Cork's young guns silence critics as Clare feel backlash
Barry-Murphy primes his Rebel charges in gale-force display to set up Munster final clash and ease their relegation heartache CORK 0-23 CLARE 0-15
This had the glow of an old-school lynching as Cork, disregarded and even derided by their own, hurled Clare to a standstill in the Gaelic Grounds.
When it was over, Jimmy Barry-Murphy exchanged a cursory handshake with Davy Fitzgerald before hurrying from the swarm of well-wishers like a man keen to escape an unwelcome shower of rain.
Back slaps have never interested the 'Barrs man, but you sensed they all but offended him here, given the climate in which his young team found themselves preparing.
Relegation from Division 1A of the National League fed an attitude of dismissiveness that he could never countenance for any Rebel team. For, in Cork, they cherish summer hurlers as a higher caste that the league doesn't ordinarily identify.
And that was the story unfurling in Limerick. Cork, for all the depletion of their resources, can still produce their share of jet-heeled, wristy hurlers who like nothing better than the sense of voyage unspooling here. But there was strategy and hard-nosed tactic to their victory too.
Last week, Barry-Murphy suggested to this writer that Tony Kelly had been "the hurler of the league." And it was an opinion that franked his priorities against opponents who'd had their measure three times already this year.
When Clare edged an extra-time verdict in their relegation play-off two months back, a free-running Kelly contributed 0-6 from play.
Yesterday, Cork deployed Brian Murphy to be Kelly's jailer and, deprived the space he thrives of, the Ballyea man was a largely peripheral figure.
Clare suffered further with John Conlon's early departure through concussion, leaving their half-forward line gravely compromised.
"I'm unhappy with more than that, to tell you the truth," said Fitzgerald after, seemingly alluding to the officiating of Barry Kelly.
Cork's reward for victory is a Munster final match-up in three weeks' time at this same venue against Limerick and John Allen, Barry-Murphy's 'Barrs club-mate and former Cork team-mate from the 1970s. They will arrive at that juncture with fresh faith in a time-honoured way of doing things.
With a gale blowing in from the Ennis Road, they opted – as is their tradition – to face the wind on the basis that, in the championship, first halves tend to be mere prologues to the real business.
It was a gamble that might have backfired had Clare been more ruthless, for Darach Honan had Stephen McDonnell in all manner of early distress without ever quite registering that fact on the scoreboard.
Honan was a magnet for every high ball delivered to the edge of the Cork 'square' and, with Clare wisely varying their deliveries more than in recent games, a Banner goal seemed imminent.
Anthony Nash parried spectacularly from a seventh-minute 20-metre free by Tony Kelly and Padraic Collins then blazed badly wide from a good position just two minutes later. There was a sense that a Clare goal might be ruinous to Cork, but a pocket of three points in four minutes from Daniel Kearney, Luke O'Farrell and Seamus Harnedy steadied Barry-Murphy's crew.
They dodged another bullet in the 24th minute when Honan passed cleverly over the cover to an in-rushing Conor McGrath, but the Cratloe man just couldn't get the sliotar into his hand and the opportunity was lost.
Clare, thus, had an unconvincing 0-11 to 0-8 lead at the mid-point and, within five minutes of the resumption, it had disappeared.
Honan did have an angled 40th-minute shot batted away by Nash and, when just two minutes later, McGrath blazed another goal opportunity wide, Fitzgerald put his hands to his face. Five clear goal opportunities for his team so far had decanted nothing.
Cork's work ethic was now squeezing Clare in every line, but predominantly at half-back and midfield where men like William Egan, Christopher Joyce, Tom Kenny and, particularly, Kearney were beginning to thrive. In attack, Harnedy was having a splendid debut, while O'Farrell, Patrick Horgan and substitute Jamie Coughlan carried palpable danger in the inside line.
Clare heads began to overheat now too, four of their players receiving bookings between the 46th and 55th minutes and Cork were now enjoying the benefit of the gale to score seven of the game's next eight points.
With 14 minutes remaining, they led 0-18 to 0-12; Clare now in desperate need of a goal.
They might have snared one with five minutes of normal time remaining only for Nash to deprive Kearney with his third smart save of the day, an act that reduced the remainder to mere small-print.
Davy Fitz watched it with hands in pockets, his fire now spent. He'd spent much of the day railing angrily against Kelly from the sideline and would, later, articulate that anger in guarded language.
But Fitzgerald knew too that his team had, ultimately, been out-hurled here. He always considered this a treacherous game and those suspicions had been justified.
For Cork were primed beautifully by Barry-Murphy. Supposedly incapable of winning primary possession, they dominated Clare's early puck-outs and played with an energy throughout that could have set the grass ablaze.
In doing so, they silenced an orchestra of critics that had deemed them flaky and feckless after relegation in the league.
For Barry-Murphy, the real pleasure will be in knowing he did not listen.
"I think there is a lot made of relegation," he said.
"No one wants to be relegated and it wasn't nice, but it doesn't affect you that badly and next year is another issue."
This morning, he awakes to a view from higher ground.
SCORERS – Cork: P Horgan 0-8 (5fs), S Harnedy 0-3, J Coughlan, C Lehane, L O'Farrell 0-2 each, A Nash 0-2fs, D Kearney, C McCarthy, W Egan, P Cronin 0-1 each. Clare: P Collins 0-5, C McGrath, C Galvin, D Honan 0-2 each, C Ryan 0-2 (1f, 1 '65'), T Kelly, S O'Donnell 0-1 each.
CORK – A Nash 9; C O'Sullivan 7, S McDonnell 6, S O'Neill 7; C Joyce 7, B Murphy 8, W Egan 8; T Kenny 7, D Kearney 8; C McCarthy 7, S Harnedy 8, C Lehane 7; L O'Farrell 8, P Horgan 8, S Moylan 6. Subs: J Coughlan 8 for Moylan (31), P Cronin 6 for McCarthy (62).
CLARE – P Kelly 8; D O'Donovan 6, D McInerney 7, C Dillon 7; P O'Connor 7, P Donnellan 6, B Bugler 7; C Galvin 7, N O'Connell 6; J Conlon 5, T Kelly 6, C Ryan; C McGrath, D Honan, P Collins. Subs: A Cunningham for Conlon (inj, 19), F Lynch 6 for Ryan (43), S Morey 6 for O'Connell (55), S O'Donnell 6 for McGrath (60).
REF – B Kelly (Westmeath)