*Ian MacNamara tries to win possession back. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
CLARE’S U20 hurlers came up agonisingly short in their bid to become provincial champions for the fifth time.
Venue: TUS Gaelic Grounds, Limerick
Instead Cork ran out winners to win their twenty second title at the grade and overtake Tipperary at the top of the roll of honour list. It wasn’t without an almighty effort from Clare but Cork’s final quarter where they hit eight of the last eleven scores to take the spoils.
A rousing third quarter where Clare outscored their Leeside counterparts 1-08 0-05 brought the Banner supporters among the attendance of 5,402 to full voice but the final flurry from the Rebels proved decisive in deciding the result.
Most definitely a game where the dominance tossed and turned, Clare despite falling behind first had the better of starts and had four points on the board inside the opening six minutes but Cork replied with five points on the bounce to steer the dominance in the direction.
Michael Mullins, the Cork captain, gathered possession over 50m from goal and tore through the Clare defence without a single back making a tackle on him before dummying past Oran Cahill and then sticking the sliotar in the back of the net to give them a five point advantage with twelve minutes on the clock.
How Cork once they upped the gears managed to run through the Clare defence was a constant feature throughout the game, fortunately two saves from Ian MacNamara one in either half prevented green flags while goalkeeper Aaron Shanahan also had to produce saves to deny the runs resulting in goals on more than one occasion.
Oisin O’Donnell and Sean Rynne closed out the scoring in the first half to leave Clare trailing by four times at the sounding of the half-time whistle.
It was on the restart that Clare produced their greatest spell. They were on level terms inside three minutes of the second half, Keith Smyth and O’Donnell scoring points while midfielder Sean Rynne struck for goal, Patrick Crotty linked up with Scariff clubmate Keelan Hartigan who delivered the long ball to Smyth who in turn offloaded to Rynne and the Inagh/Kilnamona prospect made no mistake in driving the sliotar to the back of the net.
Crotty and Smyth hit the next two scores to shove Clare in front for the first time since the sixth minute.
With forty six minutes on the clock, Clare led by four points but it could be felt in the air that there was another kick in Cork. Even though the Rebels persisted with the wrong option in trying to go for goals when the simple task was to keep the scoreboard ticking, they hit their equaliser with fifty six minutes played via Ben Cunningham.
Diarmuid Healy nudged them in front a minute later and the gap became two points when midfielder Tadhg O’Connell split the posts. Keith Smyth converted a free for Clare at the other end but Cork replied with a Cunningham placed ball in the final scoring chance of the contest to ensure the provincial honours were heading Leeside.
With players of the class of Ben Cunningham, William Buckley, Ben O’Connor, Diarmuid Healy, Ross O’Sullivan and Tadhg O’Connell, overturning Cork will be no easy feat for any county competing in the U20 championship. They were superior in the air than their opponents and set up better to deal with oncoming attackers. They go home with a Munster title but do not be surprised if they end the campaign as All-Ireland champions.
Cunningham to his credit rightly called out the GAA for the seven day eligibility rule which deprived Cork’s Eoin Downey and Clare captain Adam Hogan from lining out in the provincial final.
Undoubtedly a progressive campaign for Clare given that it is their first appearance in the provincial final of this competition since 2015, it won’t take away from the disappointment of the defeat. They had the winning of the game, as evident by their four point lead entering the final quarter but were unable to see it out, this largely caused by their struggles when ran out and predictability in hitting certain targets.
John Conneally at full-back gave a fine display while the midfield pairing of Sean Rynne and Jack O’Neill who have been two of their most consistent players all championship again impressed along with Oisin O’Donnell and Keith Smyth in patches.
Scorers for Cork: B Cunningham 0-9 (0-6 f, 0-1 65), T O’Connell, D Healy 0-3 each, M Mullins 1-0, C Walsh, W Buckley, R O’Sullivan 0-2 each, J Leahy, A O’Sullivan 0-1 each.
Scorers Clare: K Smyth 0-11 (0-9 f), S Rynne 1-1, O O’Donnell 0-3, J O’Neill, P Crotty 0-2 each, K Hartigan, N O’Farrell 0-1 each.
1: Brion Saunderson (Midleton);
3: Shane Kingston (Ballinora)
7: Mark Howell (Douglas);
4: Darragh O’Sullivan (Ballinhassig);
8: Tadhg O’Connell (Ballincollig)
6: Ben O’Connor (St Finbarr’s)
5: James Dwyer (Ballincollig)
2: Sean Daly (Randal Óg)
9: Michael Mullins (Whitechurch, c);
14: Diarmuid Healy (Lisgoold)
13: David Cremin (Midleton)
10: William Buckley (St Finbarr’s)
15: Ross O’Sullivan (Na Piarsaigh).
12: Colin Walsh (Kanturk)
11: Ben Cunningham (St Finbarr’s)
20: Timmy Wilk (Cobh) for Daly (HT)
22: Adam O’Sullivan (Ballinhassig) for Cremin (31)
23: Jack Leahy (Dungourney) for Walsh (36)
1: Aaron Shanahan (Tulla)
2: Oisin Clune (Feakle)
3: John Conneally (Clooney/Quin)
4: Ian MacNamara (Killanena)
23: Keelan Haritgan (Scariff)
7: Oran Cahill (Éire Óg)
6: Daithí Lohan (Wolfe Tones)
8: Sean Rynne (Inagh/Kilnamona)
9: Jack O’Neill (Clooney/Quin)
14: Senan Dunford (Tubber)
15: Gearoid Sheedy (Ogonnelloe)
10: Oisin O’Donnell (Crusheen)
12: Keith Smyth (Killanena)
13: David Kennedy (Sixmilebridge)
11: Patrick Crotty (Scariff)
21: Niall O’Farrell (Broadford) for Sheedy (HT)
18: Colm Cleary (O’Callaghans Mills) for Kennedy (39)
22: Diarmuid Stritch (Clonlara) for Dunford (53)
5: Jarlath Collins (Éire Óg) for Clune (58)
20: Conor Whelan (Whitegate) for O’Donnell (59)