Clare show the required appetite for the fray
Winter celebrations fail to dim Banner’s ardour as they edge past experimental Kilkenny
Clare’s Shane Golden battles with Kilkenny’s Padraig Walsh at Cusack Park. Photo: Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Clare 1-16 Kilkenny 0-18
A year ago Clare began 2013 with a disappointing one-point defeat by Waterford in their first Allianz Hurling League match back in Division One A.
Enough has happened in the meantime to fill a time warp, never mind 12 months, and yesterday at a buzzing Cusack Park Ennis before 10,125 spectators, the All-Ireland champions fizzed, popped and stuttered on a heavy pitch to run out the narrowest of winners against an experimental Kilkenny.
In the circumstances it was a lively and entertaining match with both sides in contention until the very end but Clare held what slight initiative there was for most of the 70 minutes.
They were sustained by the marksmanship of Colin Ryan – who also repeated his All-Ireland feat by stopping a penalty – and some really good performances from the penetrative Conor McGrath, Colm Galvin, when moved to centrefield in the second half and especially wing back Pat O’Connor, who built on a great 2013 with a hard working display, digging out ball in defence and making elusive, breaking runs despite the conditions.
Goalkeeper Donal Tuohy was also mentioned in dispatches by his manager for a couple of excellent saves to keep Kilkenny goalless on a day when Clare showed great appetite after a winter of celebration.
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody was pleased enough with the effort given that it wasn’t an afternoon for younger players and they were up against 12 of the 15 players who had started the All-Ireland final for Clare.
But as Cody put it afterwards, “overall the performance wasn’t too bad but I’d prefer to win it”.
Of the newcomers Michael Walsh and Brian Kennedy in the full-back line and Joey Holden at wing back acquitted themselves well while Pádraig Walsh, brother of Tommy, was good at centrefield and scored a couple of nice points, including one to push Kilkenny ahead for the last time at 0-17 to 1-13, and in attack Johnjoe Farrell was a lively threat.
For all the interest in Kilkenny’s auditions, however, it was a familiar presence that carried the challenge.
Of course Henry Shefflin, just turned 35, hasn’t been that regular a feature of matches at this time of the year for a while but he was starting his 16th season for the county and on a day for the dead ball strikers, he and Ryan contributed around two-thirds of their teams’ totals.
On top of that 0-12, Shefflin was the most influential Kilkenny forward, providing a combative, ball-winning presence at wing forward. It wasn’t all perfect, though, and he saw a second-half penalty, awarded when Mark Kelly was pulled down by Cian Dillon, saved by Tuohy and was unable to convert the resulting 65.
Early Clare pressure quickly established a three-point lead, all from Colin Ryan, but Kilkenny gradually whittled that away through two Shefflin frees and a point for Walter Walsh, set up by Colin Fennelly, who despite the surface was able to use his pace to trouble Clare.
Shefflin then dispatched a fine point from the right sideline, drifting it over for the lead.
The key score came almost immediately on 12 minutes – Colin Ryan firing it in with the aid of a deflection from David Herity’s attempted block after a break by Conor McGrath had opened up the defence.
Kilkenny had goal chances at various stages. After 31 minutes, Shefflin sent in Mark Kelly whose shot was blocked whereas Walter Walsh’s kick at the rebound sent the ball wide.
But Kilkenny were level at the break, 0-11 to 1-8 and could reflect with satisfaction on having hauled Clare back from a 1-7 to 0-5 lead at one stage.
Clare continued to edge the scoreboard in the third quarter and after Kilkenny got nothing from their 44th minute penalty Ryan might have been more ambitious with a 20-metre free after Shane O’Donnell, who otherwise got little enough from Walsh, was fouled.
A run of three points – a lovely, nimble stroke by replacement Cathal O’Connell, a point by McGrath and a free from Ryan – gave Clare the decisive advantage and they had the luxury of a couple of wides. But they got there.
“I am shocked,” said Fitzgerald afterwards. “I didn’t think they would have that much in the tank. Genuinely I didn’t, because the trimming we got inside in the Waterford Crystal, we got a big one. Maybe that hurt them; maybe that trimming mightn’t have done them any harm. It hurt them a small little bit to get beaten like that.
“We are under no illusions. I still think we have an awful lot to work through. I think what helped us in the end was the four subs we used. I think they actually got us a bit of momentum . . . ”
Brian Cody t acknowledged the positives at the start of a campaign in which he hopes to trial a number of new players.
“There was a lot of good stuff about our performance, that’s for sure. They played and they played very decently and throughout the whole field we had a lot of inexperienced players at that level playing and certainly we were very much in the game at all times”
CLARE: D Tuohy; C Dillon, D McInerney, S Morey; P O’Connor, Conor Ryan, B Bugler; P Donnellan (capt; 0-1), S Golden; Colin Ryan (1-9, seven frees), T Kelly, J Conlan (0-1); C McGrath (0-3), S O’Donnell, C Galvin (0-1). Subs: P Collins for Kelly (44 mins), C O’Connell (0-1) for Bugler (55 mins). N O’Connell for Golden (60 mins).
KILKENNY: D Herity; C Fogarty, M Walsh, B Kennedy; J Holden, L Ryan, P Murphy; C Buckley, P Walsh (0-2); H Shefflin (0-12, eight frees, two 65s), C Fennelly (0-1), E Larkin; JJ Farrell (0-1), M Kelly, W Walsh (0-2). Subs: J Tyrrell for Fogarty (half-time), J Brennan for Kelly (54 mins), A Fogarty for W Walsh (58 mins), T Walsh for Buckley (65 mins).
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).