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Super sub Ronan caps gutsy Cork comeback

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Clare's Tony Griffin fumbles the sliotar while under pressure from Cork's Jerry O'Connor during yesterday's All-Ireland SHC quarter-final at Semple Stadium

Clare's Tony Griffin fumbles the sliotar while under pressure from Cork's Jerry O'Connor during yesterday's All-Ireland SHC quarter-final at Semple Stadium

Clare's Tony Griffin fumbles the sliotar while under pressure from Cork's Jerry O'Connor during yesterday's All-Ireland SHC quarter-final at Semple Stadium

CORK hurlers continue to be hit by fierce storms but refuse to be blown off course as they drive forward in search of another All-Ireland title.

Clare's first-half tornado in yesterday's All-Ireland quarter-final at Semple Stadium would have battered most opposition into submission but, just as they had done with Galway eight days earlier, Cork absorbed the heaviest hits and powered back to clinch a semi-final clash with Kilkenny next Sunday week.

In a truly enthralling contest that yielded 40 scores, Cork's capacity to work their way out of difficult problems again proved crucial as they pared back an eight-point interval deficit to grind Clare into submission. It really was heart-breaking for Clare whose contribution to the splendour deserved more.

A draw would have been an equitable result and looked highly possible as the game ticked into stoppage time with Cork holding a one-point lead. Clare had a few chances to shoot the equaliser but couldn't deliver, and when play switched to the other end substitute Neil Ronan fired over a point which gave Cork a two-point winning cushion.

Ronan was one of two Rebels subs who made a significant contribution to a Cork win that looked improbable when they trailed by 1-11 to 0-6 at half-time. It was as if the exertions of the win over Galway had drained them to such a degree that they couldn't inject life into their performance. Clare were faster to the breaking ball and they picked off some wonderful points.

Effective

Niall Gilligan was beating Diarmuid O'Sullivan on all fronts; Jonathon Clancy was busy and effective; Brian O'Connell and Colin Lynch were dominating midfield, while Gerry Quinn was the first locking point in a tight defensive unit.

Barry Nugent's goal in the 31st minute piled the agony onto Cork who began repair work a few minutes later when Timmy McCarthy was sent in to replace Niall McCarthy. It was to prove hugely important as the Castlelyons man played a big role in Cork's second-half fightback which began when Ben O'Connor, a mighty influential presence, pointed a free a minute after the re-start.

Three minutes later, McCarthy sped in from the left and fired low at Clare goalkeeper Philip Brennan. It wasn't one of McCarthy's crispest strikes but it beat Brennan for a goal that would change the texture of the game. It wasn't that Clare collapsed from there on -- in fact they battled back and were five points clear at the three-quarter stage thanks to a Diarmuid McMahon goal in the 47th minute-- but McCarthy's goal had convinced Cork that they could complete the recovery.

Replacing O'Sullivan with Kieran Murphy (Sarsfields) in the 51st minute proved a master stroke by Gerald McCarthy as it strengthened the team on a number of fronts. John Gardiner switched to full-back where he reduced Gilligan's effectiveness, while Murphy celebrated his arrival by scoring a goal in the 53rd minute. It pared the lead back to two points and suddenly the balance was swinging Cork's way.

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Cork drew level for the first time in the 57th minute and went into the lead shortly after. Clare hung on bravely and were back on level terms with five minutes remaining but Cork finished the stronger and two points from Ronan clinched a great win.

Their refusal to take no for an answer has been quite remarkable over the last two weekends and, while Gerald McCarthy was complaining that the heavy programme left them vulnerable yesterday, the reality is that they will now be extremely sharp for the semi-final. Indeed, those two tough games could well give them an edge on Kilkenny, who haven't been taken anywhere near their limits so far this year. Cork certainly have and will now feel that everything is in place for a mighty push towards another All-Ireland final.

Determined

Clearly, there is nothing wrong with their determination levels which, once again, took them through the pain barrier when most required. Their sluggish first-half effort may well have been down to a hangover from the Galway game but once they got full momentum going in the second half, Clare couldn't cope.

Much of Cork's excellence centred around Ben O'Connor but he got good support as Cork settled into a comfortable rhythm. As Cork devoured the big lead, Clare were left to rue their first-half wastefulness. They shot five wides in the first 10 minutes that would prove significant later on.

Clare needed to remain secure for the first 10 minutes of the second half but were unable to resist the pressure of a re-energised Cork team. Clare would have been expecting the Cork surge but they were powerless to resist it once McCarthy made that early breakthrough.

So then, Cork are back in the All-Ireland semi-final after delivering two of the bravest performances of their careers in the space of eight days. They still have problems -- with the full-back issue top of the list -- but they are driven by such determination that anything is possible.

For Clare it was a case of what might have been. Their graph is definitely rising but that is little consolation this morning as they reflect on a game they might well have won. But then it was their bad luck to come up against a Cork team for whom there are no limits to their ambitions or their desire to achieve them.

Scorers -- Cork: B O'Connor 0-7 (3f, 1'65), T McCarthy, K Murphy 1-0 each, P Horgan 0-3, P Cronin, N Ronan 0-2 each, N McCarthy, J Deane, J O'Connor, T Kenny, C Naughton 0-1 each. Clare: N Gilligan 0-8 (3f, 1 '65'), B Nugent, D McMahon 1-1 each, J Clancy, T Carmody 0-2 each, G Quinn (f), P Donnellan, B O'Connell (sc) 0-1 each.

Cork -- D Og Cusack 7; S O'Neill 7, D O'Sullivan 5, B Murphy 7; J Gardiner 8, R Curran 8, S Og O hAilpin 7; T Kenny 7, J O'Connor 7; B O'Connor 9, N McCarthy 5, P Cronin 7; C Naughton 7, J Deane 7, P Horgan 8. Subs: T McCarthy 8 for N McCarthy (34), K Murphy 8 (Sarsfields) for O'Sullivan (51), N Ronan 8 for Deane (65).

Clare -- P Brennan 6; G O'Grady 7, F Lohan 7, P Vaughan 6; B Bugler 6, G Quinn 8, P Donnellan 6; B O'Connell 7, C Lynch 7; T Griffin 5, D McMahon 7, T Carmody 7; B Nugent 6, N Gilligan 8, J Clancy 8. Subs: A Markham 6 for Griffin (59), F Lynch 7 for Nugent (60), M Flaherty for Carmody (68).

REF -- D Murphy (Wexford).


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