It had to take a last gasp stop from goalkeeper Patrick Collins for Cork to finally secure their place in the last six of the All-Ireland Senior Championship in the LIT Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.
With a never-say-die Clare recovering from two earlier sucker-punches to regain parity for the eighth time entering the final 10 minutes, a third Rebel goal in the 66th minute through substitute Shane Barrett appeared to be the clinching score as it handed Cork a six-point cushion.
However, following a Rory Hayes point, Tony Kelly earned and converted an injury-time penalty before the 2020 All-Star carved out one final opportunity at the death, only for Collins to be equal to the powerful effort.
It was Cork's superior goal threat that lit up the opening period as they took two of five glorious opportunities. After the sides were level on four occasions and Conor Cleary blocked an early Patrick Horgan shot, Jack O’Connor turned on the afterburners to cut in from the right corner and find the net just before the water break at 1-5 to 0-6.
Goalkeeper Eibhear Quilligan ensured that O’Connor wouldn’t double his bounty while Diarmuid Ryan implemented a perfect hook on Robbie O’Flynn as he was about to pull the trigger as Clare rolled with the punches and would actually pulling level through Tony Kelly at 1-5 to 0-8 by the 23rd minute.
Horgan’s unerring accuracy from placed balls ensured that Cork managed to keep their noses in front for the remainder of the half before inflicting another timely blow to the Banner in the 35th minute when Shane Kingston combined with Horgan to race through and grab a second goal at 2-09 to 0-11.
That margin would be preserved until Ballyea ace Kelly upped the ante with a six point burst by the three-quarter mark including three inspirational singles from play to actually hit the front through David Reidy entering the final quarter at 0-21 to 2-14.
Cork’s fresh legs from the bench provided a timely jolt as Alan Connolly and Shane Barrett both found the target before the latter emphatically finished to the roof of the net in the 66th minute after an excellent disguised pass from Seamus Harnedy at 3-19 to 0-22.
Considering that it was Clare’s fourth championship tie in five weeks, it was difficult to see Brian Lohan’s side mounting a late backlash.
However, the Banner remained defiant until the end led by chief marksman Kelly who finished with 1-12 before goalkeeper Collins eventually proved the hero to send a relieved Cork into the All-Ireland quarter-finals for the first time since 2019.
Cork: Patrick Collins; Ger Millerick, Sean O’Donoghue, Robert Downey; Mark Coleman, Niall O’Leary, Tim O’Mahony; Darragh Fitzgibbon (0-02), Luke Meade (0-01); Robbie O’Flynn (0-01), Shane Kingston (1-01), Seamus Harnedy (0-02); Jack O’Connor (1-00), Patrick Horgan (0-10, 0-04f, 0-03’65), Alan Cadogan
Subs: Shane Barrett (1-01) for Cadogan (HT), Conor Cahalane for O’Flynn (57), Alan Connolly (0-01) for Kingston (59), Tadhg Deasy for Harnedy (70), Bill Cooper for Fitzgibbon (71)
Clare: Eibhear Quilligan; Rory Hayes (0-01), Conor Cleary, Paul Flanagan; Diarmuid Ryan (0-01), John Conlon, David McInerney (0-01); Ryan Taylor (0-01), Cathal Malone (0-02); David Reidy, Tony Kelly (1-12, 1-00 Pen, 0-08f), Colm Galvin (0-01); Aron Shanagher, Aidan McCarthy (0-02), Ian Galvin (0-01)
Subs: Mark Rodgers for I. Galvin (27), Shane Golden (0-01) for Rodgers (51), Jack Browne for C. Galvin (56), Gary Cooney for Shanagher (64)
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow)