Cork v Clare: Hurlers outworked and outhurled in dismal display at Semple Stadium

Rebels' season is on the line after being bullied by the Banner in the Munster Hurling Championship
Cork v Clare: Hurlers outworked and outhurled in dismal display at Semple Stadium

Ciarán Joyce of Cork passes to Mark Coleman under pressure from Clare players, from left, Tony Kelly, Peter Duggan and Ian Galvin. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

CLARE'S six-point lead at half-time didn't reflect how much they dictated the tempo and, basically, bullied Cork.

This defeat was an embarrassing failure for Cork hurling. That's not to take from Clare, who were terrific, but the Rebels were a shadow of the team that got to an All-Ireland final last season.

Dramatic and significant change is now needed.

There might have just been two points between the teams at the final whistle but this was a comprehensive, humiliating loss. Cork were pushed around, forced into errors. Clare were on top throughout.

In the second half, there was always going to be a response from Cork, and a gutsy Alan Connolly goal followed by a red card for Ian Galvin in the 50th minute offered hope briefly. The Banner showed what they were about in the aftermath of the dismissal by grabbing consecutive points from David Fitzgerald, Diarmuid Ryan and Robyn Mounsey while Cork spurned three chances. At 0-25 to 1-15 and despite the time left on the clock, it was game over.

Cork didn't play remotely well enough in any sector to deserve anything from the game. The full-back line was pretty decent but to still lose so badly while leaking 0-28 says it all really.

Patrick Horgan, at nearly 34, was more of a threat than the rest of the forwards, aside from Connolly, which also told the sorry tale. Despite the extra man, Cork didn't stretch the Clare rearguard in the last quarter. Scores were coughed up for over-carrying and thrown hand-passes (though that was extremely harsh on Tommy O'Connell).  

Ciarán Joyce enhanced his reputation in the most difficult of circumstances without shining and is the long-term answer at centre-back. Outside of that, positives were in short supply. 

The season is in tatters on the first day of May because of the rest of the fixture list. Cork scraped third in 2019 with two wins but they won't get out of the round-robin section here even if they somehow beat Waterford and Tipp because Clare have the head-to-head advantage.

It should have been a rout really as Clare didn't need to try and engineer goal chances and had eight more wides than Cork. 

At no stage whatsoever did Cork look like they'd get a result. Or even that they thought they could. 

Clare’s John Conlon and Darragh Fitzgibbon battle for the ball. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Clare’s John Conlon and Darragh Fitzgibbon battle for the ball. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Their morale is alarmingly low. Since that epic All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny, the Rebels have suffered a succession of hammer blows.

How they regroup for 2023 is anyone's guess now. What's absolutely certain is they must move into next season with new faces drawn from the U20 All-Ireland winning squads. 

The build-up couldn't have been more muted on Leeside. The chastening events of the league final and the championship opener against Limerick on Easter Sunday completely undid all the good work from the early stages of the season.

Everything the Rebels had worked on during 2021 to reach the All-Ireland and in the opening phase of the league was being questioned. Kieran Kingston and his selectors were subject to ferocious criticism, including a searing piece from Teddy McCarthy in The Echo, but that comes with the territory of being involved with a hurling-mad county like Cork. It'd be worse if no one cared.

REBELS WITH A CAUSE

What galled the supporters so much was that Cork didn't go down fighting against Limerick. Everyone knows they're the best team in the country by a distance, one of the most impressive of the modern era. That's exactly why the Leeside faithful expected to see their Rebels show up with a cause. Or at least a few tactical adjustments from the All-Ireland final meltdown last August.

The suggestion that Mark Coleman, supreme stickman, isn't an enforcer in the mould of Tadhg de Búrca isn't novel. Getting enough early, quality ball into Horgan has been a talking point for over a decade. Beyond that, the fans were crying out for something new. The rumour mill in recent days had Mark Keane being thrust into the forwards but when he did come in late he picked up a red card.

There were changes: Coleman and Shane Barrett to midfield, Fitzgibbon at 11, Millerick at wing-back. None of them worked. 

The overall display showed how little self-belief the Cork squad now has.

There was reason to be cautiously optimistic heading up to FBD Semple Stadium on Sunday morning. Aside from that awful run of four consecutive championship defeats in the mid-'90s, albeit to the greatest Banner crop of all-time, and the 2013 All-Ireland final replay, Cork have held the whip hand over Clare since 1999.

Clare were bouncing up to Thurles on the back of a hugely impressive win over Tipp though. They achieved it on a rare day when Tony Kelly was merely very good, instead of being unmarkable. The return of Peter Duggan and Shane O'Donnell brings far greater balance to their attack. 

Clare hurled with a purpose. The exact opposite of Cork.

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