CORK might have ended up only losing by two points to Clare at Semple Stadium on Sunday afternoon, but it felt like more.
When Blackrock’s Alan Connolly goaled in the 47th minute, and three minutes later Clare’s Ian Galvin was red-carded, a thrilling comeback looked on, but credit to Clare, as they closed the door, and ultimately Darragh Fitzgibbon’s late goal only served as a consolation.
Having had two weeks off to lick the wounds from the Limerick defeat the expectation would have been that Cork would have been fired up for this crucial encounter, but that was not the case.
Cork managed only one single point between the 2nd and 24th minute, while at the other end Clare sliced over nine points during this period as the Cork puckout completely collapsed.
Of the first 12 puck-outs that Patrick Collins sent long, Clare won nine of them, with only the first of these resulting in a Cork score, when Robbie O’Flynn rifled over. Meanwhile Clare got four of their points from these long restarts, but it wasn’t just these score concessions that hurt Cork, as you could visibly see the Cork players wilt every single time they failed to regather possession.
To their credit Cork did manage to score seven of the last nine points of the first half, from the 28th minute onwards, to reduce the gap from a horrible-looking 11-point margin to a more manageable looking half-time deficit of six, but there was still a considerable mountain to climb.
Cork conceded only three frees in the whole of the first half. When a side is seriously struggling to win any sort of possession, or trying to restrict a team who are having a bit of a run of you, you would expect this to be higher, at least as an indication of a bit of fight. Cork were far too passive in the opening half.
Jack O’Connor looked a shadow of the player that lit up the 2021 championship, unable to win or hold up any ball, and it was no surprise when he was called ashore in the 25th minute, to be replaced by Alan Connolly. The Blackrock man scored a brilliant individual goal in the second half that threatened to spark a comeback, and he should now be sure to start on the edge of the square for the rest of the championship.
Other players seriously struggled to influence proceedings as well, with Seamus Harnedy strangely quiet, while Shane Kingston, Shane Barrett and Patrick Horgan all got on very little ball in the opening half an hour.
Once again Cork’s lack of ball-winners in the attack came home to roost.
Clare may not have been happy with their indiscipline but ultimately that was just a byproduct of the effort and intensity that they brought to proceedings, and Cork simply were not able to match the Bannermen on this score.
Indeed, Mark Keane was introduced in order to bring some much-needed physicality to the Cork attack, but he went over the line in this regard, as he ended up being brandished a straight red card. That did not help Cork’s cause. In saying that, Cork had a serious chance of pulling the game out of the fire, as they played 20 minutes with an extra man, but they simply did not perform well enough during this period.
The three points that Clare hit in a row after Ian Galvin’s 50th-minute sending-off proved extremely costly. Cork had got it back to four points but to be facing a seven-point deficit once more was huge. David Fitzgerald, Diarmuid Ryan, and Ryan Taylor slotted over three points in three minutes and Cork took almost 25 minutes to get within range again when Fitzgibbon blasted home an injury-time goal, but alas, it was far too late.
Cork did have chances. Kingston mis-controlled late in the first half when a goal looked likely, and Ryan brilliantly blocked down a Horgan effort in the 62nd minute when the gap was at six, while Horgan was about to go for goal from a close-in free when the referee was made aware of Keane’s strike on Conlon, but ultimately there can be no complaints.
Cork’s season hangs by a thread. They must win their last two games against Waterford and Tipperary and hope other results go their way. On the evidence so far, this seems an unlikely outcome right now.