The goals were great but the hard yards off the ball made the difference for Cork against Clare

The goals were great but the hard yards off the ball made the difference for Cork against Clare

THE RUNNING MAN: Darragh Fitzgibbon zips away from Cathal Malone in the Páirc yesterday. His movement and creativity was vital again. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

IF YOU were looking for highlights from the Munster opener at Páirc Uí Chaoimh there were enough soaring points to fill up a tasty YouTube clip.

In fact the array of ice-cool frees and over-the-shoulder gems from RTÉ’s official Man of the Match Patrick Horgan were sufficient on their own. Reports of his outstanding training-ground form and unmarkable showing in a league clash with Sars proved well founded.

The green flags raised the decibel levels considerably and there always a welter of excitement whenever Horgan, Conor Lehane, and Darragh Fitzgibbon had the sliotar in their paws. And though Clare were vastly outnumbered in the crowd of 24,450, it was same when Conor McGrath or Shane O’Donnell were twisting and turning close to goal.

However, Cork’s win over Clare was built on the little things. Despite what the scoreboard said – and the 47 scores – this wasn’t a fluid game throughout. Crucially though, John Meyler’s charges worked like dogs from the off.

The two most satisfying moments came from Mark Coleman and Shane Kingston. In the first half Coleman pulled off an astonishing block down on David Reidy at full stretch to prevent what looked a certain goal. The Rebel rearguard were exposed a bit too often for comfort between the half- and full-back lines but their hooking and intensity was relentless.

Damien Cahalane epitomised that effort, intercepting the ball at vital moments, ably supported by rookie Seán O’Donoghue and Colm Spillane. Front-foot hurling from the last line of defence…

Kingston’s key contribution wasn’t setting up the goal. It arrived in the 71st minute. The sub, along with Lehane, raced back faster than The Flash to hook Seadna Morey as he wound up to split the posts.

Conor Lehane with Seadna Morey of Clare. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Conor Lehane with Seadna Morey of Clare. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

That sequence concluded with a foul on Bill Cooper which Horgan converted from inside his own half to nudge Cork 1-20 to 1-19 ahead. The Rebels outscored Clare 1-3 to 0-2 from there on to seal the result.

Look, this was no epic return to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for Cork hurling yet Rebel supporters departed the revamped stadium after two wins with plenty of room for improvement in the minors and the seniors.

The cut and thrust of traditional Munster hurling was lacking until the first goal midway through the second half, but an exciting finale and a five-point win were nothing to sniff at. For the U17s they survived the nightmare concession of three first-half but when the game was on the line stepped up to the plate.

Paul Cooney of Cork in action against Fionn Slattery​ of Clare. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Paul Cooney of Cork in action against Fionn Slattery​ of Clare. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Shane Barrett, Paul Cooney, Daniel Hogan and Cillian O’Donovan did the heavy lifting in that minor display. Putting over 26 points in 60-odd minutes was some going.

At times, the senior game mixed the magical and maddening.

Anthony Nash clears under pressure from team-mate Mark Coleman and David Reidy of Clare. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Anthony Nash clears under pressure from team-mate Mark Coleman and David Reidy of Clare. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Horgan’s flick and Lehane’s wrists for the opening goal was a throwback to hurling in the sepia-tinged days when the Páirc was the Athletics Ground. Fitzgibbon and Coleman’s poise and pace was as exciting yesterday as it was in their breakthrough summer of 2017.

Yet when Cork were four points up after 60 minutes they coughed up two cheap turnovers — a misplaced Daniel Kearney pass and Lehane caught teeing up a shot — to the tune of 1-1. In the first half Clare could have put far more on the scoreboard if they hadn’t tried to walk the sliotar towards the square; shades of Arsenal at their most frustrating.

Make no mistake the game could have panned out differently. Time and again the Banner went for an extra pass when the easy point was on. Creating goal chances was their primary tactic but they were forcing it more often than not.

Credit to the Cork backs for their ferocity in the tackle but Clare were the architects of their own downfall. If they just hurled off the cuff they could do serious damage but you could say the same about every campaign since 2013.

In Cork’s case, no one will be getting carried away with a win in a game they were hot favourites to claim. It was admirable display for the most part, especially in how they adjusted to the nasty hit to newcomer Robbie O’Flynn and lengthy delay after, but Tipp next Sunday will be a tougher test.

The Premier are under savage pressure following their loss to Limerick but they’ve a host of big guns they can recall to face Cork and their sharpshooters are generally more clinical than Clare’s.

The return of Alan Cadogan would be a boost but even if he doesn’t make it, Tim O’Mahony could be a serious addition.

Tim O’Mahony with Cathal Malone. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Tim O’Mahony with Cathal Malone. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

He won a essential free just after Tony Kelly’s goal yesterday and put himself about in his cameo.

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