Clare hurlers became the first team to qualify for a league quarter-final spot after a confident display against Cork. With Div 1A status retained, the pressure was off Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor’s side when they travelled to Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday.
The previous day Clare’s Tony Kelly, David Fitzgerald, Conor Cleary and Ian Galvin helped UL to Fitzgibbon Cup victory against DCU in Mallow. As a result, all but Cleary were rested for this game which Wexford won on a 0-20 to 1-13 scoreline.
With three months until the start of this year’s Munster Hurling Championship, Clare still have a Div 1A game away to Waterford and at least a league quarter-final lined up as they prepare for championship action against Cork.
In recent years Cork and Clare produced some high scoring encounters. It had been all of 13 years since Clare defeated the Rebels on home soil in the league. In all, 4,902 spectators saw them lead by 11 points by the start of the second half. Clare endured a shaky 15 minutes of control from the Rebels who had the wind at their backs, before finally earning a third successive league win to guarantee a place in the quarter-finals.
Clare started the game in sparkling form to lead by 0-4 to 0-2 in the 10th minute, stunning the travelling Cork support into submission with a defensive display that smothered the Cork attack.
Donal Tuohy, who is continuing his fine form in the Clare goal, was quick off the line in the opening quarter to deny Seamus Harnedy a much-needed Cork goal.
A dominant second quarter in defence and attack sealed this repeat of last year’s Munster final as Clare, led by Colm Galvin, David Reidy, free-taker Peter Duggan and debutant Mikey O’Malley, outscored the visitors by 0-11 to 0-01 to hold a 0-16 to 0-05 half-time advantage.
At this stage, the Cork supporters would have been forgiven for deciding to run up the white flag and turning for home, although more was still to come.
With nine different scorers in that opening half compared to just two for Cork, Clare’s superior balance and movement told against the unexpectedly lacklustre.
Some would still suggest that perhaps this Cork side is not yet the finished article, though they rallied somewhat in the second half, they have now underperformed twice in 6 weeks against Clare opposition.
The second half saw a stronger Cork effort as their limp attacking division, that only contributed four points from play over the 70 minutes, were bolstered by eye-catching points from Tim O’Mahony, Darren Browne and Mark Ellis.
However, Cork were matched all the way by their determined hosts whose wing-backs O’Malley and Seadna Morey chipped in with a brace of points each. O’Malley was later awarded the man of the match accolade.
David Reidy and Shane O’Donnell’s efforts ensured that Clare still managed to keep a nine-point lead entering the final ten minutes but from there, the Rebels piled on the pressure in search of a game-defining goal.
The Clare defence was unlikely to cave in considering their control still, a succession of last quarter efforts from play and Horgan from frees kept the sides within reach on the scoreboard.
Clare missed a number of scorable frees with Peter Duggan twice off target as nerves began to fray a little entering the final minutes.
Donal Tuohy came to the home side’s rescue by denying Patrick Horgan’s shots at goal from a brace of 20 metre frees but while the full-forward did hit a fistful of points, Clare were home and hosed as the top of table leaders.
Best for the winners who are now guaranteed a league knockout slot and are three wins away from Australia were Donal Tuohy, Jack Browne, Mikey O’Malley, Seadna Morey, Colm Galvin, David Reidy who was my man of the hour and Shane O’Donnell.
John Meyler’s side was served well by Christopher Joyce, Mark Ellis, Eoin Cadogan, Patrick Horgan, Colm Spillane, Darren Browne and Tim O’Mahony.
Cork have lost twice to Clare this year, a third meeting is scheduled for 12 weeks time in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Cork enjoyed a better side second half but still, Pat O’Connor’s Clare team raised their game sufficiently when the danger was the greatest.