By Mark Jones>
CORK 2-15, CLARE 0-10 If this was a taste of what’s to come in the summer, then Clare might as well pack up and go home. If anything, they went into Sunday’s National Hurling League semifinal against a young Cork side as strong favorites, but the reigning All Ireland champions were hurled off the pitch.
Thurles was packed to the rafters, the surface was perfect for fast hurling, yet Clare were a massive disappointment for the county’s legion of supporters.
“Brutal,” was one of the adjectives manager Ger Loughnane chose to articulate his bewilderment at such a lifeless display. However, Loughnane was still adamant that his team would recover to win the Munster championship.
Not on this form they won’t. Jimmy Barry Murphy’s players were dominant in just about every area. Inspired by a brilliant halfback line of Brian Corcoran, Mark Landers and Sean Og O hAilpin, Cork produced one of their most impressive performances in three years as they reduced the Banner roar to a barely audible whisper.
Corcoran curbed the threat of Conor Clancy with consummate skill, while the normally livewire Jamesie O’Connor struggled to make any impact as O hAilpin stuck to his marking job with grim determination.
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The Cork forwards were far slicker during a first half, which saw them terrorize the Clare defense. Joe Deane, Alan Browne and Seanie McGrath did mostly what they liked as the Leesiders raced away into a remarkable 1-9 to 0-2 halftime advantage.
McGrath fired home the goal after his first attempt was blocked and at the interval it looked as if Cork were heading for a landslide victory. But Clare came out with renewed fire and, predictably, P.J. O’Connell, Eamonn Taaffe and Ger O’Loughlin were all brought on at various stages to try to inject some life into a ineffectual attack.
The losers managed to reduce the deficit to 1-13 to 0-9 when Cork pounced for a second and decisive goal. McGrath lofted a high ball toward David Fitzgerald, but the Clare goalkeeper fumbled and Browne found the net.
That was the end for Clare as Cork strolled away to the final. “We’ve won nothing yet, but we’re on the way back I feel,” said Barry Murphy. “The team needs confidence. We’re coming from a long way down. I don’t know how Clare approached it, but it was a big game for us. I’d say we wanted to win it more than they did. It’s hard to be sure. They’re still the team to beat.”
WATERFORD 2-17, LIMERICK 2-11 Waterford rolled back the clock and booked a place in the National Hurling League decider against Cork when they were convincing winners in the second semifinal at Thurles. It was the first time in 35 years that the county has reached a NHL showdown, and while it took a late Michael White goal to settle the issue, Waterford were the superior team.
They effectively dominated the game for 50 of the 60 minutes. However, a surprising lapse of concentration allowed Limerick in for two quick goals. Waterford were cruising at 1-15 to 0-11 with just 10 minutes remaining when first Gary Kirby smashed a free into the net and then Barry Foley found the target against to reduce the lead to just a single point.
It was reasonable to expect Limerick to go on and win the game, but Waterford fought back with great determination. Paul Flynn and Ken McGrath both picked off important points when substitute White nonchalantly flicked the ball over Stephen McDonagh’s head before driving his shot past a stranded Joe Quaid.
It was no more than Waterford deserved. The county’s emerging young players, such as McGrath, Sean Cullinane and Peter Queally, all delivered, while several of Limerick’s more established stars were well short of top form. Flynn also made his mark with a personal total of nine points while McGrath struck for the first goal midway through the first half.
Limerick were strangely subdued with the normally reliable McDonagh having a nightmare in defense. Kirby was also muted and Foley and T.J. Ryan were the only two forwards to make an impression.
“The two goals in the second half put a respectable gloss on it,” said manager Eamonn Cregan, “but we were poor and Waterford were by far the better team and fully deserved to win.”
For Waterford’s manager, Gerald McCarthy, the final now brings him into direct confrontation with his native county. While he was relying on the “one match at a time” cliche to avoid too much emphasis on the eagerly awaited clash, McCarthy has to be looking forward to the challenge. And he’s not the only one
OTHER HURLING Kerry put themselves on course for promotion from Div. 2A of the National Hurling League when they defeated Wicklow by 2-17 to 0-15 at Aughrim, while in Div. 2B, Down retained their 100 percent record with a
3-13 to 2-11 win over Meath.
Second placed Westmeath thrashed Tyrone by 8-25 to 0-2, and London got the better of Louth by 2-10 to 1-5.
In Div. 3, Cavan look to be on the way up following their 5-16 to 0-5 win over Sligo and Fermanagh were 1-11 to 0-8 winners against Longford.
WESTMEATH 1-18, CARLOW 2-5 Championship football got under way in Leinster with Westmeath coming through the preliminary round thanks to a win over Carlow at Mullingar. However, Westmeath cannot afford to be in any way complacent after this success, as their opponents offered only token opposition.
Carlow were hopelessly off the pace, yet the winners’ manager, Brendan Lowry, will have taken note of the way his defense conceded two second-half goals.
Westmeath were comfortably ahead by 0-10 to 0-3 at the interval as Kenny Lyons, Ger Heavin, Dermot Brady and Damien Healy gave Carlow the proverbial run-around.
Heavin finished with an impressive 1-5, while Man of the Match Lyons kicked five points from play. Given that Carlow had only won a solitary League game this season – and that came against hapless Kilkenny – the result was not too surprising.
WEXFORD 2-13, LONGFORD 1-16 Wexford and Longford played out a draw in the second preliminary round game at New Ross. In a repeat performance of last year, Wexford once again blew a commanding lead in the closing stages.
Eight points clear on seemingly on their way to a comfortable success, Wexford were rocked by an amazing Longford fightback. Niall Sheridan started the ball rolling with a goal and then two points each from Pauric Davis and Dessie Barry reduced the gap to the minimum.
Time was almost up, but Longford completed their sensational comeback with seconds remaining when Davis drove over a dramatic equaliing point from 35 yards.