Kilkenny 3-20 Clare 0-15
By Jim O’Sullivan
YOU could sense the imminent collapse of Clare’s challenge in yesterday’s disappointing Allianz National Hurling League final in Thurles once JJ Delaney and Richie Mullally followed team captain Peter Barry’s outstanding leadership and Kilkenny monopolised the play at half-back.
It happened steadily over the first 10 minutes of the second half and combined with the advantage they gained all over the field, it guaranteed them a 12th title long before the whistle.
The disappointing feature for Anthony Daly's team was they were not merely very competitive through the first half, but actually looked the better-balanced side for the greater part of it. However, the concession of a penalty in the 24th minute expertly converted by a highly motivated DJ Carey upset their rhythm, while a loss of scoring chances in the 10 minutes before the break also proved costly.
After that, the second of the Kilkenny goals in the 46th minute for which Carey made the opening and James Stephens star Eoin Larkin scored in style marked the beginning of the end for the Banner.
With Tony Griffin coming into the attack in place of the injured Barry Nugent at the start, it was notable that unlike their two championship clashes with Kilkenny last season, Clare adopted an orthodox formation.
While Tommy Walsh scored the opening point after 17 seconds, Kilkenny weren't to lead again until the 24th minute.
Clare were quick to settle because of the strength of their defence and the early influence of Brian O'Connell at midfield an advantage that became more pronounced once Colin Lynch found his best form. The team took encouragement from the effective man-making job Brian Lohan was doing on Carey and little enough was being seen from Henry Shefflin in the left corner or Martin Comerford on the right wing.
With the newer members of the attack, Larkin and Richie Power, also finding it difficult to get into the game, it was left to the versatile Tommy Walsh to pose the main threat, on the left wing where he started and later on the other side.
Carey and Lohan were having great tussles and while the Kilkenny ace scored a terrific point under pressure in the 11th minute, twice he made openings for goals in different circumstances, both could have gone in.
At the other end, Niall Gilligan wasn't really involved in the play for Clare, mainly because the ball wasn't being played into him. Full-back Noel Hickey did some great covering across the line, setting a standard he maintained all the way to the finish which meant 'keeper James McGarry was never tested.
Clare were leading 0-7 to 0-5 after 20 minutes after some good play by Tony Carmody at wing-forward and a score each from O'Connell and Lynch, who maintained their grip at midfield. However, as the game aged, they experienced problems in their half-forward line and this further limited the effectiveness of their inside players, among whom only Tony Griffin showed promise at times.
Kilkenny seized the initiative when Carey won his penalty when held by Frank Lohan after Richie Power played the ball to him. This came after an inspired Davy Fitzgerald brought off the first of several great saves.
By now, Carey was the only member of the attack to be playing in the same position and Daly also made changes to liven up their forward line. At the break, the sides were level, Kilkenny 1-7 to Clare's 0-10.
Significantly, in the context of the way the team was to gel in the crucial period after half-time, Kilkenny resumed with their original formation in attack and in time it was to pay a rich dividend. Conversely, Clare lost Frank Lohan after just two minutes for a foul on Shefflin having been ticked after conceding the penalty and that upset the stability of the defence, where Gerry Quinn was to emerge as the most consistent player.
Fitzgerald again came to their rescue when he denied Shefflin as he tried to push a hopping ball past him, but the signs looked ominous as Kilkenny hit three points before Gilligan (in the 44th minute) pointed with his first real chance from play.
Two minutes later came Larkin's goal and it put Kilkenny five points clear as they set about imposing their will on the game.
They were to meet little resistance because they put up the shutters in defence, with JJ Delaney dominating on the left flank and Richie Mullally quickly asserting himself on the other side. In between, inspirational captain Peter Barry clearly benefiting from his prolonged winter season in the club championship used all his guile and craft to break up a series of Clare attacks, while Hickey continued to excel alongside a confident James Ryall before he was yellow-carded for an off-the-ball offence.
Additionally, Derek Lyng thundered into the game at midfield, followed later by Bryan Barry, another of the newcomers, while Carey's influence increased as he moved outfield.
Predictably, with a constant flow of possession, the Kilkenny forwards found it much easier to pick off scores and the addition of Eddie Brennan further boosted them.
Beaten by eight points when they met Clare at Nowlan Park six weeks ago, Kilkenny took over almost completely and while he enjoyed control of his goal mouth in one-on-one situations, Fitzgerald was powerless to prevent Shefflin from beating him in the 60th minute.
However, the real merit in the score was a Carey act of genius in setting up his team-mate with a perfect pass. To add to Clare's woes, they had Gerry O'Grady red-carded for a foul on the outstanding Walsh, after Gilligan had promised a goal until he was bottled up by Hickey and Jackie Tyrrell.
Most disappointingly of all, the promise of a full-blooded contest never materialised, bringing an undistinguished end to a competition which attracted a lot of criticism.
* Gerard Harrington may not have been always up with the play, but he did a good job of refereeing.
Scorers: Kilkenny H. Shefflin 1-7 (0-7 frees); DJ Carey (1-0 pen) and E. Larkin 1-2 each; T. Walsh 0-3; M. Comerford and E. Brennan 0-2 each; D. Lyng and B. Barry 0-1 each.
Clare: N. Gilligan 0-5 (0-4 frees); T. Carmody 0-3; S. McMahon (0-1 free, 0-1 '65) and C. Plunkett 0-2 each; B. O'Connell, C. Lynch and T. Griffin 0-1 each.
KILKENNY: J. McGarry; J. Tyrrell, N. Hickey, J. Ryall; R. Mullally, P. Barry, J.J. Delaney; B. Barry, D. Lyng; M. Comerford, E. Larkin, T. Walsh; R. Power, D.J. Carey, H. Shefflin.
Subs: E. Brennan for Power (52nd minute), yellow-card replacement: M. Kavanagh for Ryall (54th minute).
CLARE: D. Fitzgerald; F. Lohan, B. Lohan, G. O'Grady; A. Markham, S. McMahon, G. Quinn; B. O'Connell, C. Lynch; C. Plunkett, D. McMahon, T. Carmody; A. Quinn, N. Gilligan, T. Griffin.
Subs: B. Nugent for Plunkett (47th); D. O'Connell for Quinn (54th); D. Forde for D. McMahon (61st); D. Clancy for O'Connell (67th), yellow card replacement: D. Hoey for F. Lohan (38th minute).
Referee: G. Harrington (Cork).
* Attendance: 22,500 (last year 16,750).
* GAA President Sean Kelly presented the trophy to Peter Barry, the first winning James Stephens captain since Brian Cody in 1981.