THERE was heartbreak for John Considine’s Cork minor hurling team at Cusack Park yesterday as they agonisingly missed out in a place in the Munster championship final.
On the back of three very decent performances in this competition so far (two wins and a draw), hopes were high this team would make it to the decider. It turned out to be a dramatic last day of action with the final pairings not being decided until close of business.
A draw would have been enough for the red and white to qualify, instead they lost out with Cormac Murphy scoring the winning point for Clare in the fourth minute of injury time. And with Limerick’s expected big victory over Tipperary in Semple Stadium, it is Clare and Limerick who will contest the showdown on June 30. Unlike the senior championship, only the top two teams go through.
To be fair, Cork who demonstrated great heart and fightback after falling behind in the first half, were defeated by a slicker outfit. It did come down to the finest of margins in the end and whilst they did respond to their below-par first-half performance by upping the ante in the second half, they weren’t as fluent as they have been in previous matches. It would have to be acknowledged Clare were the better team for longer stretches.
Many factors went against Cork on the day. To start, Clare played with a sweeper and that impacted. They lined up with five players across their half-forward line while their captain and centre-back Cian Galvin imposed himself as the extra-man. The middle of the field was swamped as a result.
Yet, the visitors who were sitting top of the table with five points before throw-in, started well and went three points to one up against the wind. Clare then got some great scores, and the whole ambience changed.
Their sharpness was coming to the fore and it enabled them to outscore Cork seven-one. The Banner full-forward line was causing problems also and at the other end two Cork short puck-outs went astray leading to Clare points from Killian O’Connor and Diarmuid Cahill.
Cork weren’t as prolific in front of the posts, their shot selection at times letting them down highlighted by the growing number of wides. But the story could have been worse as Clare squandered two goal opportunities (brave goalkeeping for one by Brion Saunderson). Darragh Flynn and Jack Cahalane did manage to bring the deficit back to three points only for the hosts to string together another couple of fine moves and by the half-way stage they led by double scores, 0-12 to 0-6.
Considine and his backroom team were left scratching their heads at the break. Their charges were nowhere near their best, nothing like what we had seen against Tipperary, Limerick and Waterford.
Consequently, we saw a much re-jigged Cork team for the second half. Captain for the day Ethan Twomey was joined at midfield by Daniel Hogan, while Dáire O’Leary was introduced into the forward line and Lee Mulroy Quilligan joined the defence.
The red and white needed something to happen. And a big moment did arrive 11 minutes after the resumption when Flynn brilliantly drove to the net twice within a minute. Isaac Walsh was the provider for the first green flag and when Flynn – now positioned at corner-forward, took his second goal the gap closed to the bare minimum. The Cork supporters were justifiably jubilant, finally their side was playing with the authority and panache they had seen in recent outings.
Crucially, there was a chance for a third goal but Paul O’Riordan’s blasted effort produced a point-blank save from Aaron Shanahan. Still, the supply going forward was constant and substitute O’Leary rowed in with two precious points – his second in the 48th minute put Cork a point to the good (2-9 to 0-14) and they regained a lead they had not held since the 10th minute.
As a result, Clare were beginning to find the going tough but they still managed to stay in touch. Cork could not shake them off. As the home crowd swelled inside the stadium, we were set for a hectic fourth quarter.
Cahill was a real thorn and tied matters. Cahalane nudged Cork ahead again but when Conner Hegarty scored his fourth point, it was level once more, and eight minutes remaining.
Another pivotal moment came for Cork when substitute Colm O’Donovan’s effort at goal was diverted out for a ’65 which Cahalane converted to go a point up. An incredible piece of stickwork then by Sean Ronan saw Clare draw level in the 58th minute – just as the fourth official announced at least four minutes of additional time.
Clare raided at goal, and when Galvin missed a ’65, it appeared Cork might hold out for the draw. The Banner County refused to die and in the final minute of injury time Murphy shot the winner.
A terribly disappointing result for Cork who just fell short in what was a competitive Munster round-robin championship.