Monday 19 August 2019

Colm Keys: 'Rebel hoodoo keeping Banner on back foot'

Clare haven't beaten Cork in the championship since their 2013 All-Ireland final

David McInerney gets away from Patrick Horgan during Clare’s victory in the 2013 All-Ireland hurling final replay. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
David McInerney gets away from Patrick Horgan during Clare’s victory in the 2013 All-Ireland hurling final replay. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Cork 9, Clare 1. That's how the championship/league games between these Munster rivals have played out since they met in two All-Ireland finals in 2013.

For sure, no Clare player involved then and now would trade a minute of that crisp September evening almost six years ago, when a floodlit Croke Park was introduced to the dynamic running of Shane O'Donnell and the Banner plundered five goals in a replay to prompt talk of a new phase of dominance for them, backed by their trio of All-Ireland-winning U-21 teams.

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But not only have Clare failed to win another All-Ireland or Munster title, they haven't beaten Cork since in five championship meetings.

It's quite an eye-catching statistic given that, at first glance, there wouldn't appear to have been a lot between them throughout the decade.

Whether it's been a Munster semi-final (2014, when they lost by 2-23 to 2-18), a qualifier (2015, when they lost by 0-20 to 0-17), a Munster final (2017, when they lost by 1-23 to 1-20 and in 2018, when it was 2-24 to 3-19) or even a new-look provincial round-robin match (2018, when it was 2-23 to 1-21), the result has been the same. Cork have just had their measure on big championship occasions.

Fortunes

2014: Cork 2-24 Clare 2-18, Munster SHC semi-final. Photo: Dáire Brennan / Sportsfile
2014: Cork 2-24 Clare 2-18, Munster SHC semi-final. Photo: Dáire Brennan / Sportsfile

Their league fortunes carry a similar tale of woe. From four games, Clare have enjoyed just one win - in 2018, when they had four points to spare.

The other three have gone Cork's way and yielded some of Clare's most disappointing spring performances.

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In 2015, Kilkenny sent a weakened team to Páirc Uí Rinn the previous week but still beat Cork. Cork's response was to inflict a 1-24 to 0-17 defeat on Clare that the Banner didn't see coming.

The current management's first league game in charge was against Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn and it too was quite a chastening experience for them, as they lost by 0-21 to 1-11.

2017: Cork 1-23 Clare 1-20, Munster SHC final. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
2017: Cork 1-23 Clare 1-20, Munster SHC final. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

One Cork player who has thrived against Clare since that All-Ireland final defeat is Patrick Horgan, who has amassed 2-100 in the nine competitive games they have met in since.

Horgan seems to reserve some of his best performances for Clare and only last February knocked over 16 points (15 frees) to punish Clare's indiscipline in the tackle once more.

One of his most stirring efforts came in the 2015 qualifier on a wet night in Thurles when both sides experienced difficulty with their radars.

Clare looked poised to finish strongest until Horgan intervened, whipping over four of the last five points.

2018: Cork 2-23 Clare 1-21, Munster round-robin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
2018: Cork 2-23 Clare 1-21, Munster round-robin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Clare will certainly feel that they had opportunities to win both games in the Munster Championship last year.

They lost their opening game by five points but that wasn't a measure of how close it was. And with John Conlon dominant they started the Munster final like a train but again struggled with shot selection and a few miscued frees from Peter Duggan in the second half.

The tactical approach Clare bring to Ennis on Sunday will be watched with interest and there's a certain sense that the locals would like to see them attack the game with a little less structure.

In the aftermath of the Tipp defeat in Ennis two weeks ago, former captain Anthony Daly emitted a frustrating tone with his contention that systems were being leaned on too heavily by teams, including Clare.

That chimed with the words of his defensive colleague Brian Lohan three years earlier when he appraised a Clare team then managed by Davy Fitzgerald.

"We have the players to be able to play a 15-v-15 game, or five up front," said Lohan.

"When it happens for us that we play, we generally win. So I can't understand the thinking behind the systems, particularly when we are losing so many championship games.

"We have some really good players and it is stifling the way that we are playing and using them."

After two bad defeats to Tipperary and Limerick, Clare will look to rally before a home crowd for whom the fear will rise that a golden generation will slip by without adding to that All-Ireland in the short term if that losing sequence extends to three.

A win still doesn't guarantee Clare survival in this year's championship because if Limerick lose to Tipperary, a three-way tie with Cork and the reigning All-Ireland champions would, quite likely, see Clare lose out on score difference, given the scale of their losses to Tipperary and Limerick and the narrow margin of their win over Waterford.

But what Clare supporters will look for most is evidence that the light hasn't gone out on this group of players who promised so much at the beginning of the decade.

How ironic that the team they beat to enjoy their greatest moment have been arguably the biggest impediment to building on it.

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