Kilkenny make off-target Clare pay the price
Home side hit 12 wides in the second half as Cats win by one
Clare’s Conor Ryan and Pádraig Walsh of Kilkenny in action during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1A clash at Cusack Park in Ennis. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
A league table where the teams look like they’re huddling together for warmth can only come about because of games like this. Bitty and careless and much of a muchness for all concerned. A Clare team that is hopping off the ground came out and broke rocks off a Kilkenny side that was short half a dozen summer men. Yet all they got for their toil was a close game that offered the taste of being thereabouts without the fulfilment of being there. Kilkenny weren’t much to shout about but they scored what they had to and got out of town.
Davy Fitzgerald ’s young players were full of vim but they kept spilling thoughtless wides as the day wore on, meaning that Kilkenny could hand in just 1-3 for their second half’s work and still have a point to spare in the end. On a day when there was nothing between them, Kilkenny made sure their nothing was worth a hair more than Clare’s.
So instead of putting clear water between them and the rest, Clare go into the final weekend circled by sharks. Lose against Tipp on Sunday in Thurles and the best they can hope for is points difference to keep them out of a relegation play-off. Better shots, better choices and they’d be in the semi-finals. No wonder Davy Fitz was in no mood for chat afterwards. “It’s me or nothing, lads,” smiled selector Mike Deegan.
“We had the opportunities and we didn’t take them,” said Deegan. “It’s very frustrating. You could say we dominated the second half. Our shooting last week was fantastic but it wasn’t fantastic today. The decision-making was poor – there were fellas in better positions who could have had the ball laid off to them and didn’t get it.
“It showed an awful lot today, the experience Kilkenny have that we don’t have. The Kilkenny lads laid off ball when they had to and they created goal chances that we didn’t. We’ll learn a lot today. We were competitive but being competitive isn’t good enough and moral victories aren’t good enough.”
Fitzgerald has Clare playing a game that looks designed by T-square and protractor. Ball-retention is all, with short passes zigzagging between players continuously. When it breaks down it looks messy but for much of the first half, it worked reasonably well.
Colm Galvin pinged a lovely goal after five minutes when he flicked up a breaking ball in the Kilkenny full-back line and although Ger Aylward hit back for Kilkenny two minute later with a goal of his own, Clare had much to be happy with coming up on half-time. Shane O’Donnell was in spry form at corner-forward and with Colin Ryan cashing in whatever frees came his way, Clare were holding their own.
Even when Lester Ryan finished out the half with a belter of a goal for Kilkenny, you still felt the game held plenty for the home side to grapple with. Ryan’s goal – a cracking turn and shot from 20 metres after good work from Aylward and a pass from the eternally subtle Eoin Larkin – sent Kilkenny in at the break 2-7 to 1-7 ahead. Hardly a mountain to climb.
That they barely made it beyond base camp was entirely down to their shooting. They had four wides on the board in the first four minutes after the restart. And as soon as Colin Ryan iced a couple of frees to get them back within one, their lack of economy was brutally exposed down the other end. Larkin directed traffic again, this time flicking into space for Aidan Fogarty to latch onto. He has hit better shots in his time but this one beat the Clare goalkeeper and Kilkenny were 3-7 to 1-9 to the good.
Clare kept at it but their composure wasn’t what it had been earlier and as the wides began to stack up – they finished with 16 in all, 12 in the second half – the realisation dawned that they were going to gift Kilkenny the win.
Brian Cody ’s side didn’t manage a point from play in the second half. Worse, they didn’t have to as Larkin tapped over a couple of frees and a 65 to buy them enough elbow room to see it out.
“We’re delighted to win,” said Cody. “We have played four matches in the league and people would have said we played decent in the first two games but lost them so now we’re at the stage where we have to win matches.
“Good performances would be grand if you’re into that kind of thing but if you don’t get points out of them, they’re not worth a curse to anybody.”
It was a sentiment that would have chimed like morning’s first bell over in the Clare dressing room.