by Ger Canning
Cork enjoyed a comfortable passage to the semi-finals of the Guinness Munster Hurling Championship with a seven-point win over Clare in Semple Stadium in Thurles.
Without ever hitting the heights of recent years, the reigning provincial champions were always too good for a new-look Banner side.
Gerald McCarthy, the Cork manager, admitted afterwards that his side lack a bit of sharpness but still have the hunger for Munster glory.
One of his concerns leaving the ground will be the fitness of his gifted midfielder, Gerry O'Connor, who appeared to do further damage to his hamstring and could be a doubt for the next match against Waterford.
Cork led from the second minute when Niall McCarthy, their bustling centre-forward, cracked over a point from 40 metres.
They led by four points before Jonathan Clancy finally landed a well-struck shot from out on the right wing. At this stage Clare appeared to be playing with the breeze, but found it extremely difficult to break down an experienced Cork backline.
At the break, Cork deservedly led by 0-09 to 0-04.
The wind, if anything, seemed to change direction after the resumption and Clare missed their first two shots at goal (they were to have a total of 12 wides in all).
By comparison, Cork's first three scoring attempts yielded a goal and two points.
The goal was a beautifully crafted score involving Kieran Murphy (Sars) and Pa Cronin. Murphy seemed set to score himself when he dashed inside the Clare defence, but rather than shoot, he spotted the diagonal run made by Cronin, hand-passed to the No. 12, who fired it home past the helpless Philip Brennan.
At that stage, Clare looked doomed, but full credit to their spirit and determination. They were rewarded with a goal by Niall Gilligan eight minutes later. The big wing-forward raced onto a Colin Lynch pass to fire past Donal Óg Cusack.
It was Gilligan's 16th goal in the championship and Clare's first against Cork at this level for ten years.
Barry Nugent won some good possession at corner-forward and finished the match with four points to his credit. But the closest Clare got was five points, and every time a crisis seemed imminent, Cork found a response.
Ben O'Connor finshed the contest with five points to his name and 23,448 people left Thurles feeling that Cork had done just enough to guarantee victory.
But this was not an occasion to savour and Waterford will present a much more serious challenge in three weeks' time for the Rebels.