Clare’s intricate passing game proves too much for Kilkenny

Kevin Kelly punished a succession of untidy defensive fouls to keep his team in the contest

Clare’s John Conlon scored 1-1 against Kilkenny. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Clare’s John Conlon scored 1-1 against Kilkenny. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

Clare 2-20 Kilkenny 1-22

The crowd in Cusack Park seemed to be over the rugby loss in quick time. A heavy lunch time down pour dampened neither the local enthusiasm nor the appetite of the athletes to produce an entertaining end-to-end romp of exceptionally high quality for early February.

Afterwards, the Clare crowd exited Ennis slightly puzzled as to how they only won by a single point. Kevin Kelly’s audacious free gave Kilkenny a goal in the 75th minute but time denied Kilkenny the opportunity to further worry the locals.

Clare were powerful and aggressive in the air, worked several wonderful second half points with their intricate passing game and allowed the Kilkenny forwards nothing like the space they enjoyed against Cork. But they gave Kelly a chance to produce an all but immaculate performance from the placed ball, punishing a succession of untidy defensive fouls with 1-11, including that late goal.

Ger Aylward was bright and sharp with every possession he got and saw a brilliant strike ricochet off the post in the ninth minute as the Cats raced into a 0-5 to 0-2 lead.

Instead, it was Clare who found the net first, with John Conlon capitalising on a break on one of the many long, direct balls delivered to the Kilkenny fullback line. Huw Lawlor responded impressively to a hugely busy role with little cover, combative in the air and cool in his decision making under heavy scrutiny from Clare’s hard-working forwards. Paddy Deegan, John Donnelly and Conor Fogarty contested everything relentlessly as Kilkenny kept chasing and almost-catching Clare’s lead from the 20th minute on. That lead fluctuated: in the 52nd minute, Shane Golden’s point put them 2-16 to 0-14 clear but Kilkenny’s stay-going quality meant that the match never felt over.

The introduction of Padraig Walsh gave the visitors additional forward thrust over the last half hour and they reeled off four points on the trot to regain the momentum going into the last 10 minutes.

“There wasn’t a whole lot in the game - the two goals were crucial for them,” said Brian Cody. “It kept that bit of a gap between us but it was competitive all the way.”

It was certainly that. But in the midst of the heavy industry, Clare offered sublime glimpses. Ian Galvin was an impossible handful for Kilkenny’s defence, Peter Duggan and Diarmuid Ryan offered reliable outlets for Clare’s powerful defensive runners, David Fitzgerald and Conor Cleary.

Golden’s imposing physical presence and aerial ability gave Clare a good hold around the middle and his return, after a full hurling year ruined with injury setbacks, deepens Clare’s options.

Podge Collins’ 48th minute goal started with a surge out of defence from Rory Hayes and a brilliant pass from Galvin which Collins controlled superbly before letting fly from the left side to beat Eoin Murphy. A minute later, Galvin set up Ryan with a sweet little flick and Clare seemed were in flow.

“Yeah, they played well” Gerry O’Connor said of Galvin and Ryan.

“But to be honest the guy that impressed me most was Shane Golden. I think if you look at the amount of possessions Shane had and, looking at the stats, Shane had a phenomenal game. I don’t really like picking out everyone in particular but Diarmuid had a tough night at the office in Thurles and he bounced back. That’s what you are looking for; can these guys withstand the test and pressure over five league games.”

Pipping Kilkenny eases a little of that pressure, although Clare have enjoyed good league fortunes against the stripy men in the O’Connor/Moloney era. Their one nagging concern is that they couldn’t fully put Kilkenny away. Time and time again they were punished for hauling and dragging Aylward, the menacing Billy Ryan and John Donnelly, who repeatedly turned nothing into something for Kilkenny. Afterwards, Gerry O’Connor said that Clare have a fortnight now to work on their tackling prior to their engagement with Cork, leading to further discussions about the controversial straight red card for which Tony Kelly missed this game.

“We’ve looked back at the video several times. It didn’t look like a red to me, I’ll be honest with you. I‘ll be amazed if the same red card was given in three months time when we start into the Munster championship.”

There was enough promise and physical presence and hunger in this performance to give Clare supporters reason to anticipate the summer with eagerness. But on a so-so day for Kilkenny, they still managed to take a match right to the wire.

“They’ll be on everyone’s radar to be up there for whatever is given out at the end of the year,” Brian Cody said of Clare.

“They showed that last year when they were only a stone’s through away from it.”

CLARE: 1 D Touhy; 20 R Hayes, 3 D McInerney, 4 J Browne; 7 C Malone, 6 C Cleary, 26 D Fitzgerald; 8 S Golden (0-2) 21 C Galvin (0-3); 10 D Ryan (0-3), 17 P Collins (1-0), 12 P Duggan (0-6, 5 frees, 65); 13 C Guilfoyle (0-1), 14 J Conlon (1-1), 22 I Galvin (0-2).

Substitutes: 25 G Cooney (0-1) for 13 C Guilfoyle (53 mins), 9 R Taylor for 22 I Galvin (60 mins), 2 J McCarthy for 20 R Hayes (64 mins), 19 N Deasy (0-1 free) for 12 P Duggan (66 mins), 18 M O’Malley for 21 C Galvin (69 mins),

KILKENNY: 1 E Murphy; 2 P Murphy, 3 H Lawlor, 4 T Walsh; 5 C Delaney (0-1), 6 P Deegan, 7 E Morrissey; 8 J Maher (0-2), 9 C Fogarty (0-1); 10 J Donnelly (0-1), 11 G Aylward (0-3), 12 M Keoghan; 13 B Ryan (0-2), 14 K Kelly (1-11, frees), 15 R Leahy.

Substitutes: 22 G Malone for 8 J Maher (44 mins), 20 C Browne for 12 M Keoghan (48 mins) 19 P Walsh (0-1) for 7 E Morrissey (49 mins), 24 L Blanchfield for 15 R Leahy (53 mins).

REFEREE: P O’Dwyer (Carlow).

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