Eoin Brennan charts the inextricable crossing of paths between Clare and Cork in all competitions this year, a seesaw battle for superiority that culminates in Sunday’s most significant clash ever between the Munster rivals.

Who would have though it back in O’Garney Park on the first day of Spring amidst the near panic of their first meeting of the season, that Clare and Cork would eventually be the last two standing in September.
At the time, Cork were having enough player concerns following the management’s decision to exclude Donal Óg Cusack from the panel without an unexpected oil spill on the N18 ensuring that they would struggle to even make 15. In truth, it was a welcome distraction as already the Rebel support were predicting doom for their young side while despite their All-Ireland Under 21 success, Clare were considered another year or two away from making any real championship challenge.
Their subsequent paths would cross three more times before their All-Ireland campaigns, each one an interesting insight into their developments as well as defining their contrasting routes to the All-Ireland decider.

Friday, February 1 @
O’Garney Park, Sixmilebridge
Waterford Crystal Cup
Semi-Final
Clare 0-20 Cork 2-11

It was arguably the most bizarre circumstances ever to grace the competition as an unfortunate fuel spill on the motorway caused major traffic congestion and ensured that the game had to be delayed until Cork eventually had enough players to field including the placement of substitute goalkeeper Willie McCarthy at corner-forward.
In truth, the delay did neither side any good as Clare had to endure an unwelcome extended warm-up and were slow to start against the threadbare Rebel side.
Four first half points from Nicky O’Connell allowed the home side to keep their noses in front by 0-10 to 0-07 at the break and within five minutes of the restart, that lead had stretched to six due to the dominance of midfielders Nicky O’Connell and Seadna Morey.
However, with a constant trickle of players eventually coming from the dressing room, Cork soon reshuffled the pack and two goals from substitute Adrian Mannix eventually cancelled out the deficit at 0-15 to 2-09 with only seven minutes of normal time remaining.
Clare were perhaps the architects of their own downfall to an extent but after emptying the bench themselves, replacements Mark Flaherty (2) and Tony Kelly earned consecutive frees for Colin Ryan to fire over and eventually see off the stubborn visitors.
An important finish in what would be a successful Waterford Crystal campaign.

Clare Donal Tuohy (Crusheen); Domhnall O’Donovan (Clonlara), Cillian Duggan (Clooney/Quin), Brian O’Connell (Wolfe Tones); Brendan Bugler (Whitegate), Patrick Donnellan (O’Callaghan’s Mills) (Captain), Patrick O’Connor (Tubber); Nicky O’Connell (Clonlara) (0-6 3f, 1’65), Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge); Colin Ryan (Newmarket-on-Fergus) (0-8 7f), Padraic Collins (Cratloe) (0-2), Enda Barrett (Newmarket-on-Fergus); Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg) (0-2), Alan O’Neill (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield), Jonathan Clancy (Clarecastle) (0-1) Subs David McInerney (Tulla) for B. O’Connell (46 mins), Tony Kelly (Ballyea) for Collins (54 mins), Mark Flaherty (Killanena) for O’Neill (55 mins), Cathal O’Connell (Clonlara) (0-1) for Clancy (55 mins), David O’Halloran (Éire Óg) for O’Donnell (66 mins)

Cork Anthony Nash (Kanturk); James O’Donovan (Bandon), Mark Ellis (Millstreet), Pat O’Sullivan (Carrigtwohill); Michael Walsh (Kildorrery), Christopher Joyce (Na Piarsaigh), Stephen White (Ballygarvan); David Pyne (Harbour Rovers), Rob O’Shea (Carrigaline) (0-1); Cormac Murphy (Mallow) (0-2), Daire Lordan (Courcey Rovers) (0-1), Brian Corry (Ballymartle); Willie McCarthy (Carrigtwohill), Pat Horgan (Glen Rovers) (0-4 3f), Jamie Coughlan (Newtownshandrum) (0-1)
Subs Adrian Mannix (Kilworth) (2-1) for W. McCarthy (31 mins), Conor O’Sullivan (Sarsfields) for O’Donovan (HT), Daniel Kearney (Sarsfields) for Pyne (37 mins), Cian McCarthy (Sarsfields) (0-1) for Lordan (40 mins), Stephen Moylan (Douglas) for Corry (59 mins)

Man of the Match
Nicky O’Connell (Clare)

Referee Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)

Management Reaction
Davy Fitzgerald (Clare) – “It was a farce but at the end of the day, the game itself was probably entertaining. There were a lot of hard tackles out there and no holding back from either team. Tonight was more an exercise in battling I thought more than anything else. We had to fight there and when the momentum goes against you like that, you can easily lose the game but we didn’t. And isn’t it great when you’re winning games and you’re still not happy.”

Kieran Kingston (Cork) – “It was absolutely unbelievable. We finished with more or less our team but it took some guys four and a half hours to get up here. As a result, Clare were obviously a lot more prepared for the game but even though guys were coming in dribs and drabs, the attitude of everyone was fantastic. Overall, considering everything, we were delighted with the game.”

Saturday, March 16
@ Pairc Uí Rinn, Cork
National League Division 1A Round 3
Clare 1-22 Cork 1-18

No apparent fuel spill this time around but Cork were still the victims of a well oiled Clare machine that cranked into gear in timely fashion to secure their second successive league victory.
After all, it was a game that seemed beyond Clare after 45 minutes when they trailed by five. Having dominated proceedings, Cork seemed odds-on to maintain their unbeaten start to the league. However, there would be a seismic alteration thereafter as Clare gathered momentum, grew in confidence with every passing score and duly out-gunned the home side by 1-12 to 1-01 in the remaining 25 minutes.
It was a staggering turnaround, if only because of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Clare’s overall display that saw them produce their most lacklustre and frustrating opening 45 minutes of the league to that point, emphasised by taking 30 minutes to register a score from play, only to wipe that away with by far their most impressive period for the run-in.
The 0-12 to 0-07 half-time score flattered the visitors and things didn’t improve much on the restart either as Clare would eventually find themselves six in arrears before starting to move through the gears. Eight points without reply in as many minutes turned the tide on its head, with Colin Ryan in particular superb in what would eventually be a 12 point haul.
Clare even pushed seven points clear at 1-20 to 0-16 by the 62nd minute after a Shane O’Donnell goal and while Cork did reply with one of their own through substitute Luke O’Farrell before the finish, they were simply powerless to halt the Banner charge.

Clare Patrick Kelly (Inagh/Kilnamona); Domhnall O’Donovan (Clonlara), David McInerney (Tulla), Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge); Brendan Bugler (Whitegate), Patrick Donnellan (O’Callaghan’s Mills), Patrick O’Connor (Tubber); Nicky O’Connell (Clonlara) (0-1), Conor Ryan (Cratloe) (0-2); Colin Ryan (Newmarket-on-Fergus) (0-12 9f), Tony Kelly (Ballyea) (0-4), Enda Barrett (Newmarket-on-Fergus); John Conlon (Clonlara) (0-2), Shane O’Donnell (Éíre Óg) (1-0), Padraic Collins (Cratloe) Subs Fergal Lynch (Clooney/Quin) for Barrett (40 mins), Colm Galvin (Clonlara) for Collins (48 mins), Cathal McInerney (Cratloe) for Ryan (61 mins), Darach Honan (Clonlara) (0-1) for O’Donnell (66 mins)

Cork Anthony Nash (Kanturk); Shane O’Neill (Bishopstown), Brian Murphy (Bride Rovers), Conor O’Sullivan (Sarsfields); Christopher Joyce (Na Piarsaigh), Patrick Cronin (Bishopstown), William Egan (Kilbrin); Daniel Kearney (Sarsfields) (0-1), Lorcan McLoughlin (Kanturk) (0-2); Cian McCarthy (Sarsfields), Paudie O’Sullivan (Cloyne) (0-2), Seamus Harnedy (St Ita’s) (0-2); Stephen Moylan (Douglas), Peter O’Brien (Kildorrery), Patrick Horgan (Glen Rovers) (0-9 6f, 2’65) Subs Conor Lehane (Midleton) for Moylan (50 mins), Luke O’Farrell (Midelton) (1-0) for O’Brien (55 mins), Tom Kenny (Grenagh) for Kearney (58 mins), Cathal Naughton (Newtownshandrum) for Harnedy (60 mins)

Man of the Match Colin Ryan (Clare)

Referee Johnny Ryan (Tipperary)

Management Reaction
Mike Deegan (Clare) – “It didn’t look likely after the first half and it would be fair to say that we weren’t happy at half-time. We spoke during the week about our gameplan and guys weren’t exactly clued in. There were some guys thinking and some guys who weren’t so we got a chance to refocus at half-time. And I don’t think we can have any complaints really as there was a big improvement in the second half.”

Kieran Kingston (Cork) – “It’s hard to explain, we were six up and cruising and then to be nine points down was unreal. We couldn’t see it coming. A 15 point turnaround at home, that’s not good enough. We’re better than we played tonight. We could have been seven to ten points ahead at half-time but for the last 20 minutes, we seemed to be very flat for some reason so there aren’t many positives to take from it.”

Sunday, April 14 @ Gaelic Grounds, Limerick
National League Division 1A
Relegation Play-Off
Clare 0-31 Cork 2-23

The scoreline suggests that it was a feast of scoring as Clare eventually bypassed Cork for the third successive outing after a 90 minute relegation dogfight. However, while hitting 31 points in any game is an impressive tally, it also disguises the fact that the Banner also hit 23 wides over the course of a match in which they dominated in every sector but the scoreboard.
With their top flight lives on the line, both sides were up for the battle to survive but while Cork’s two second half goals put them in pole position approaching the finish, Clare proved that they had the decisive edge on stamina and character which would eventually supersede any previous scoring failings.
A more clinical side would have certainly punished Clare’s profligacy but in spite of those match-turning goals, Cork seemed to be hanging on for long periods and almost invited the Banner to put them out of their misery as the game unfolded. Fortunately, Clare did come good in the end to ensure that they will be playing Division 1A hurling in 2014 mainly thanks to the half-forward line’s contribution of 20 points – John Conlon (4), Tony Kelly (6) and Colin Ryan (10), 14 of which came from play.
Add in Colm Galvin’s three points from midfield, another star turn from full-back David McInerney, a crucial save from Patrick Kelly and an improving defensive unit when needed most and it all combined to eventually push Clare towards a significant third victory over the Rebels in 2013.

Clare Patrick Kelly (Inagh/Kilnamona) (0-1f); Domhnall O’Donovan (Clonlara), David McInerney (Tulla), Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge); Brendan Bugler (Whitegate), Patrick Donnellan (O’Callaghan’s Mills), Patrick O’Connor (Tubber); Colm Galvin (Clonlara) (0-3), Conor Ryan (Cratloe); John Conlon (Clonlara) (0-4), Tony Kelly (Ballyea) (0-6), Colin Ryan (Newmarket-on-Fergus) (0-10 6f); Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg), Darach Honan (Clonlara) (0-2), Padraic Collins (Cratloe) (0-1) Subs Conor McGrath (Cratloe) (0-2) for Conor Ryan (25 mins), Peter Duggan (Clooney/Quin) for Collins (64 mins), Cathal McInerney (Cratloe) (0-1) for O’Donnell (71 mins), Jonathan Clancy (Clarecastle) for Honan (80 mins), Fergal Lynch (Clooney/Quin) (0-1) for Duggan (85 mins), Shane O’Donnell for Clancy (90 mins)

Cork Anthony Nash (Kanturk); Killian Murphy (Erin’s Own), Brian Murphy (Bride Rovers), Conor O’Sullivan (Sarsfields) (0-1); Stephen White (Ballygarvan), Christopher Joyce (Na Pairsaigh), William Egan (Kilbrin); Lorcan McLoughlin (Kanturk), Daniel Kearney (Sarsfields) (0-1); Conor Lehane (Midelton) (0-1), Patrick Cronin (Bishopstown) (1-3), Paudie O’Sullivan (Cloyne); Stephen Moylan (Douglas) (0-1), Luke O’Farrell (Midleton) (1-2), Patrick Horgan (Glen Rovers) (0-11 6f, 1’65) Subs Tom Kenny (Grenagh) for Kearney (53 mins), Cian McCarthy (Sarsfields) (0-1) for Moylan (60 mins), Colm Spillane (Castlelyons) for Murphy (62 mins), Cathal Naughton (Newtownshandrum) (0-2) for White (66 mins), Michael Walsh (Kildorrery) for McLoughlin (80 mins), Brian Hartnett (Midleton) for Lehane (86 mins), Peter O’Brien (Kildorrery) for P. O’Sullivan (87 mins)

Man of the Match Tony Kelly (Clare)

Referee James McGrath (Westmeath)

Management Reaction
Davy Fitzgerald (Clare) – “It was good to win it so it was. We beat Cork in a relegation play-off and that’s it. We’re not going to get carried away by it because we did show a good bit of heart but there are also a lot of things we can improve on. We won’t beat the likes of Waterford with so many wides and Cork could have won that game as easy as we won it today so we know that there is still a long way to go.”

Kieran Kingston (Cork) – “Not the result we wanted but the format of the league wasn’t conducive to either ourselves or Clare, no matter who won today. It was probably a very entertaining game for the supporters, scores missed on both sides that on another day might have gone over. We’re very disappointed, of course, but we have to get on with it, it’s all about the 23rd of June now.”

Sunday, June 23 @ Gaelic Grounds, Limerick
Munster Senior Championship Semi-Final
Cork 0-23 Clare 0-15

Read back over the previous game’s reaction and you’ll find that one team learned more than the other about that relegation play-off. Put simply, despite three previous Banner setbacks, Cork emphatically proved that championship is all that ultimately matters. Those earlier losses only seemed to provide the Rebels with the perfect leverage to display an appetite and hunger that Clare simply could not match in the white heat of championship battle for a place in the Munster decider against Limerick.
In contrast, the favourite’s tag seemed to weigh heavily on Clare’s young shoulders as the Banner looked surprisingly war-weary despite a three week break from the Waterford victory. They were subdued for long periods of the game, perhaps a lot to do with Cork’s freshness and smothering attention and certainly as much to do with Clare’s inefficiency as an inability to take their chances particularly on goal was to ultimately cost them their Munster Championship lives.
In all, Clare had eight potential goal chances over the 70 minutes, all of which could have made a huge difference in the outcome in either half. They weren’t the only reasons for defeat though as the half-forward line that had accounted for 20 points against Cork last time out and 14 against Waterford, this time only managed three between them. John Conlon suffered concussion early on and Brian Murphy curtailed Tony Kelly in a superb man-marking job while up the other end, Cork had ten different scorers themselves including six in a superb third quarter when the Rebels outscored Clare by 0-11 to 0-01.
In truth, Clare were far from their lively best, coughed up too many frees and played straight into Cork’s hands but it was to be a major wake-up call for the Banner.

Cork Anthony Nash (Kanturk) (0-2f); Shane O’Neill (Bishopstown), Stephen McDonnell (Glen Rovers), Conor O’Sullivan (Sarsfields); Christopher Joyce (Na Piarsaigh), Brian Murphy (Bride Rovers), William Egan (Kilbrin) (0-1); Tom Kenny (Grenagh), Daniel Kearney (Sarsfields) (0-1); Seamus Harnedy (St Ita’s) (0-3), Cian McCarthy (Sarsfields) (0-1), Conor Lehane (Midleton) (0-2); Patrick Horgan (Glen Rovers) (0-8 5f), Luke O’Farrell (Midleton) (0-2), Stephen Moylan (Douglas) Subs Jamie Coughlan (Newtownshandrum) (0-2) for Moylan (31 mins), Pa Cronin (Bishopstown) (0-1) for McCarthy (62 mins)

Clare Patrick Kelly (Inagh/Kilnamona); Domhnall O’Donovan (Clonlara), David McInerney (Tulla), Cian Dillon (Crusheen); Brendan Bugler (Whitegate), Patrick Donnellan (O’Callaghan’s Mills), Patrick O’Connor (Tubber); Colm Galvin (Clonlara) (0-2), Nicky O’Connell (Clonlara); John Conlon (Clonlara), Tony Kelly (Ballyea) (0-1), Colin Ryan (Newmarket-on-Fergus) (0-2 1f, ‘65); Conor McGrath (Cratloe) (0-2), Darach Honan (Clonlara) (0-2), Padraic Collins (Cratloe) (0-5) Subs Aaron Cunningham (Wolfe Tones) for Conlon (19 mins, inj), Fergal Lynch (Clooney/Quin) for Ryan (43 mins), Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge) for O’Connell (54 mins), Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg) (0-1) for McGrath (60 mins)

Man of the Match
Anthony Nash (Cork)

Referee Barry Kelly (Westmeath)

Management Reaction
Jimmy Barry Murphy (Cork) “The training between the league relegation game and today was the key to the whole year – we had to peak for today and that was the plan from day one. And we did that. Maybe we were a bit lucky, Clare had a few goal chances that they didn’t take and it would have been a different game if they got those.”

Davy Fitzgerald (Clare) – “We were expecting it so we were. I was trying to say that for the last few weks that they were going to be so psyched up, that t’was going to be unreal. There was no pressure on them and they just came in and let loose and fair play to them. We had a lot of goal chances but we didn’t take them but as the old saying goes ‘we’ll just go back, regroup and we’ll try even harder and come back even harder.
“I think the championship this year and next year is going to be more open that it’s ever been. It’s probably there for someone to grab it and I’d like to think that we can eventually aspire to getting up there.”

Prophetic words indeed, Davy!

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Eoin Brennan is the legendary sports hack who has been known to play around with the caman for his beloved Clarecastle. Eoin is currently PRO of Clarecastle GAA Club. Eoin's other love is spreading the gospel of Hurling and Football through his involvement in www.gogaelic.ie. Contact Eoin on [email protected]

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