Question marks remain for the Cork hurlers but at least they're still in the hunt for the All-Ireland

Question marks remain for the Cork hurlers but at least they're still in the hunt for the All-Ireland
Mark Coleman Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

AFTER an awful opener against Tipperary last month, you can be sure Cork fans would have taken a third-placed finish in the Munster series.

They’re one of eight teams left in the hunt for Liam McCarthy and will certainly be in an All-Ireland quarter-final once they take care of the losers of the McDonagh final, Westmeath or Laois, on July 5/6. Then it’s a clash with the beaten Leinster finalists Wexford and Kilkenny to make it back to Croker.

If Cork aren’t good enough to win those matches then so be it. They’re not worthy of contending for the top prize. A Munster final against Tipp in the Páirc would have been a cracker, no doubt, but losing to Clare didn’t do Limerick any harm last year!

Let the Premier and the Treaty hop off each other in two weeks and Cork can focus on the bigger picture. In that sense, there’s no need to be too negative.

Anthony Nash looks on in the rain. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Anthony Nash looks on in the rain. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Yet, for all that, you couldn’t help but be disappointed with the defeat in Ennis. Clare dictated the terms of engagement from the off, quite literally given Shane O’Donnell goaled after 17 seconds, and despite battling away, Cork didn’t deserve a result.

The aggression Gerry O’Connor showed in tangling with Daniel Kearney on the sideline, as well as Shane O’Donnell’s second-half shoulder on Mark Ellis, reflected Clare’s greater desire. That was frustrating.

Only a few Rebels were close to their best. Alan Cadogan, who has now hit 1-9 from play in three games, Darragh Fitzgibbon, for his typically incisive runs, Mark Coleman, collecting and distributing possession cleverly in the second half, and Patrick Horgan, given he raised two green flags, even if his free-taking was a bit off, were decent.

Patrick Horgan and Seadna Morey. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Patrick Horgan and Seadna Morey. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

The Banner were always going to be desperate to atone for their hammerings against Limerick and Tipp. They certainly didn’t want to roll over against a county that had defeated them five times since 2013.

It’s a sickener for them that when they managed to end their Cork hoodoo it still wasn’t enough to hurl into the All-Ireland series, after Tipp’s win over Limerick.

The weather was atrocious and as well as the thunder and lightning over Cusack Park, the home side brought an intensity that Cork didn’t always match.

To give John Meyler’s charges a bit of credit, they started the second half with four unanswered points to narrow the gap to two but when the rain came, the hosts were more comfortable shooting from distance.

The introduction of Stephen McDonnell and Damien Cahalane definitely tightened up the full-back line in that period, but Clare could split the posts from range where Cork had seven wides to one in that period.

For all Cork’s issues a gem of a point from Harnedy and then a close-range Horgan goal, after nifty passes from Conor Lehane, Harnedy and Cooper, meant it was a one-point game with five minutes of normal time to play. Clare repelled Cork, 0-5 to 0-1, until the full-time whistle and there was no disputing the merit of their win.

It leaves Cork with a lot of questions in the three-week break before the qualifiers.

Is Aidan Walsh’s work-rate and heft enough to keep Shane Kingston or Conor Lehane out of the team?

Do the management stick with young gun Robert Downey on the wing or start one of the experienced defensive subs, McDonnell, Cahalane or Chris Joyce?

Cork's Damien Cahalane and Tony Kelly of Clare battling hard at Ennis. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Cork's Damien Cahalane and Tony Kelly of Clare battling hard at Ennis. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Eoin Cadogan has enough credit in the bank from the matches with Tipp, Limerick and Waterford to retain the number three geansaí, but Cahalane’s second-half run will bring competition to the A versus B training collisions.

It might seem churlish to suggest Cork still need to work goal opportunities more given Horgan rifled home two here, but the forwards don’t always look for runners off the shoulder once they cross the 45-metre line. Contrast that with Peter Duggan sending Tony Kelly away from what was a critical goal in the run-up to half-time.

At least the seniors are in action next month, because it was a major blow that a promising minor team were eliminated after only losing once in four games.

They had their opportunities in the closing stages after Darragh Flynn’s goals and the efforts of Jack Cahalane, Luke Horgan and more, but paid the price for a sloppy first half where they didn’t deal well with Clare’s sweeper.

Minor Ciaran O'Brien clears his lines. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Minor Ciaran O'Brien clears his lines. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Unfortunately we won’t see them hurl for the rest of the summer.

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