WHEN Clare beat Cork after a replay to win the All-Ireland senior hurling title in 2013, the future looked to be saffron and blue.
With so many of Davy Fitzgerald’s stars also part of the side that claimed national U21 honours that year, the ingredients looked to be there for the Banner County to go on and dominate for a spell. Though Cork had been within seconds of winning the drawn All-Ireland final before Domhnall O’Donovan’s miracle equaliser, the consensus was that the Rebels had over-achieved in reaching a final and the 5-16 to 3-16 scoreline in the replay was a truer reflection of the counties’ standing.
However, in seven championship meetings since then, Cork have won six with Clare only claiming one – and that a win in the round-robin section of the 2019 Munster SHC, when defeat didn’t stop Cork advancing to the knockout stage of the All-Ireland championship.
Of course, the most recent game between the counties in the championship was last July’s meeting at what was then LIT Gaelic Grounds (the college’s new name, TUS, now graces the naming rights) and a key moment late on has taken on mythical proportions.
After losing to Limerick, Cork had received a bye past the first round of the qualifiers and Jack O’Connor’s goal put them 1-4 to 0-5 ahead after a cagey, error-strewn opening. Though Clare did come back to tie the match as the half wore on, Shane Kingston struck as the interval approached, briefly putting the Rebels five points ahead. However, Colm Galvin’s point left Clare within four, 2-9 to 0-11, at the break and with Tony Kelly in inspired form, the Banner set about clawing their way back in the third quarter.
It did take until after the water-break for them to achieve parity through sub Shane Golden but when wing-back Diarmuid Ryan put them in front for the first time since the 14th minute, Cork were wavering.
To their credit, the Rebels dug deep to show character, with subs Alan Connolly, Shane Barrett and veterans Séamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan all firing over points as they moved back in front, while at the other end Robert Downey – in at full-back with Damien Cahalane and Eoin Cadogan out, but outstanding along with Seán O’Donoghue – made a great block to deny Gary Cooney a Clare goal.
When Harnedy did well to set up Barrett for Cork’s third green flag, they looked home and dry, Horgan’s tenth point making it 3-19 to 0-23, but Clare had a final surge. After O’Connor was sent off for a second yellow card, Rory Hayes pointed for Clare and then they won a penalty, with the perpetrator, Niall O’Leary, also dismissed for two bookings.
Tony Kelly despatched the penalty to leave two in it and then, in the fourth minute of added time, Kelly looked to set to score a winning goal only for goalkeeper Patrick Collins to deny him with a superb save.
The final score was 3-19 to 1-23 – the first time Cork had won a senior championship with more goals and fewer points than their opponents since a 1991 game against Waterford. However, but for Collins’ late intervention, the run to the All-Ireland final would not have materialised.