon replaced team captain Patrick O'Connor.
Cork kept the scoreboard ticking over mostly through Horgan's free-taking and still led by five points after 45 minutes while Clare's long-range shooting let them down. They hit three wides in a row to bring their second-half tally to five.
But they finally got their back together with John Conlon setting up Conor McGrath for a brilliant goal in the 55th minute; Tony Kelly added a point and suddenly it was a two-point game. But Cork held their nerve when they needed it most. Cadogan and Horgan – his second from play – hit the next two scores.
Clare, though, fought tenaciously and it took a brilliant save from Nash via the crossbar to keep the Rebels ahead. A brace of Mark Coleman points, one from a sideline, appeared to have done enough to see off the Clare challenge as they trailed by five points with five minutes of normal time remaining.
But Clare finally hit a purple patch, firing over three-in-a-row, to leave two between the sides at the end of normal time. But a brilliant break out of defence by Damien Cahalane after Clare were unlucky not to win a free set up Horgan for a point which effectively broken the Clare resistance and they conceded two more before the final whistle.
Hardly an epic, but Cork won't complain as they collected their 52nd provincial hurling title.
The official attendance was 45,558.
Cork: A Nash; S McDonnell, D Cahalane, C Spillane; C Joyce, M Ellis, M Coleman (0-2, 1 sideline); B Cooper, D Fitzgibbon (0-1); S Harnedy (0-2), C Lehane (0-1), S Kingston (0-1); A Cadogan (1-4), P Horgan (0-13, 10f), L Meade (0-1) Subs: D Harney for Kingston 57m, L O'Farrell for Fitzgibbon 60m, M Cahalane for Meade 65;
Clare: A Fahy; S Morey (0-1), D McInerney (0-1), P O'Connor; D Fitzgerald, C Cleary, O O'Brien; C Gavlin (0-1), C Malone; T Kelly (0-10, 6f 1 pen) P Collins (0-1), J Conlon (0-2); S O'Donnell, A Shanagher (0-1), C McGrath (1-1). Subs: J McCarthy (0-1) for O' Brien 32m; D Reidy for Collins ht; C Dillon for O'Connor 43m; A Cunningham (0-1) for Shanagher 59m; P Duggan for Malone
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)