The All Ireland champions are still champions but now face extra unknown opponents in their quest to remain champions following a performance bereft of normal high standards by key players in the Banner jersies in Thurles. A new tougher faster Cork side with a better full and centre back set up than 2013 turned over Clare with ease and this game was over as a contest with twenty minutes to go.
It could be accepted that Cork did look sharper as a consequence of the extra games but Clare did not work with the changes in their team and more importantly those who were not on the field and perhaps were wrongly overlooked. Rash fouling with the hands up tackling cost a number of frees, a number of intercepted puckouts and the smaller Clare forwards unable to win the ball against fleetfooted Cork defenders were key elements in the Cork win and Clare defeat.
Clare started the better with three of the first four scores with Colin Ryan (2) and John Conlon on target as Pat Horgan hit a free for the Cork men. Clare failed in their plan to isolate Conor McGrath with Damien Cahalane at full forward as Cork had Stephen McDonnell there and he got the better of the all star. Pat Horgan and Conor Lehane levelled the ball game before Colin Ryan and Padgue Collins struck two in three minutes. This lead was shortlived as Daniel Kearney who alongwith the hard running Aidan Walsh ruled midfield and Horgan again ensure Cork shared 10 points by the 16th minute.
Conor Lehane, John Conlon, Pat Horgan and Colm Galvin struck points to once again have parity between the sides as all could sense that Clare were just hanging in and Cork were in control of Clare marquee players. Jack Browne was struggling in the corner and ended his game at half time as Seadna Morey was introduced. Alan Cadogan and Conor McGrath with a stunning point kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Cork with ten minutes remaining in the opening half stepped up a notch and hit 1-5 and it easily could have been 2-4. Horgan amazingly hit all bar one point with the goal coming from a quick free that took the Clare defence by surprise. Damien Cahalane with a booming 95 yard effort drew a huge cheer of the large Cork support in Semple stadium. Tony Kelly and Colm Galvin hit over minors and coming up to half time it looked like Clare were facing a 6 point interval deficit. The reality was half that was the case as John Conlon finished to the Cork net after a tussle in front of Nash’s goal before the break to leave Davy Fitzgerald’s men (1-13) to (1-10) behind at the break.
James McGrath took time out before the start of the second half to request calmness on the Clare half of the sideline for the second half as Pat Horgan opened the second half scoring with another free. All Clare could hope for the second half was that their key forwards would click into action but it never remotely happened as over reliance on tactics and balls out on the wing failed with Cork matching the moves with ease. With twenty minutes remaining their appeared no traditional spirit on the Clare sideline with the subbing of Colm Galvin most intriguing as he for this scribe was one of the few shining lights for Clare. By the 50th minute Cork were (1-20) to (1-14) ahead as Nicky O Connell who had just been introduced kickstarted three points in a row with Cathal McInerney and Conor McGrath also on the mark. Clare were now four behind and perhaps holding their own yet requiring a run of scores or a goal.
Cork struck a penalty goal from Horgan in the 59th minute to send the winners seven clear. Cian Dillon was one of the Clare sides better defenders as Horgan did not score from play. Paudie O Sullivan struck a point with his first score to huge acclaim as the talented Corkman has endured nearly two years of injury hell. The game was over bar sub Darach Honan striking a consolation goal after confusion in the Cork goal with two minutes remaining. Cork held out for a deserved five point win and a home clash as well as repeat meeting with reigning champions Limerick on July 13th. The qualifier draw could be kind or cruel for Clare but for the next three weeks they would need to disappear from media and newspaper duties . They are now open secrets in terms of their pattern of play and need Darach Honan on the team, insert Tony Kelly where the ball is regularly in play, get Domhnall O Donovan back on the team and unlike last year more height to allow a variety of plays.
CLARE: Donal Touhy, Jack Browne, David McInerney, Cian Dillon, Pat O Connor, Conor Ryan, Brendan Bugler, Colm Galvin (0-2), Pat Donnellan (0-1), John Conlon (1-2), Colin Ryan (0-6), Peter Duggan, Tony Kelly, Conor McGrath (0-2), Padraic Collins (0-1). Subs: Cathal McInerney (0-1) for Galvin, Seadna Morey for Browne, Nicky O Connell (0-2) for Donnellan, Darach Honan for Conlon,
CORK: Anthony Nash, Shane O Neill, Stephen McDonnell, Christopher Joyce, Damien Cahalane (0-1), Mark Ellis, Lorcan McLoughlin, Daniel Kearney (0-3), Aidan Walsh (0-1), Seamus Harnedy , Bill Cooper, Conor Lehane (0-2), Alan Cadogan (0-3), Pa Cronin, Pa Horgan (2-11). Subs: Stephen Moylan for Bill Cooper, William Egan (0-1) for Kearney, Paudie O Sullivan (0-1) for Harnedy, Eoghan Cadogan for Ellis.
Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath)