Another magical day in Semple leaves Rebel fans dreaming of even more glory

Another magical day in Semple leaves Rebel fans dreaming of even more glory
Cork fans celebrate after defeating Clare. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

WHAT a way to win a Munster title.

Maybe now Cork will be considered All-Ireland contenders, after a provincial series where despite going unbeaten they were told Limerick and then Clare were ahead of them in the pecking order. Galway were held to a draw by Kilkenny in a dour Leinster decider yesterday. Perhaps it’s the Rebels’ turn to restore their reputation as aristocrats of the greatest game of them all.

That’s for later though. First, we should just bask in the glow of the sheer hurling brilliance and the incredible effort they put in at Semple Stadium in front of a passionate and inspired Leeside faithful.

The atmosphere crackled as the Banner roar was drowned out by the raucous Rebels. The Town End terrace came alive with every tackle, catch and point, a shimmering sea of red geansaí, Japanese and American flags, and smoking flares.

Eight points down, being torched in every line of the field — not just close to goal where John Conlon was making the most of the constant supply of ball — and wilting in the face of Clare’s intensity, Cork looked dead and buried in Thurles. Yet the veterans in red yesterday had been through too much to relinquish their provincial crown without a fight. And that’s exactly what Bill Cooper, Daniel Kearney, Pat Horgan, Seamus Harnedy, Chris Joyce, Eoin Cadogan and Anthony Nash did.

Daniel Kearney takes on Jamie Shanahan. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Daniel Kearney takes on Jamie Shanahan. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

They got down and dirty and ground out the victory. While a total of 2-24 suggests this was a shootout, it was also a dogfight. Cork upped the ante in the middle third in the second and that prevented Clare picking out passes inside to Conlon and forced them into reckless wides from distance.

Their tackling in defence was manic after the break but it needed to be. Cork took an age to come back out for the second half and that was down to the leaders in the line-up. The few switches worked, but the responsibility wasn’t put on the management. The players took ownership of Cork’s off-note first half and gave the fans what they wanted – fire and fury when Clare were in possession and a blend of support running and direct ball when Cork got their hands on the sliotar. After some wild shooting in previous rounds, Cork only shot seven wides.

Without a doubt, Darragh Fitzgibbon, when swapped to wing- and then centre-forward, and Mark Coleman — after returning to his natural habitat out on the flank — upped the gears in the second half. So too Seán O’Donoghue who hurled out in front of the Clare inside line and Luke Meade whose first championship goal couldn’t have been better timed.

The young guns fired and Cork blasted their way past the Banner for the fifth championship outing in a row since the harrowing All-Ireland final defeat in 2013. The older core though were at the heart of this win.

Horgan, even when Cork weren’t at the races early, was at his All-Star sharpest and nailed four from play. Harnedy was the go-to guy for long clearances and pounced for 1-4, as well as assisting Meade’s goal and getting fouled for two frees.

Pat Horgan is tackled by Clare's David McInerney. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Pat Horgan is tackled by Clare's David McInerney. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Kearney and Cooper, after Fitzgibbon kept the sliotar alive on the sideline, opened up the middle of the Clare defence for Harnedy’s green flag. Cadogan and Joyce used their heft to outmuscle the Banner forwards, even the towering Duggan, and both had assists for points too.

Huge credit has to go to John Meyler, his selectors Fraggie Murphy and Donal O’Mahony, and the rest of the backroom — Seanie Barry, Declan O’Sullivan, Briain Hurley, Richie Mooney, Pat Keane, Dr Con Murphy and more. When Kieran Kingston departed and in the wake of an unimpressive league we were all worried.

There were murmurings of discontent coming into the summer but the players and their mentors silenced them the right way. On the field.

They’re now eight games unbeaten in Munster and have retained the championship for the first time since 2005-06. It’s only the third time Cork have done that since a five in a row from 1982 to 1986.

In those eras, as well as 1999-2000, Cork collected Liam McCarthy. That’s the challenge now. In the corridor outside the winning dressing room yesterday, Meyler was already gazing down the line to the All-Ireland semi-final at the end of July.

He’s right too. Not that this wasn’t worth savouring. It was special. Magical.

Yet in Cork, you should be only be judged on All-Ireland success.

If we really are the hurling powerhouse we believe then yesterday’s fantastic victory will be the springboard for ultimate glory.

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