AFTER watching the Galway-Waterford game on TV, I was wondering would Clare and Cork be able to match it.
I didn't appreciate how hot it was until I reached the Gaelic Grounds to see the tar boiling up on the Ennis Road so to think that these players could go out and perform in the heat for over 70 minutes... there is great credit due to both teams, but especially to Clare, their third week on the trot playing a championship game of this intensity.
And I have to say they battled all the way.
It looked like in the first 20 minutes Cork would definitely take over as there was a sluggishness about Clare's play. Cork showed better appetite and hunger, but most importantly of all they had the pace on the Clare players, especially Jack O'Connor with Shane Kingston, Robbie O'Flynn and Seamus Harnedy also causing problems for Clare.
Patrick Horgan was also getting some scores from frees and play. It was a big improvement from him after the Limerick loss.
I think the real leaders were Sean O'Donoghue, Patrick Collins, Ger Millerick and especially Robert Downey, who completely blotted out Aron Shanagher. I thought he was very solid at full-back all the way through.
He did the job that a number three should do. In my opinion, Downey should always be on this team in defence as he is a big athletic player, and no real fuss about his play, just gets on with it.
Kieran Kingston will have some headache now to pick a full-back when Damian Cahalane is fit! A nice problem to have.
Management are beginning to get their team in the right positions, guys like Luke Meade, who is a great work-horse, while Darragh Fitzgibbon, who had a quiet game by his high standards, still scored two great points. I believe there is a lot more in him.
The one thing that would be a worry for Kingston and his selectors is when Cork had Clare under the cosh they did not drive on. That is something that they will have to develop if they have ideas about going forward past the quarter-finals because there is still a bit of ruthlessness and killer instinct missing.
They have to develop that and fast.
Cork were in a winning position here in the last few minutes but were very lucky to hang on in the finish, and only for a brilliant save by Patrick Collins from Tony Kelly's shot they would have been out. While the goalkeeper did very well, I suppose he would be asking big questions of his defenders on how they allowed Kelly to get through.
I'm sure Kingston will be asking the same during the week. You cannot let things like that happen especially when you should have the game won.
It's all a learning experience but you cannot be giving hurlers of that calibre chances like that because they will usually punish you. Luckily the keeper was in top form and his concentration levels were high. His defenders have to think the same.
Upwards and onwards for Cork now. They are in the quarter-final of the All-Ireland, and while I don't know who they will play next, every championship game won builds momentum and confidence.
At this stage, you are delighted to be in it and you don't mind who you play. That was always the way with Cork one time, and maybe that is gradually coming back now.
The longer this team stays in the championship, the more dangerous they are going to be. As we all know it gets harder from here on irrespective of the opposition.
I'm sure Kieran Kingston and his management team are well aware of that. There is a good buzz about Cork hurling at the moment and that is a good thing for any county.
I thought a few leaders showed up when Clare were having a good spell. I'd say this was very pleasing for the management.
I was very surprised that Cork left Niall O'Leary on Tony Kelly for so long, and that they did not make a change when Kelly was getting on top. I thought Sean O'Donoghue would have been a better man there.
They both made a huge contribution to this victory.
I was really impressed by Shane Barrett. He seems to have all the qualities to make a top-class player at this level, and I wouldn't be surprised if he starts next weekend.
But I have to say, and not being biased, the best and most consistent player in this game was Clare's Tony Kelly. This game would have been long over only for him.
In my book, he gave a Man of the Match performance. I also think Brian Lohan and his management team have done a great job under very difficult circumstances.
Yet Cork move on. Clare head out.