Momentum now with Kilkenny as Fitzgerald downplays Clare hopes
Kilkenny’s Walter Walsh holds off Colm Galvin during his side’s narrow victory over Clare. Photogaph: Inpho
If that wasn’t the first real sniff of summer, then God help our senses. The weather wasn’t bad either, although both Kilkenny and Clare must meet again next Sunday before they can start thinking about the real summer hurling.
They only have themselves to blame. Kilkenny dug out the narrow victory to end a three-game losing streak, also ending Clare’s hopes of sneaking into the quarter-finals, and yet the whole thing ended up as nothing more than a teasing preview of their Division 1A relegation showdown. The home/away venue will be decided by the toss of a coin.
PenaltyBrian CodyDavy FitzgeraldTony Kelly
Cody also confirmed his Ballyhale Shamrocks players would be back on board this week, freshened up after their All-Ireland club success (although still no word on Henry Shefflin). He didn’t exactly say it, although Cody was clear that Kilkenny mean business.
“We’ll just approach it like any other game, looking to win,” he said, coolly. “We don’t want to be relegated but if we are, or Clare are, we can still win the league next year from Division 1B.
“But it will be a serious game to be involved in, with everything up for grabs. It was good to get the result here. I think we got the better performance and result but obviously we knew we’d be out again next week in a do-or-die situation.”
For a man under a hot spotlight in recent weeks, Fitzgerald seemed equally cool and while he didn’t, as expected, take any more questions on the departure of Davy O’Halloran and Nicky O’Connell, again he had nothing but high praise for his players.
“A few errors cost us here,” he said, “but I’m wicked proud of my boys, they worked so, so hard. Whether we go down to Division 1B or not, I don’t care. We’ll be trying not to but if we do, we do and we’ll just cope with it and drive on.
“But let’s call a spade a spade. Kilkenny have six or seven savage fellas to come back, will be much stronger next week and I’d say they’re not quaking in their boots after seeing us today. And I suppose it’s looking odds-on for us to go down.”
Colin Ryan and Kelly are also going well, although the star of this game, before a crowd of 6,296, was a previously unknown Kelly from Kilkenny, full forward Kevin, who helped himself to 1-9, with a mixture from play and placed balls.
His first-half goal, on 14 minutes, actually sparked Kilkenny after Clare had started the brighter, although it was Jonjo Farrell’s goal on 53 minutes that ultimately provided the platform for victory, Mark Kelly and Ger Aylward then sealing it with points at the death.
Still, had Tony Kelly opted for a point rather than go for goal with his injury-time penalty, which was saved, then Clare would have been deserving of the draw. Fitzgerald didn’t seem overly bothered, although he did wonder if his team can lift themselves again next Sunday. “It’s funny,” he said, “the two teams that won the last two All-Irelands are in that position now. It’s very important to have massive enthusiasm but it’s very hard to have it all the time, keep asking fellas to go back and we do have lot of young fellas, so you have to be careful about that. There’s only so many times you can go to the well, and last year we probably went to the well too early, too much.”
Fitzgerald also confirmed that Colm Galvin was considering spending the summer playing hurling in the US: “We’ve a great relationship, have talked about this before and said we’d talk about it after the league. We’d love him to stay, he’s a super lad but if he goes, the Clare camp wouldn’t say a word to him and we’ll welcome him back when he comes back.”