Clare were denied their first Munster title in 20 years by a formidable second-half display from the Rebels. We take a look back at some of the key areas from the Munster final in Thurles.
Another well-deserved title for Cork
What can you say about Cork? They are kings of Munster once again as they earned their 54th title this afternoon in Thurles. Many had backed Clare to win this encounter, all signs indicating that their momentum would get them over the line for the first time in 20 years. And during the first half, it looked as though they would indeed lift the trophy. While both teams appeared nervous in the opening minutes, Clare soon were playing with confidence and flair, exploiting Cork’s weaknesses, especially in defence.
But you can never write off a proud hurling county, especially not the Rebel County. Whatever John Meyler said during their extended half-time break obviously worked. They emerged a far hungrier outfit who went toe-to-toe with Clare. Their leaders stood up when they were needed, they got the scores at crucial times and their all-round workrate improved.
Notably, Cork managed to get more efficient ball down to their forward line which eventually proved Clare’s downfall.
The brilliance of Harnedy and Horgan
If ever anyone doubted Seamus Harnedy or Patrick Horgan, they proved their worth today. Harnedy, in particular, was crucial in that second half and he showed just why he is their captain and leader. It was a case of, “whatever John Conlon and Peter Duggan can do, we can do better”.
Horgan’s first point of the day was a wonder strike that will be replayed time and again in highlight reels. He scored three more points from play, each as good as the last while he was ever the reliable from placed balls. What was most impressive about Horgan was that his points came at times when Clare were either ahead or looking to launch a comeback, denying them any real foothold in the game.
The work rate from all the forwards in that second half, but especially from Harnedy and Horgan was exceptional. They tackled in packs and refused to allow Clare to clear the ball. They were also far hungrier in their pursuit of possession, tracking back and winning ball they had no right to. It was as good a forward display in the second half as you will see anywhere.
Where to now for Clare?
Everything seemed to be going right for Clare for the majority of that first half. Their forward line, Peter Duggan and John Conlon, in particular, were running riot, blitzing the Cork defence. Goalkeeper Donal Tuohy seemed to have mastered his puck outs while every other decision and breaking ball fell their way.
In the second half, they completely fell away, not pressing up on Cork as they did but allowing them the space to deliver the ball to Horgan and co. who began to pick off scores with ease. They seemed to lose the confidence they had built up in the wins over Limerick and Tipperary and as frustration set in, Cork only gained more momentum.
It is a huge blow for a Clare squad who would have felt that this was their opportunity to end their 20 year Munster drought. But they are not out of it yet and no team will want to want to face a burned Clare side in the quarter-final. They must pick themselves up and learn from today’s defeat if they are to make their way back to all All Ireland semi-final once more.
Cork’s defensive issues continue
John Meyler will be delighted to get this piece of silverware under his belt in his first year in charge but what will remain a major concern for the Cork manager is their defence. Sean O’Donoghue gave a wonderful display today at cornerback but despite that, Clare tore through the spine of their defence in the first half. John Con, in particular,lar was causing huge problems with Mark Coleman, Colm Spillane and Eoin Cadogan all trying to quieten him to no avail.
It is an issue that has been plaguing them all season and one they must find a solution to. The Clare backs were not able to afford their forward pack the same quality of ball in the second half, thus giving the Cork defence breathing space but no team in the final four will give them that opportunity.
There is no doubting the quality in this Cork side but they will not progress any further until they tighten up their defence.
Hurling is the real winner at the end of the day
I don’t think any Clare fans emerging from Semple Stadium this afternoon would have had any qualms about the result. Cork ran out worthy winners on a day that looked at one stage as though it belonged to the Banner. But that is what makes this sport so exciting, exhilarating and unpredictable. At the puck of a ball, everything can change.
There was one crucial moment just before half-time that really was the turning point of this game. Clare were baring down on the Cork goal. Podge Collins almost scored before Peter Duggan grabbed his opportunity minutes later. Cork were shell-shocked and out of ideas. Or so it seemed. Harnedy (who else?) brilliantly fielded a puck-out from Anthony Nash before setting off and releasing Luke Meade who finished to the back of Donal Tuohy’s goal. A play that lasted less than a minute. And now it was Cork who played with a spring in their step, Mark Coleman adding a sideline cut to add to the flair.
Not all provincial finals are classics. Not all Munster championship games go down to the wire. But they always contain flashes of brilliance from such talented individuals that leaves you with nothing to do only to sit back and admire.