Ice-cool O'Donovan sets up fitting encore
Defender's last-gasp equaliser rescues Clare after Rebel rally
Clare 0-25 Cork 3-16
An extraordinary hurling season refuses to sign off.
It appeared to have its business completed in the most dramatic circumstances when Cork took a one-point lead into the third minute of stoppage-time in Croke Park yesterday but a remarkable occasion delivered one more dramatic twist when Clare No 2 Domhnall O'Donovan popped up deep in enemy territory, from where he angled over the equalising point.
It was a superb strike by the 25-year-old Clonlara man, who held his nerve under the most trying circumstances to earn Clare another chance on a day when there were times that it looked as if they would surge to a relatively easy victory.
Instead, it took the latest of reprieves to rescue them from what would have been the ultimate heartbreak. They had led from the 13th to the 64th minute and for 60 seconds later on before Patrick Horgan levelled it up from a free before striking the lead point from play in the 71st minute. It was the first time that Cork had led all day.
They had a chance to extend the lead but sub Stephen Moylan was off target with a sideline cut before O'Donovan pounced for probably the most precious point he will ever score. That Clare were relying on a last-second point from a defender to save the day was truly remarkable in a game where they controlled so much possession that at times it seemed virtually impossible for them to need to salvage anything.
However, Cork chose the biggest day of all to end their goal drought, striking three times in the second half through Conor Lehane (40), Anthony Nash (57) and Pa Cronin (64). They had scored only one goal in their previous five championship games.
That they finally hit the goal trail in a game where they were struggling to win possession for most of the way will have been a source of much relief.
Now, Jimmy Barry-Murphy and his squad have a chance to regroup and re-assess how they set up for the replay and will do so in a positive frame of mind on the basis that despite being overpowered for so long they still lived to tell the tale.
That story will focus on how they hung on when the Clare storms were battering them with most ferocity before using the goals to drag themselves back into contention.
The Banner's debrief will concentrate on how their defensive wall was breached three times. Indeed, it came mighty close to being hit for a fourth goal but Nash's penalty effort was saved in the 60th minute. It looked as if that might be the tie-breaker as it left Clare two points clear heading into the final 10 minutes. Colin and Conor Ryan extended it to four points over the next two minutes before Cork won the final seven minutes by 1-3 to 0-2.
The Rebels might well have queried where referee Brian Gavin got the extra 28 seconds above the announced two minutes of stoppage-time but they could scarcely complain about that, as they were fortunate not to be playing with 14 men for three-quarters of the game after full-back Shane O'Neill appeared to strike Darach Honan in the 17th minute.
For some reason not immediately apparent, Gavin booked both players, much to Cork's relief.
That incident apart, O'Neill was one of Cork's better performers and succeeded in keeping the approach routes to Nash's goal largely trouble-free. Clare got one decent goal chance but Nash was equal to the task from Honan's groundstroke in the 23rd minute. It wasn't the most powerful of efforts but still required a smart save.
Right from the off, there was an energy about Clare which settled them into a rhythm that Cork found difficult to cope with. Much of the enterprise came from the dominance exerted across the Clare half-back line by Conor Ryan, who dropped back from midfield, Brendan Bugler and Patrick O'Connor.
Ryan was majestic in both the air and ground wars, swotting Corkmen aside with surprising ease. O'Donovan was doing well at corner-back while further up Tony Kelly, Podge Collins and Conor McGrath had the run on their markers. And with Colin Ryan in unerring mood from frees (except for a brief dip in the second half), Cork's defensive indiscipline was punished to the full.
The same applied at the other end, where Patrick Horgan's accuracy from frees was Cork's main weapon as they battled to stay in touch. Clare led by five points after 30 minutes but Cork raised their game in the closing five minutes of the first half and had cut the deficit to two points (0-12 to 0-10) at the interval.
Barry-Murphy began repair work at that stage, sending Stephen Moylan on in place of Jamie Coughlan and moved again early in the second half when he despatched Cian McCarthy into the action in an effort to increase the ball-winning capacity of his attack. However, McCarthy lasted just seven minutes before going off with an ankle injury.
Clare increased their lead to four points early in the second half but Cork got their first big break in the 40th minute when Lehane's sniping run ended with a goal. Once again, Clare's response was calm and effective. They kept their momentum levels up and stretched their lead back out to five points after 55 minutes.
Nash's goal from a free in the 57th minute lifted Cork back into contention and their third goal from Cronin brought them level before the sides each scored two points on the hectic run-in.
While it was Clare who eventually drew level, Cork have just as much reason to feel relieved at getting a second chance. Their inability to win anything like the amount of possession they enjoyed against Dublin left them with serious problems which, on this occasion, were sorted out by an uncharacteristic goal burst.
Cork will feel that they can't possibly be as outclassed again in the basic man-on-man confrontations or in the pursuit of breaking ball. Clare won most of those contests on a day where their only regret will centre on their failure to block the channels to Patrick Kelly's goal in the second half.
Cork, who shot only three wides in the entire game, needed goals to stay in touch and managed to find them from very limited chances. Ultimately, that not only rescued them but also took them within touching distance of a win that looked highly unlikely for most of the game.
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 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 (49), T Kenny for Egan (64), S White for Kearney (66).
Ref – B Gavin (Antrim)