THE 2013 season was the year of five hurling meetings between Cork and Clare, all with their own levels of intrigue.
There was of course the drawn All-Ireland final and replay, when Domhnall O’Donovan struck late to deny Cork the title and Shane O’Donnell produced the performance of a lifetime in the second game, snaffling a hat-trick of goals.
Prior to that, Cork had won when the sides met in the Munster semi-final in Limerick in June, a 0-23 to 0-15 win atoning for the 0-31 to 2-23 extra-time loss in the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 relegation play-off at the same venue a couple of months earlier.
And there was also a Waterford Crystal Cup semi-final in Sixmilebridge on February 1, which was overshadowed by two off-field events. That Friday evening, an oil spill on the Limerick-Galway road caused a severe traffic jam, meaning that the Cork players, travelling in groups in cars, were severely delayed and some actually missed the throw-in.
Clare won that match, though the post-match focus from a Cork point of view was not on what had happened out on the field but instead reacting to news from the previous night.
Having been injured in the 2012 league semi-final against Tipperary, Cork captain and goalkeeper Dónal Óg Cusack missed the rest of the year and Anthony Nash settled into the role so well that he ended up winning the All-Star award for that year.
The Kanturk native would do so again in 2013, but, while it had been expected that he and Cusack would battle for the number 1 jersey, manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy and his selectors made their decision at the end of January, excluding Cusack from their league panel.
Tasked with speaking to the media after the Clare match was then-selector Kieran Kingston, who acknowledged that it was a call that would attract some attention.
“You’ll always have challenges and have questions asked about whether you were right or wrong about guys, or whether it was during a game, ‘You should have brought this fella on’ or ‘You should have brought that guy off’.
Coming in the wake of the departures of Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and John Gardiner, Cusack’s exit left a void in terms of strong voices in the dressing room, but Kingston felt that that provided opportunities for others.
“It’s important that guys start stepping up in terms of leadership,” he said.
“The dressing room needs leaders and it does have leaders, maybe it’s difficult for people outside to see who the leaders are.
“Leaders develop in training and matches, and it’s hard to see that outside the group. The players mentioned have had huge success, they’ve been great servants for Cork hurling and been great leaders, but there are other fantastic leaders in the dressing room as well.”
It’s something that Kingston is seeking again now in his second stint as manager and it’s interesting to note that Clare have only beaten Cork once in the championship since that 2013 final. While that Liam MacCarthy triumph was allied with an All-Ireland U21 title that year, talk of dominance didn’t materialise and Clare are still waiting for a first Munster win since 1998.
That sole Banner win against Cork since 2013 was in the sides’ last meeting, the 2019 round-robin clash in Ennis, when victory wasn’t enough for the home team to progress to the knockout stages but the result did prevent Cork from reaching a third straight Munster final.
Otherwise, Cork have triumphed, with victories in the 2014 Munster semi-final, a qualifier clash a year later and the Munster finals of 2017 and 2018.
In knockout hurling, the result isn’t the main thing, it’s the only thing and coming through a tough game can be hugely beneficial for a team still in the developmental stages, as this Cork side are.