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Conor O'Sullivan and Stephen White chase down Clare's Conor McGrath in 2013. Picture: Brian Lougheed
Conor O'Sullivan and Stephen White chase down Clare's Conor McGrath in 2013. Picture: Brian Lougheed

Cork might have the upper hand recently but they still owe Clare from 2013

WELL, the picture is much clearer now as far as the race for the Liam McCarthy Cup goes.

One might ask why are we even mentioning the McCarthy Cup when the two provincial finals have yet to be played.

There is a very strong likelihood that the big winners in Croke Park in August will be one of the four provincial finalists, Galway and Kilkenny in Leinster and Cork and Clare in Munster.

So everything is linked from here to the finish with Limerick and Wexford still very much in the equation.

Carlow and Westmeath, to their great credit after emerging to contest the Joe McDonagh Cup final, are there too but, realistically, they are not going to be climbing the steps of the Hogan stand on All-Ireland final day.

Clare might be considered a surprise package with regards their participation in the Munster final given that they have not performed well in that competition for quite some time now and in fact, it’s been 20 years, 1998 since they were last victorious in it.

They have an All-Ireland to their credit in 2013 after defeating Cork in a replay and that victorious team was expected to be to the forefront in the challenge for honours subsequently.

However, it hasn’t worked out that way and, in particular, against Cork in Munster it has been very one-sided, Cork winning in 2014 by five points, 2-23 to 2-18, the Munster final last season when five points divided the teams again, 1-25 to 1-20 and round one of the campaign this year when, amazingly, there was five points in it again, Cork 2-23 to Clare’s 1-21.

They met too in a qualifier in 2015 with Cork coming out on top again, this time by three points, 0-20 to 0-17.

Clare did win the national league encounter earlier this season in Cusack Park after a dismal first-half showing by Cork, their worst 35 minutes of the entire season.

But, overall, since 2013, Cork have had the upper hand.

Anthony Nash buries a goal in 2013. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE
Anthony Nash buries a goal in 2013. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

But, at the same time and as John Meyler pointed out in the aftermath of the win over Waterford last Sunday, past results mean nothing going forward.

And since that loss to Cork back in May, Clare have been a reinvented unit and their confidence levels will have soared after their superb, late show against Tipperary and their trouncing of Limerick in Cusack Park last Sunday.

Cork supporters don’t want to dwell too much on the events in Croke back in 2013 and of Shane O’Donnell’s contribution, in particular.

Nonetheless, it was interesting to read his comments earlier this week when he stated that this is a better-earned Munster final place than it was last season.

That, of course, applies to Cork too and navigating four games to reach the final is a big achievement in itself.

From the outset of the new structure all the five counties in Munster, in Leinster too, knew the score, that it would take five matches to get your hands on the trophy, two more to lift the McCarthy Cup.

That is seven games in total, unprecedented and whoever does get to the podium on August 19 will certainly have earned it.

It’s only five years ago since that 2013 All-Ireland final but the personnel on both sides has changed quite a bit.

Podge Collins with Seamus Harnedy in 2013. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Podge Collins with Seamus Harnedy in 2013. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Gone off that Clare team are Domhnall O’Donovan, remember him, Brendan Bugler, captain Pat Donnellan, Colin Ryan and Darach Honan.

Stephen McDonnell, Shane O’Neill, Brian Murphy, William Egan, Pa Cronin and Luke O’Farrell are no longer involved with Cork, so in that period the composition of both teams is a good bit different.

It’s all change on the line too, two completely different management teams although Davy Fitzgerald is still making waves in Wexford who remain very much in the chase.

Brian Murphy has now retired. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Brian Murphy has now retired. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

Of course, next Sunday week’s showdown will evoke memories of their final collision 40 years ago when Cork again reigned supreme.

The final score that Sunday in Thurles was 0-13 to 0-11 with the late, great John Horgan scoring four memorable points.

Cork and Clare encounters don’t have the same historical significance as we’ll say Cork and Tipp but the manner with which they have come through the Round-Robin series suggests that this latest instalment could top anything from the past.