Cork v Clare: Rebel faithful hope hurlers can find another gear in Thurles

Classy Clare made short work of Tipperary, which gives Brian Lohan's charges momentum going in Sunday's clash at Semple Stadium 
Cork v Clare: Rebel faithful hope hurlers can find another gear in Thurles

Robert Downey had a stormer for Cork against Clare last season. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

EVENTS at the Gaelic Grounds and Semple Stadium heaped the pressure on the Cork hurlers heading into Sunday's clash with Clare.

A defeat in Thurles to the Banner would effectively end the Rebels' prospects of finishing in the top three in the provincial series and hurling into June. The good vibes generated in the early rounds of the league have given way to the frustration of history repeating itself on Leeside, Cork outmuscled and outworked by the leading contenders for Liam MacCarthy. Can they turn it around?

The evidence from round two of the Munster championship is alarming.

Limerick held off Waterford after a bruising battle last Saturday night where the middle third was more crowded than the Easter queues at Dublin Airport yet Aaron Gillane (six points from play) and Dessie Hutchinson (0-5) found the room to pick off scores from all angles. Diarmaid Byrnes was even better than he had been in bullying Cork. 

Limerick’s Diarmaid Byrnes celebrates winning a late free. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Limerick’s Diarmaid Byrnes celebrates winning a late free. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Waterford landed a flurry of blows including two second-half goals, Cian Lynch limped off early and yet Limerick remained immovable. 

It's early days in the championship but Cork haven't shown anything lately to suggest they can match the type of power game that Limerick and Waterford offered up last Saturday night.

Clare beating Tipp wasn't a huge surprise, the Premier are in transition and paying the price of taking too long integrating the All-Ireland winning U21 and U20 sides that broke Cork hearts under Liam Cahill in 2018 and '19. 

Clare chugged along during the league knowing they'd key forwards Peter Duggan and Shane O'Donnell due back. They were under the radar heading into championship because they didn't have a fixture on the opening weekend; an ideal way to roll into a big game.

Whatever about getting a rare win on Tipp turf, the manner of Clare's victory was worrying from a Cork perspective. They created acres of space for their two-man full-forward line of Duggan and Ian Galvin to exploit by utilising O'Donnell and Tony Kelly as mobile wing men.

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John Conlon anchored the rearguard with authority, collective work-rate and discipline neutered Tipp's attack and Rory Hayes was tremendous thundering out from the full-back zone. 

Tipperary's Mark Kehoe tackled by Rory Hayes of Clare. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane
Tipperary's Mark Kehoe tackled by Rory Hayes of Clare. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

Once Clare struck for their third goal before half-time they never looked like getting caught.

Cork have an excellent record against Clare, outside of the 2013 All-Ireland final and a 2019 round-robin loss at Cusack Park. Yet Brian Lohan's side will be hugely confident next Sunday.

And if they beat Cork they'll have two games to come in Ennis, including a clash with Limerick who will be after beating Tipp on home turf and most likely through to the Munster final already when they meet on May 15. That same afternoon Cork will be in Walsh Park, where Waterford haven't been defeated on Liam Cahill's watch.

The stakes couldn't be higher this weekend.

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