Kearney's work-rate and tracking lay the foundation for victory over the Banner

Kearney's work-rate and tracking lay the foundation for victory over the Banner
Daniel Kearney was excellent on Sunday. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

WITH Clare’s very last attack on Sunday, Conor McGrath swivelled just outside the 13-metre line and got off a rocket off a shot.

The ball cannoned off Damien Cahalane before being cleared. Cahalane just winced and rubbed his chest to try and alleviate the sting but it was an apt metaphor for the game; Clare had chances, especially goal chances, but Cork stood firm and took whatever Clare threw at them.

It wasn’t exactly a vintage Cork performance but it was impressive because of how hard the whole team worked.

Clare should have been well ahead at the break but Cork’s attack was much more fluent and dangerous in the second half and they ended the match as the better, slicker and more polished team.

Cork created the same amount of scoring chances as Clare after the break (19-19) but they mined 2-12 from those chances, with both goals being devastating finishes, and coming at pivotal times in the match, when Cork could still feel Clare’s hot breath on their neck.

Clare were still within touch in injury time when Seamus Harnedy won Anthony Nash’s long puckout before heading straight for goal and lashing the ball past Donal Tuohy.

Seamus Harnedy celebrates scoring a goal. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Seamus Harnedy celebrates scoring a goal. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

It was a route-one play but Cork had a much firmer grip on puck-outs in the second half.

After winning just nine of their own 17 puck-outs in the first half, Cork went short much more after the break but they also used the ball much better on long puck-outs.

Conor Lehane is tackled by Tony Kelly. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Conor Lehane is tackled by Tony Kelly. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

They had a better shape to their attack while their big players came up with huge plays. Patrick Horgan, Conor Lehane and Harnedy only made a combined 24 plays but they either scored or created 2-10 from those plays.

Clare had nowhere near that kind of return from their three main strike forwards. Tony Kelly finished with 1-2 from play but he still had just six possessions.

Shane O’Donnell and Conor McGrath made a combined 26 plays and while 1-5 came off that possession (O’Donnell played the pass to Kelly for the goal while McGrath had two assists for points) Clare needed a better scoring return from their two key inside forwards, especially considering the possession they had, and how threatening they often looked.

Conor McGrath being held up by Sean O'Donoghue and Christopher Joyce. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Conor McGrath being held up by Sean O'Donoghue and Christopher Joyce. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

John Conlon was excellent when scoring five points from play but the Clare attack overplayed the ball in possession too often, and consistently lacked that killer instinct.

They were just a fraction off with some of their passing but similar to too many other seasons, Clare got themselves into a position late on to win the game but couldn’t take it.

Clare’s profligacy in the first half, when hitting nine wides, damaged the platform they had created from their greater share of possession in that period; Clare had created 25 scoring chances to Cork’s 18.

Clare were playing more of a structured game, especially in how they were set up, and in how they were consistently trying to create overlaps, whereas Cork were playing more off the cuff, and on instinct.

Clare attacker Shane O'Donnell. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Clare attacker Shane O'Donnell. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

There is never any real shape in the modern game anymore but, while Cork were trying to create space, that structure up front was at variance with how they were using the ball. Of the 16 balls delivered into their attack in that opening half, Cork won just six.

The Cork attack made just 21 plays in the opening half but Daniel Kearney accounted for eight of that total and Cork couldn’t their strike forwards on the ball.

Horgan made just one play; Lehane made just two. Those three plays still resulted in three points (Lehane had one assist) which illustrated just how much more Cork needed those two in the game.

Horgan and Lehane combined in lethal fashion in the 55th minute for Cork’s first goal. When Horgan pointed within a minute, it put Cork ahead by 1-15 to 0-13. When Clare wiped out the deficit with an unanswered 1-2, Horgan responded with a free before landing a glorious effort over his shoulder near the sideline, his third from play of the half.

Other teams may look at this game and notice how Clare created six decent goalscoring chances, and of the openings they created by running at the Cork defence. On the other hand, Clare only got off a couple of those shots and Anthony Nash wasn’t forced into making a series of brilliant saves. 

Much of that was down to smart, disciplined and intelligent Cork defending. It also underlined the pace and speed in the defence, and how efficient some of those defenders are at closing down danger around the goal.

When David Reidy had his goal chance in the first half, the entire Cork full-back line — Colm Spillane, Cahalane and Sean O’Donoghue - were on his heels. By the time Reidy got inside the 13-metre line, Cahalane and Spillane were within hooking distance of Reidy but Mark Coleman had come across the line by then and got the block on the shot.

Coleman’s timing was perfect but Cork’s discipline was exemplary all afternoon.

They only conceded six frees in their own half of the field, and seven pointed frees in total. The Cork half-backs and midfielders chipped in with seven points from play.

Cork definitely looked more defensively sound but much of that stemmed from their overall and cohesive work-rate. And nobody reflected that more than Daniel Kearney.

There was some surprise when he was named at wing-forward last week but Kearney’s work-rate was immense on Sunday.

Daniel Kearney is tackled by Patrick O'Connor. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Daniel Kearney is tackled by Patrick O'Connor. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Kearney made 14 plays while he was on the field but his tracking and selfless covering back was one of the signature elements of Cork’s play.

And if Cork can maintain that overall work-rate throughout this championship, and marry it with their class, they will be hard to beat.

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