Unsung heroes stepped up for the Cork hurlers against Clare

With Damien Cahalane and Eoin Cadogan out, the defence made some critical interventions
Unsung heroes stepped up for the Cork hurlers against Clare

Cork goalkeeper Patrick Collins and team-mate Niall O'Leary celebrate after his side's victory. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

WHAT a game! 

Credit to both sides for a magnificent spectacle of hurling as the action was as hot as the blistering sunshine at the LIT Gaelic Grounds on Saturday.

This was never going to be an easy one for the Rebels as Clare were coming in off their great win over Wexford.

The worries ahead of the tie for Cork supporters were not helped when we lost Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane during the week through injury.

Enter Robert Downey and Ger Millerick stage left and what a performance from the two of them. Having not played for some time Downey was simply outstanding at full-back and with Cahalane unlikely to be around next weekend you can chalk his name onto the team sheet already.

He dominated in the air, on the ground and came up with a simply sublime match-winning intervention in the closing minutes.

Robert Downey bursts out past Aron Shanagher of Clare. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Robert Downey bursts out past Aron Shanagher of Clare. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

He would be the first to admit that, at times, he was not at his best in the Rebel red in previous encounters but on Saturday he showed the faith the management have in him was justified. How he wasn't named Man of the Match was a surprise afterward.

Yes, Seamus Harnedy had his best game in a long time for Cork and contributed massively to their win, but for me, Downey was head and shoulders above all the rest.

Either side of him Niall O'Leary and Sean O'Donoghue were rock solid and the former made life difficult for Tony Kelly all through. People will look at Kelly's total, 1-11, but not too many were from play.

Outside of them Millerick, Coleman and O'Mahony are starting to look like our half-back line of the future and potentially one to rival the Gardiner, Seán Óg and Curran one of not too many years ago.

Keep moving through the lines and Fitzgibbon and Meade worked tirelessly all through and it may only have been a cameo appearance but the return of Bill Cooper to the pitch should not go unnoticed.

His experience could be key in the weeks ahead and at the very least it will keep the pressure on those in the jerseys to perform as they know there is a serious competitor waiting in the wings to take their spot.

Now, possibly for the first time in a number of years, we have serious competition for starting spots from nine back.

Collins also needs special mention and his save late on is one that keepers dream about and, like Downey's effort, was crucial to the Rebel win.

MORE TO COME

But from nine up you would still not be 100% sure of our best starting six.

Harnedy was somewhere near back to his best and his influence on the game, particularly when needed in the second half was immense.

His flick to Barrett for the goal was inch-perfect and he made it that little bit easier for the Blarney man to find the back of the net.

He broke a lot of ball and here is one of the areas where we need to improve. We are not winning enough of the breaking ball and will need to start winning more of it to progress any further.

No doubt that when his heart gets somewhere near back to normal Kieran Kingston will look at this and work on in training ahead of their next encounter.

In the full-forward line Jack O'Connor is growing in stature with every game and his lightning pace would frighten any defence. His goal may have been early in the game but it ensured his marker couldn't move too far forward at any stage as give O'Connor an inch and he will take a mile!

Barrett, after he came on at half-time, was another to put his hand up high for a starting spot next weekend and Alan Connolly was in the same boat.

The lift from Cork winning in hurling championship can be felt all across the county and have no doubt there will be a buzz from this win.

Beating Clare is never easy and we were never going to run away with this one, but we won and when it comes to knockout championship that's all that matters.

Lose and you're out, we didn't and we drive on from here. An All-Ireland semi-final is in our sights now and get that far and who knows what can happen.

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