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Analysis: Cork's attacking class, Clare's collapse and Conlon influence

Rebels boss John Meyler deserves credit for making some important in-game changes, writes columnist Tommy Dunne.

IN A MUNSTER final that didn’t lack for intensity or excitement, Cork were deserving winners mainly because they survived their rocky periods much better than Clare.

[image alt="Clare take to the field" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2018/07/clare-take-to-the-field-630x433.jpg" width="630" height="433" title="" class="aligncenter" /end]

It was an unusual game in that the warm weather meant the Semple Stadium pitch wasn’t as lush as usual. It made for the ground being very hard with the ball flying off the rock hard surface.

Heading into first-half stoppage-time, Cork were eight points down but four minutes after half-time they had it back to a two-point game and were beginning to dictate matters.

Clare will be hugely disappointed with how the game panned out. They put themselves in a position to win the title having hurled reasonably well despite making quite a lot of mistakes during the first period.

The Banner’s strongest spell came in the opening half when they forced the tempo and utilised John Conlon’s strength and accuracy. They really should have been much further ahead than the four-point interval lead suggested.

[image alt="John Meyler celebrates the final whistle" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2018/07/john-meyler-celebrates-the-final-whistle-630x397.jpg" width="630" height="397" title="" class="aligncenter" /end]

1. Clare hit the ground running

Clare knew Conlon was in top form after several strong displays at full-forward in recent weeks. He had the better of his early match-up with Damien Cahalane and the Banner were able to capitalise when they got direct ball into the Clonlara man.

5 mins 41 seconds —Donal Tuohy picks out wing-back Seadna Morey with a short puck-out.

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 1.34.19 p.m.

The ball is quickly launched by Morey on top of the area occupied by Conlon and Shane O’Donnell.

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Conlon makes a terrific catch and shows brilliant accuracy to score an early point.

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10:45 — David McInerney makes a great tackle on Darragh Fitzgibbon and Colm Galvin directs a long clearance into Conlon, who nails a super score. Clare are the better team at this stage and Conlon is working well as a target man inside.

11:55 — Colm Galvin sends another ball into the space in front of Conlon and he duly splits the posts.

16:39 — Tony Kelly hasn’t been involved much but he engineers David Reidy’s goal for Clare with a great run and pass.

Source: officialgaa/YouTube

17:14 — Clare had a good bit of work done on the Anthony Nash puck-out and his long restart is fetched by Pat O’Connor. His delivery goes into the corner vacated by Podge Collins, where Conlon clips over a fine effort off his left side.

21:41 — Collins picks out Conlon with a good pass and the latter is fouled by Colm Spillane, who has moved onto him moments earlier.

2. The litany of Banner mistakes

Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney’s outfit were competing well at this stage, but their game was littered with bad decisions, unforced errors and inaccuracy.

They got away with it for most of the first period, but it came back to haunt them by the finish. You need to be precise and crisp if you’re going to win big matches. Clare hurt themselves with some of the stuff they were trying.

Unforced errors

5:12 — Morey’s poor clearance is intercepted by Seamus Harnedy who slots it over the bar.

6:10 — Clare nailed Nash’s restarts early on and shut down his normal receivers of Daniel Kearney, Luke Meade and Bill Cooper. They forced the Rebels stopper to go long multiple times into the same area under the new stand.

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 1.44.23 p.m.

Conor Cleary wins it but tries an ill-advised stick pass up the sideline to Conlon.

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It’s intercepted by Meade, who duly raises the white flag from a narrow angle.

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8:30 — A Clare sideline is sent into midfield to the area Collins is operating in between the half-forward line and midfield. Meade does well to turn him over and it’s worked up to Kearney for a point from midfield. That’s the third Cork point that’s come from a Clare possession inside the opening nine minutes.

9:25 — Cathal Malone hits a poor wide from a relatively short distance out from goals.

9:58 — Jack Browne gathers a Nash puck-out and gives it to Morey, who carries it out over the sideline. That’s five examples of Clare wasting possession early on and three have led directly to a Cork score.

36:35 (1st half stoppage-time) — A short Cleary pass isn’t properly executed and it runs out over the sideline. Mark Coleman beautifully cuts the sideline between the posts.

36:12 — Shortly after half-time, Nash misdirects a puck-out to Shane O’Donnell.

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 1.54.55 p.m.

The Éire Óg man is unopposed from about 45 yards but his point attempt bounces harmlessly into Nash.

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Moments later, Peter Duggan sends a long-range free wide. Clare remain four in front, having passed up the chance to move six clear.

36:42 — Reidy feeds Duggan, who is turned over by good Cork tackling. The Rebels get a goal chance and Tuohy saves from Harnedy before Darragh Fitzgibbon takes his point. The deficit is down to three and the Clare mistakes are starting to get costly.

Missed chances

42:52 — Kelly does really well to recycle the ball to Cleary, but the latter leaves his shot into Nash’s paw. Cork attack and a sweeping move sees Patrick Horgan taken down by David McInerney. Horgan applies the finish from the placed ball.

51:05 — Reidy hits a good score to bring his tally to 1-2. He’s been very good for Clare this season and I’m not sure why he was called ashore after 63 minutes. Nash’s restart finds Lehane but Clare turn it over and Galvin sends it wide from 80 yards out.

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 2.05.24 p.m.

This kind of decision-making is indefensible.

54:55 — Another Nash puck-out is won by Clare. Conor McGrath isn’t long on the field and his shot is drive wide. Another scoring chance wasted by the Banner.

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 2.06.03 p.m.

59:24 — Morey has a clear sight at goal with space around him but it trails off wide.

59:51 — Collins wins a ball near the corner and goes for a shot from an extremely tricky angle that sails wide.

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63:30 — At this stage of the second-half, Clare have scored just five points despite having had a bucket load of chances. Remember, they only ended up losing by two in the end. Every puck of the ball was vital.

3. Keys to the Cork turnaround

After 34 minutes, Cork were trailing by 2-11 to 0-9 and looked on the brink of defeat. There were two major factors that proved critical in Cork making their way back from that eight-point deficit.

The first was the rejigging of the full-back line that saw Spillane switch onto Conlon after 20 minutes. It made a big difference and he was able to manage the Clare dangerman very effectively. Here are some examples of the Rebels full-back line tying up Conlon and O’Donnell:

37:53 — Clare go long into the inside line and Sean O’Donoghue comes away with the ball.

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 2.14.38 p.m.

He carries it way up the field and pings a diagonal ball into Horgan’s corner. The Glen Rovers man wins it out in front and sends it sailing between the posts.

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 2.15.53 p.m.

38:34 — Another long ball is won by Spillane. No score comes from it but the last line of the Cork defence are coping admirably despite being under immense pressure.

49:49 — O’Donoghue anticipates a long ball inside by sweeping in front and feeds Fitzgibbon. The youngster is coming into the game and he pops over a superb point.

Source: officialgaa/YouTube

The second key area of improvement for Cork was the decision to switch Fitzgibbon to centre-forward. It was a vital move at half-time by John Meyler and gave Nash a target on the half-forward line where they enjoyed far more puck-out success after the interval.

The Cork stopper has a strong relationship with Fitzgibbon, Conor Lehane and Seamus Harnedy and it showed on Sunday.

39:12 — Nash goes long to Fitzgibbon who carries it forward and ends up winning a 65, which Horgan converts.

42:10 — Nash goes direct to the half-forward line where Lehane wins it and points.

47:30 — A Nash delivery to the half-forward line is won by Kearney. He finds Harnedy whose score puts Cork a point up.

57:52 — The Cork goal is a defining moment in the second period. Nash finds Fitzgibbon on the 65m and he sends a beautiful ball into Cooper in acres of space. Harnedy receives the pass inside the 21m line and drills it into the net past Tuohy.

Source: officialgaa/YouTube

58:58 — Again Nash goes to the half-forward line and again Fitzgibbon gets himself on the end of it. He feeds Kearney for a brilliant score. Cork are winning the 50/50 balls and have the skill levels to pick out the man in space for scoring opportunities.

Conclusion

There’s still a lot of hurling to be played, but Cork are undoubtedly genuine All-Ireland contenders. They were impressive in reeling back that eight-point deficit and managed to turn on the style in the second-half after not playing well for most of the first 35 minutes.

Meyler’s side had massive players up front in Harnedy, Horgan, Lehane, Kearney, Meade and Fitzgibbon, who is developing into an absolutely top class hurler. They’re well-primed heading into the latter stages of the All-Ireland. If they can keep everyone fit, they’ve got a great chance of going all the way.

Anthony Nash celebrates Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They had defensive issues in the first-half but if they can sort that out they’ll take some beating.

On the Clare front, the root of this setback has been an issue that’s plagued them over the last two years – poor decision making and inaccuracy. They looked a beaten docket with 10 minutes to play and their body language at that stage of the game worries me if I’m being honest.

They made too many unforced errors and until that’s eradicated from their game they’ll find it hard to win another All-Ireland. They’ll more than likely go up against Davyd Fitzgerald’s Wexford in the quarter-final in what will be a very difficult game for them.

Shane O'Donnell dejected in the closing stages of the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Clare’s confidence would have taken a hit on Sunday and outside of Conlon their main guys didn’t have strong games – Kelly, Cleary, McInerney and O’Donnell.

That’s a worry for them and they’ve slipped back in the pecking order, but they’re still a talented team well capable of mounting a serious challenge yet.

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