Cork emerged as victors from an epic battle in Thurles that saw the Munster final level on seven occasions.
The crowd in Semple Stadium created an atmosphere worthy of the occasion on the first Sunday in July and the teams of Cork and Clare played their part to ensure a Munster final classic hotter than the weather. It was an edgy start in Thurles, both sides displaying clear nerves. There were numerous line balls in the opening six minutes thanks to numerous misplaced passes and a misjudged puck out from Anthony Nash. Cork’s captain Seamus Harnedy stepped up, intercepting a stray pass from Seadna Morey before popping the ball over the ball. Now settling, Luke Meade followed suit.
Both teams struggled with not only the heat but its impact on the pitch that resulted in the sliotar travelling at an unprecedented pace. Clare gave an exhibition of man marking, making it very difficult for Nash and allowing the Banner to turnover the ball in their own half, the superb John Conlon at the centre of it, knocking over three early points within the first 15 minutes. There have been concerns over the Cork defence throughout this championship and this game only proved to intensify them. Tony Kelly’s blazing pace split the heart of the Rebels defence before he aimed a well-timed pass to David Reidy who duly dispatched the ball past Nash. Conlon added another point and the momentum was well and truly with Clare.
This game was just as physical as you would expect from the Munster final. After 25 minutes, three members of the Clare defence found themselves on yellow cards while both Patrick Horgan and Peter Duggan were having a field day with frees. Every ball that dropping into the Clare full forward line was causing chaos for Cork. Podge Collins was almost clean through for his side’s second goal, denied by a wonderful, last-ditch hook from Eoin Cadogan.
Things went from bad to worse for Cork three minutes before half-time. Duggan connected with a long-range free from Donal Tuohy and the ball spilled into the back of the net. Cork looked rattled, Daniel Kearney sending a cross-field pass straight out of play. But this was a typical Munster final and things can change in a heartbeat. Conlon added another point and Harnedy brilliantly gathered the resulting puck out before feeding Luke Meade who sent a rasper past Tuohy. Mark Coleman added a wonderful sideline cut to leave just four points between the teams at half-time.
Cork’s extended stay in the dressing room at half-time seemed to work wonders for them as Darragh Fitzgibbon added a wonder point before Horgan did the same. Cork began chasing Clare in packs, especially in the middle of the field. Their forwards increased their work rate and Fitzgibbon ran at goal, Horgan pointing the resulting 65′. Another free from the Glen Rovers man levelled the game for the fifth time and it was now Clare who were shaken.
Harnedy knocked over a point and tellingly, Duggan missed a free and a follow-up shot to level the game. With Clare’s wide count creeping towards double figures, the Clare management introduced Conor McGrath who narrowed the gap. Just as Clare levelled the game once again, they were dealt another blow in the form of Cork’s second goal through Harnedy.
The Banner fought to level the game in the last 10 minutes. Both Tony Kelly and Podge Collins lined up shots at Nash’s goal but on both occasions, Clare came away with just a point. Meanwhile, at the other end, Horgan and Harnedy continued to punish Clare’s loss of concentration. Just as he did against Tipperary, substitute Ian Galvin scored a last minute goal for Clare but it wasn’t to be the winner today as James McGrath blew the final whistle ensuring it was Harnedy who lifted the Munster Cup for Cork’s 53rd title.
Cork: Anthony Nash; Sean O’Donoghue, Damien Cahalane, Colm Spillane; Christopher Joyce, Eoin Cadogan, Mark Coleman(0-2); Darragh Fitzgibbon (0-2), Bill Cooper (0-1); Daniel Kearney (0-2), Conor Lehane (0-1), Seamus Harnedy (1-4); Luke Meade (1-1), Shane Kingston, Patrick Horgan (0-11, 6f, 1 65′).
Substitutions: Robbie O’Flynn for Kingston (59) Micheal Cahalane for Meade (63) Lorcan McLoughlin for Kearney (65)
Clare: Donal Tuohy; Patrick O’Connor, David McInerney, Jack Browne; Seadna Morey, Conor Cleary, Jamie Shanahan; Colm Galvin (0-1), Cathal Malone; Peter Duggan (1-7, 5f), Tony Kelly (0-1), David Reidy (1-2); Podge Collins (0-2), John Conlon (0-5), Shane O’Donnell.
Substitutions: Jason McCarthy for Malone (49) Conor McGrath (0-1) for O’Donnell (54) David Fitzgerald for Shanahan (59) Darragh Correy for Reidy (63) Ian Galvin (1-0) for Cleary (67)