Clare and Cork gear up for sixth meeting
At the start of this season, the pairing of Cork and Clare in the All-Ireland decider was so unlikely that it was billed hurling's 'accidental final' yet, given what had unspooled between them, should anyone really have been surprised?
Four times they had met this season before their all-Munster All-Ireland final and Cork's fortunes, in particular, fluctuated wildly.
The sides' fascinating 2013 rivalry began with a bizarre mid-winter Waterford Crystal game that was akin to a disorganised Junior B match.
It went on to include a relegation dogfight which left the Blood and Bandages looking mortally wounded.
But when they faced off a fourth time, in the Munster semi-final, the Rebels reared up and finally won a game in their remarkable unfolding rivalry.
Little wonder then that there was such intense interest in their fifth clash, when hurling's greatest prize was at stake.
Cork haven't won Liam MacCarthy since 2005, and the Banner's drought goes all the way back to '97.
Pundits found it hard to separate them beforehand but no one, in their wildest imagination, could have predicted what a buckin' bronco of a final it would be.
For supporters, there is now the great bonus of Round Six still to come in the hurling season that just keeps on giving – this is the story of their five games so far.
Waterford Crystal semi-final, Friday, February 1, Sixmilebridge
Clare 0-20 Cork 2-11
The first of their five previous meetings this season was like something out of D'Unbelievables.
A fuel spill caused a massive traffic-jam on the motorway outside Limerick which caught up many of the cars Cork were travelling in. Throw-in was delayed from 7.45 to 8.30 and still some of their players hadn't arrived.
Sub 'keeper Willie McCarthy played corner-forward until Adrian Mannix arrived in their last car-load and was rushed in. Clare led by three at half-time, Mannix bagged two goals to tie it but late points from Colin Ryan and Cathal O'Connell sealed Clare's victory.
SCORERS – Clare: C Ryan 0-8 (6fs), N O'Connell 0-6 (5fs), P Collins, S O'Donnell 0-2 each, C O'Connell, J Clancy 0-1 each. Cork: A Mannix 2-1, P Horgan 0-4 (3fs), C Murphy 0-2, C McCarthy, D Lordan, R O'Shea, J Coughlan 0-1 each.
CLARE – D Tuohy; D O'Donovan, C Duggan, B O'Connell; B Bugler, P Donnellan, P O'Connor; N O'Connell, S Morey; C Ryan, P Collins, E Barrett; S O'Donnell, A O'Neill, J Clancy. Subs: D McInerney for B O'Connell (45), T Kelly for Collins, M Flaherty for O'Neill, C O'Connell for Clancy (all 55), D O'Halloran for O'Donnell (66).
CORK– A Nash; J O'Donovan, M Ellis, P O'Sullivan; W Walsh, C Joyce, S White; D Pyne, R O'Shea; B Corry, D Lordan, C Murphy; W McCarthy, P Horgan, J Coughlan. Subs: A Mannix for W McCarthy (33), C McCarthy for Lordan (h-t), D Kearney for Pyne (38), S Moylan for Corry (58).
REF – J Ryan (Tipperary).
National League (Round 3), Saturday, March 16, Pairc Ui Rinn
Clare 1-22 Cork 1-16
AFTER trouncing Tipp and drawing with Waterford, Cork were flying high in Division 1A but Clare gave them a big reality check by beating them on their home turf.
What raised alarm bells most was that Cork lost a six-point lead to trail by nine in a dramatic 15-point second-half turnaround. Clare, led by Colin Ryan and Tony Kelly, dominated the final 25 minutes when Cork scored one free and a last-minute goal.
SCORERS – Clare: Colin Ryan 0-12 (9fs), T Kelly 0-4, S O'Donnell 1-0, J Conlon, Conor Ryan 0-2 each, D Honan, N O'Connell 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 0-9 (8fs, 1 '65'), L O'Farrell 1-0, P O'Sullivan, S Harnedy, L McLoughlin 0-2 each, D Kearney 0-1.
CLARE – P Kelly; D O'Donovan, D McInerney, S Morey; B Bugler, P Donnellan, P O'Connor; N O'Connell, Conor Ryan; Colin Ryan, T Kelly, E Barrett; S O'Donnell, J Conlan, P Collins. Subs: F Lynch for Barrett (40), C Galvin for Collins (49), C McInerney for Conor Ryan (61), D Honan for O'Donnell (66).
CORK – A Nash; S O'Neill, B Murphy, C O'Sullivan; C Joyce, P Cronin, W Egan; D Kearney, L McLoughlin; C McCarthy, P O'Sullivan, S Harnedy; S Moylan, P O'Brien, P Horgan. Subs: C Lehane for Moylan (50), L O'Farrell for O'Brien (55), T Kenny for Kearney (59), C Naughton for Harnedy (60).
REF – J Ryan (Tipperary).
Division 1A relegation play-off, Sunday, April 14, Gaelic Grounds
Clare 0-31 Cork 2-23
BIG questions were asked about Cork when they lost a lead again and suffered relegation for the first time since 1997. This went to extra-time and could have gone to a replay had Brendan Bugler not deflected Cathal Naughton's 90th-minute piledriver but Clare shot 24 wides and should have been out of sight.
Tony Kelly was outstanding again and John Conlon, Colm Galvin and the half-backs were also pivotal in outscoring the Rebels 0-10 to 0-1 at one stage. Davy Fitz sank to his knees in relief afterwards but still railed against the league format.
SCORERS – Clare: C Ryan 0-10 (6fs), T Kelly 0-6, J Conlon 0-4, C Galvin 0-3, D Honan, C McGrath 0-2 each, P Collins, C McInerney, F Lynch, P Kelly 0-1 each. Cork: P Horan 0-11 (7fs), P Cronin 1-3, L O'Farrell 1-2, C Naughton 0-2, C McCarthy, D Kearney, C Lehane, C O'Sullivan, S Moylan 0-1 each.
CLARE – P Kelly; D O'Donovan, D McInerney, S Morey; B Bugler, P Donnellan, P O'Connor; C Galvin, Conor Ryan; J Conlon, T Kelly, Colin Ryan; D Honan, S O'Donnell, P Collins. Subs: C McGrath for Conor Ryan (26), P Duggan for Collins (64), C McInerney for O'Donnell (70), J Clancy for Honan (80), F Lynch for Duggan (84), S O'Donnell for Clancy (90).
CORK – A Nash; K Murphy, B Murphy, C O'Sullivan; S White, C Joyce, W Egan; L McLoughlin, K Kearney; C Lehane, Cronin, P O'Sullivan; S Moylan, L O'Farrell, P Horgan. Subs: T Kenny for Kearney (53), C McCarthy for Moylan (60), C Spillane for Murphy (61), C Naughton for White (66), B Hartnett for O'Sullivan (85), P O'Brien for Lehane (85).
REF – J McGrath (Westmeath).
Munster SHC semi-final, Sunday, June 23, Gaelic Grounds
Cork 0-23 Clare 0-15
Cork entered Munster looking for revenge for their three prior losses, while Clare had already dispatched Waterford. The Rebels chose to play into the wind and trailed 0-11 to 0-8 at half-time but showed huge work-rate and then scored 0-8 without reply at one point.
Seamus Harnedy starred on his Munster debut and Brian Murphy man-marked Tony Kelly particularly effectively, but losing John Conlon to concussion early on badly affected Clare's ball-winning. Colin Ryan only scored two frees, they picked up six bookings (Cork three) yet Anthony Nash still had to make three great saves, with Darach Honan and Podge Collins giving Cork some real problems.
SCORERS – Cork: P Horgan 0-8 (5fs), S Harnedy 0-3, L O'Farrell, C Lehane , J Coughlan, A Nash (2fs) 0-2 each, W Egan, P Cronin, D Kearney, C McCarthy 0-1. Clare: P Collins 0-5, C Ryan (1f, 1 '65'), C Galvin, D Honan, C McGrath 0-2 each, T Kelly, S O'Donnell 0-1.
CORK – A Nash; S McDonnell, B Murphy, C O'Sullivan; S O'Neill, C Joyce, W Egan; T Kenny, D Kearney; C McCarthy, S Harnedy, C Lehane; P Horgan, L O'Farrell, S Moylan. Subs: J Coughlan for Moylan (32), P Cronin for McCarthy (62).
CLARE – P Kelly; D O'Donovan, D McInerney, N O'Connell; B Bugler, P Donnellan, P O'Connor; C Dillon, C Galvin; J Conlon, T Kelly, C Ryan; D Honan, P Collins, C McGrath.
Subs: A Cunningham for J Conlon (inj, 20), F Lynch for Ryan (43), S Morey for O'Connell (55), S O'Donnell for McGrath (60).
REF – B Kelly (Westmeath).
All-Ireland final, Sunday, September 8, Croke Park
Cork 0-25 Clare 3-16
All the pre-match chatter was whether Brian Murphy would mark Kelly again (which he did) and whether Cork could unlock Davy Fitzgerald's sweeper system and finally get some goals.
But Clare pulled a surprise by lining out in orthodox formation and Conor Ryan, who started at centre-back in a switch with Pat Donnellan, was majestic. With their half-back line, Kelly, Collins and free-taker Colin Ryan all on top, the Banner should have been more than two points (0-12 to 0-10) up at half-time.
Cork were lucky to still have 15 men when Shane O'Neill escaped with yellow after striking Darach Honan. Conor Lehane bagged a quick Cork goal on resumption but Clare looked safe when they pulled five points clear before it all kicked off with 12 minutes left.
First Luke O'Farrell was fouled and Nash buried the 20-metre free. Two minutes later, Seamus Harnedy won a penalty but Anthony Nash's effort deflected off Colin Ryan and came back off the crossbar.
With six minutes left and Clare leading by four, Podge Collins found himself one-on-one with Nash but fluffed his kicked attempt at goal, and directly from Cork's clearance, Pa Cronin scored a brilliant goal from 20 metres out. Three minutes later, a Patrick Horgan free levelled the game for the first time since the third minute and in the 72nd minute Horgan scored a phenomenal point to give Cork their first lead.
As the Rebels screamed for the final whistle, Clare fans prayed for a saviour and, 29 seconds into the 73rd minute, he arrived in the shape of corner-back Domhnall O'Donovan (below), who decorated his brilliant defensive display with his first championship point ever to rescue a game that Clare had long dominated.
SCORERS – Clare: Colin Ryan 0-12 (11fs), T Kelly, P Collins 0-3 each, J Conlon, C McGrath 0-2 each, D Honan, Conor Ryan, D O'Donovan 0-1 each. Cork: P Horgan 0-10 (8fs), C Lehane 1-1, P Cronin, A Nash (f) 1-0 each, S Harnedy, D Kearney 0-2 each, B Murphy 0-1.
CLARE – P Kelly; D O'Donovan, D McInerney, C Dillon; B Bugler, Conor Ryan, P O'Connor; C Galvin, P Donnellan; J Conlon, T Kelly, Colin Ryan; P Collins, D Honan, C McGrath. Subs: C McInerney for Honan (62), N O'Connell for Galvin (64), F Lynch for Conlon (64).
CORK – A Nash; S McDonnell, S O'Neill, C O'Sullivan; C Joyce, B Murphy, W Egan; L McLoughlin, D D Kearney; S Harnedy, J Coughlan, P Cronin; P Horgan, L O'Farrell, C Lehane. Subs: S Moylan for Coughlan (h-t), C McCarthy for McLoughlin (42), C Naughton for McCarthy (inj, 49), T Kenny for Egan (64), S White for Kearney (66).
REF – B Gavin (Offaly).