IN his post-match interview on Sunday, before he received his man-of-the-match award, Mikey O’Malley outlined why Clare were so pumped for the game; they hadn’t beaten Cork in the league or championship since the 2013 All-Ireland final replay.
And Clare had clearly targeted redressing that statistic.
For a team trying to regain lost ground since 2013, Cork had clearly become a stumbling block in the collective mind of this group. As well as having lost to Cork in championship matches in 2014, 2015 and 2017, Clare hadn’t won a league game against Cork since the relegation final in April 2013.
There had only been two league meetings between the counties in the meantime but Cork had won both by an aggregate margin of 17 points. Clare were clearly out for atonement and it showed in the first half when they tore Cork to shreds.
They had 0-16 on the board by half time but it could have been 2-20. The breeze was a factor but Clare still created 12 more scoring opportunities than Cork in that period.
Cork upped their intensity in the second quarter before a Peter Duggan free finally halted an unbroken sequence of four Cork points, which ended a 14-minute period without a Clare score.
A brilliant Tony Kelly point shortly afterwards looked to have firmly wrestled control back for the home side before the outstanding David Reidy appeared to confirm as much when landing another excellent score straight from the puckout to push Clare in front by nine.
And yet, Cork kept coming. Three unanswered points from Patrick Horgan and Seamus Harnedy pared the deficit down to six before Brian Lawton was fouled for a close-in free.
John Meyler instructed Horgan to go for goal but his shot was saved by Donal Tuohy. Cork worked the ball back to Lawton, whose shot was saved by Tuohy again.
And yet, on it went.
Clare missed a couple of late goal chances and still needed Tuohy to stop another bullet close-in free from Horgan late on to stave off a potential disaster. It was that kind of a game – all over the shop.
Clare completely dominated most of the match. They created a colossal 47 scoring chances over the 70 plus minutes but only had a conversion rate of 49%.
Cork were a horror-show in the first half. Aside from Harnedy, the other five Cork forwards made just 13 plays in that period. Cork’s numbers did increase after the break but Cork still ended the match with a conversion rate of just 53%.
The fact that Cork still somehow nearly got something out of the game was as much an indictment of Clare’s wastefulness than Cork’s resilience because Clare should have taken of business long before Cork’s late surge.
The breeze was a factor in Cork’s second half renaissance, especially when most of their scores came from distance, as opposed to their forwards catching fire. Cork finally had a platform at midfield, which had collapsed in the first half.
They did keep battling in the second half but this performance was still coloured by numbers that Cork – irrespective of their attitude towards this league – will be concerned about; they should have shipped at least 30 scores; they went scoreless for 20 minutes in the first half; they failed to score from play during a 30-minute period in that half.
The withdrawal of Conor Lehane and Alan Cadogan before the game did blunt Cork’s attacking edge but it was almost immaterial in the first half as Clare went to town on the Cork defence.
Shane O’Donnell was the only one of Clare's front eight not to score in that period but he won two converted frees, almost had a goal himself, as well as engineering a good goal-soring chance for Podge Collins. Collins’ touch let him down at times before he was eventually withdrawn but he still scored one point and had a direct hand in five more.
Of the Cork forwards, Seamus Harnedy was the only one who came close to hitting respectable numbers. Harnedy made 13 plays but his biggest impact came from four late plays when scoring one point, setting up another and winning two frees.
Cork had sited Harnedy at full-forward for the second half but he was peripheral for most of that period, primarily because Cork’s platform of attack was largely in the middle third with the breeze.
The conditions did tell a large story of this game because of the grip both teams managed to get on each other’s puckout against the breeze. In the first half, Clare mined five scores from that possession. After the break, Cork scored six points directly off Clare puckouts.
Bill Cooper, who had been peripheral in the first half, thundered into the match after the break. He started winning dirty ball around the middle - which Cork hadn't been doing in the first half - but when you deduct Cooper and Harnedy’s aggregate plays, the other seven forwards to feature over the 70 minutes only managed a combined 18 plays in the second half.
With those numbers, it was no surprise that 14 of Cork’s 18 scores were sourced from Horgan placed balls or defenders and midfielders. No Cork player scored more than one point from play, while Clare had six players register at least two scores from play.
This was Clare’s first time beating hurling’s ‘big three’ – Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork – since winning the 1997 All-Ireland. For this group though, Sunday was about more than just that stat – it was primarily about beating Cork in a serious game for the first time in five years.
And while the scoreboard may not suggest so, Clare emphatically did.