Diarmuid Ryan winner leaves Ennis in ecstasy as Clare seize momentum for their final push

Munster SHC Round 4: Clare 2-22, Cork 3-18

21 May 2023; Diarmuid Ryan of Clare scores what proved to be the winning point during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Clare and Cork at Cusack Park in Ennis, Clare. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Colm Keys

At the end of this latest Munster epic, the Cusack Park sound system boomed out Freed From Desire and the crowd in the ‘Shed’ instinctively began to chant the chorus, bouncing up and down in unison as the Ennis venue erupted in celebration.

It truly was a magical scene, the connection between most in the 18,659 crowd and players framed by David Fitzgerald fist-pumping to them to generate an even bigger reaction.

It felt more like a music festival at that stage than the fourth round of a provincial round-robin competition. But then, this Munster Championship has had a festival feel to it from the first weekend anyway, even with Waterford dragging their heels, and Clare’s advance to a second successive final will give hope that, 25 years on from their last success, they are ready to bridge that gap.

Fittingly, this ended with the sliotar in Diarmuid Ryan’s hands, the Clare wing-back such a pivotal presence in reclaiming whatever momentum Cork continuously sought to thieve from their hosts in the second half.

He scored three points from distance, four in all, including the winner on 74 minutes from inside his own half after Eibhear Quilligan, his goalkeeper, had the presence of mind to pick him out. More of the calm heads on the field were in saffron and blue and ultimately, that’s why they prevailed.

Cork will question why Ryan found himself in so much space then and before, just as David McInerney found the time and space for two points.

Both McInerney’s points came in the three minutes that followed Cork’s third goal on 64 minutes, when Patrick Horgan, whose 1-9 put him back as the championship’s all-time leading scorer ahead of TJ Reid, fielded above McInerney, turned him and shot below Quilligan. Thus the response was atonement from the Tulla man if there ever was some.

“There was a lot of thought and soul-searching done in relation to ourselves and where we were going as a group after that Tipp game and everything was on the line against Limerick,” said Clare manager Brian Lohan.

“We got through the Waterford game and then here was just . . . there wasn’t as much pressure on the game. It was such a vital game but there wasn’t that tough pressure that we had going into Limerick. So maybe there was a little bit more freedom in our play and we played a bit better, particularly coming down the stretch.”

Maybe Clare are just dealing with these pressure situations better. They got a foothold in the second quarter after Conor Cahalane had hit them with an eighth-minute goal to establish some early Cork control.

John Conlon was blocked down by the industrious Brian Roche and from there Horgan sent Cahalane spinning away for a 1-4 to 0-4 lead that might have been added to but for a Quilligan save from Conor Lehane three minutes later.

But Conlon more than redeemed for that momentary lapse in being caught trying to clear his lines with another thundering display of grit and presence from centre-back.

Today's Sports News in 90 Seconds - 22nd May

At the other end, Tony Kelly delivered another wondrous half of individual brilliance, hitting 1-4, the goal a moment of opportunism on 29 minutes when a ball broke kindly in behind the cover off Peter Duggan. The supplier further out? Ryan, but only after Rory Hayes had beaten Horgan hands down in a sprint.

It gave them oxygen to get to the break 1-13 to 1-8 clear, Cork scoring just twice in the second quarter, though by then their full-back Conor Cleary had gone off with an arm injury that he looked quite discomforted by.

They got further impetus soon after the break when Kelly smashed a penalty past Patrick Collins after Shane O’Donnell, always in the thick of the action, was brought down by Ciarán Joyce, Kelly with the menacing delivery to set up the chance. That put eight points in it, the widest margin.

But Cork were stubborn in response. Roche was always busy while Joyce knitted the defence together well by sitting back off the No 6 position – though Lohan wondered afterwards if that gave Ryan and McInerney the space and time they needed to thrive.

Clare’s case to push in the last quarter wasn’t helped by errant frees after Aidan McCarthy, only back after missing the win over Waterford, was taken off. Twice Kelly and then Duggan were wide, leaving Cork in it.

Declan Dalton had obliged with a goal on 46 minutes when he got a rebound after Horgan’s poor penalty had been blocked by Quilligan after Seadna Morey, Cleary’s replacement, took down Shane Kingston.

It ebbed and flowed between two and four-point leads for Clare after that until Horgan’s decisive blow. But each of the three times that Cork got level in the last 10 minutes, Clare had a positive response.

Lohan’s opposite number Pat Ryan credited Clare’s experience when it mattered.

“They’re a very mature team, they’re around a long time. A draw wouldn’t really have done us anything, we’d have still had to win in Limerick next week.

“It was a bit disappointing, we got back level and there were two or three handy ... I thought they were probably quick puck-outs. In the modern day, they’re kind of loose scores, which was disappointing.”

And so it’s to another provincial final for the Banner and the hope that the long wait will end and that’ll they’ll finally be ‘free from their desire’ to be Munster champions ​​​​​​​​​​once again.​ ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Scorers – Clare:T Kelly 2-4 (1-0 pen); D Ryan 0-4; A McCarthy 0-3 (2f); D McInerney, R Taylor, S O’Donnell, D Fitzgerald 0-2 each; M Rodgers, S Morey, P Duggan 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 1-9 (0-6f); D Dalton 1-1 (0-1f); C Cahalane 1-0; S Harnedy, B Roche, D Fitzgibbon 0-2 each; D Cahalane, S Kingston 0-1 each.

Clare – E Quilligan 7; A Hogan 7, C Cleary 6, R Hayes 7; D Ryan 9, J Conlon 8, D McInerney 7; C Malone 7, R Taylor 7; D Fitzgerald 7, A McCarthy 6, S O’Donnell 7; M Rodgers 5, P Duggan 6, T Kelly 8. Subs: S Morey 7 for Cleary (inj, 34), I Galvin 5 for Rodgers (47), A Shanagher 5 for McCarthy (54), S Meehan for Galvin (68).

Cork –P Collins 7; N O’Leary 7, D Cahalane 7, S O’Donoghue 7; T O’Connell 6, C Joyce 8, R Downey 7; B Roche 8, L Meade 6; D Dalton 6, D Fitzgibbon 7, C Lehane 5; C Cahalane 6, S Harnedy 7, P Horgan 7. Subs:S Kingston 7 for Lehane (43), S Barrett 6 for C Cahalane (46), G Millerick 5 for O’Connell (47), T O’Mahony for Meade (62), B Hayes for Dalton (68).

Ref – J Murphy (Limerick).