ON the road from Inagh to Milltown Malbay on Saturday the Heavens opened, dumping large quantities of some hefty hailstones and turning a dreary day into night.
It was a foretaste of what was to come. Welcome to the home of Willie Clancy. Welcome to the McGrath Cup. Welcome to 2022.
For the footballers of Clare and Cork their task of making favourable impressions on the respective managers, Colm Collins and Keith Ricken, were almost made impossible by the conditions.
A near-gale blew in from the Atlantic straight down the middle of the pitch and accompanied by freezing sleet on a heavy pitch, typical for the time of year.
And to compound players’ difficulties, especially for forwards kicking into the goal into which the wind blew with some ferocity, sudden gusts made mockeries of attempted point shooting.
Trying to inject any pace into the contest was simply a non-runner and even the most basic of chores like a short hand-pass to a colleague had to be precise, otherwise the ball ended going loose.
As is the norm with pre-season competitions, both counties experimented, Cork handing senior debuts to Castlehaven’s Rory Maguire in defence, Clonakilty midfielder Joe Grimes and Kanturk’s Daniel O’Connell and Fionn Herlihy from Dohenys in attack.
A handful more were introduced during the second-half, when Cork had the wind at their backs and were compiling a winning lead, which eventually came to 2-9 to 0-10.
Despite the elements there were some notable contributions from a number in red jerseys like Sean Meehan at full-back and captain for the day, Sean Powter, at centre-back.
Up front, Brian Hurley carried his exciting Haven form in the club championship into the new inter-county season, finishing with an impressive 1-6, while Mark Cronin from Nemo Rangers was another to catch the eye.
Cork actually scored more against the wind, 1-6, than they did with it, Hurley and Cronin converting frees from close range and kicking them off the ground to ensure the wind didn’t play havoc with any attempts which hung in the air for too long.
Cork also kicked a couple from play, Hurley availing of a gift after Clare coughed up the ball in front of their posts and Maguire marking his debut with an impressive finish following a patient build up.
O’Connell’s goal on the half-four from a Cronin pass was always going to be critical as Cork turned around 1-6 to 0-7 ahead at the interval, which was greeted by more torrential hail.
The visitors added 1-3 without response on the resumption, Hurley supplying the goal on 43 minutes after a long ball found Cronin, who fed Colm O’Callaghan and then on to Paul Walsh for the Haven forward to score.
Cork tacked on two more points, which were probably the best of the afternoon.
Hurley showed great determination and handling skills to win a ball way out on the left before brushing past defenders en route to fisting over Cork’s eighth point.
Cronin followed suit just before the water-break, again displaying impressive will-power to shrug off a couple of challenges before a clinical finish left Cork 2-9 to 0-7 clear and well on their way to an opening day win.
The counties square up again next month in the second round of games in division 2 of the national league at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, which was in excellent condition for Ballygunner’s hurling exhibition on Sunday.
The stakes, of course, will be far more important then and both teams will probably be almost unrecognisable as they welcome back their mainstays.
Cork’s victory almost guarantees a place in the McGrath Cup final, scheduled for next Saturday with Kerry as their likely opponents.
Ricken will continue experimenting with the team to face Waterford at Pairc Ui Rinn tonight at 7pm while returning Kerry boss, Jack O’Connor, will be in a similar vein for their game against Tipperary in Templetuohy tomorrow night.
Kerry opened with a 2-23 to 0-6 win over Limerick, who also lost to Tipp by a point at the weekend, going down by 1-12 to 0-14.
This will be Waterford’s first game under new manager Ephie Fitzgerald.
CORK (v Waterford): J Creedon (Iveleary); P Allen (Newmarket), S Meehan (Kiskeam), T Corkery (Cill na Martra); L Fahy (Ballincollig), K Histon (Nemo Rangers), M Taylor (Mallow); J Grimes (Clonakilty), C Kiely (Ballincollig); E Cooke (do), B Murphy (St Vincent’s), K O’Donovan (Nemo Rangers); A Ó Luasa (Naomh Aban), B Hurley (Castlehaven), D Dineen (Cill na Martra).
Subs: MA Martin (Nemo Rangers), K Cremin (Boherbue), K Flahive (Douglas), M O’Mahoney (Knocknagree), T Walsh (Kanturk), J Kiely (Valley Rovers), C O’Sullivan (Kilshannig), A Walsh (Kanturk), F Finner (Castletownbere), C Walsh (Kanturk), J Cahalane (Castlehaven).