By John Fogarty
KILKENNY 2-20 CLARE 2-19
Kilkenny avoided a fourth defeat in a row as Tony Kelly had an injury-time penalty saved in an exciting final round game in Nowlan Park.
While it may have mattered game-wise, Dublin's victory over Galway meant a goal and a Clare win would have been redundant.
This pair will have to meet again next weekend in a relegation final with the venue to be decided by the toss of a coin. If it's anything like this clash, it will make for riveting watching.
The sides were level on seven occasions where it appeared Clare, having led 2-9 to 1-9 at half-time, were going to take the two points leading by two points with 13 minutes to go.
Colin Ryan had a shot blocked by Eoin Murphy but for the next seven minutes it was all Kilkenny as a Kevin Kelly free was followed by Jonjo Farrell, Joe Lyng and Ger Aylward points. It put them ahead for the first time since the seventh minute.
Seadna Morey brought Clare within one before Mark Kelly converted a point. While Conor Cleary returned the favour for the Banner a victory was beyond their reach as Kelly's strike was stopped on the line.
The sides were level on three occasions in the opening seven minutes, both teams enjoying brief leads, before Clare hit Kilkenny for 1-2 in the space of two minutes. Either side of Shane O'Donnell's goal provided by Conor McGrath were points from Tony Kelly who was embracing the leadership mantle around the middle.
But for Patrick Kelly making a save from Walter Walsh, Kilkenny would have been right back in it a minute later but it was only seconds before they found the net when the sharp Kevin Kelly caught a Clare fumble, sprinted towards goal and shot past his namesake.
By the 15th minute marker, it was a one-point game after a brace from Farrell and Kelly, who was impressing on David McInerney. Murphy was then called on to save from John Conlon but Clare made do with a couple of points in the space of a minute to go 1-8 to 1-5 up.
Kilkenny returned fire with two of their own although it could have been more had Lyng not blazed the ball wide when a goal looked on in the 27th minute. A dubious free allowed Ryan to put Clare two clear and they then had a let-off when Tony Kelly pushed out John Power's penalty.
Keith Kelly scored from the resultant 65 but O'Donnell was causing bother again in the 32nd minute when he fetched a long ball and somehow his trickling shot escaped both Paul Murphy and Jackie Tyrrell to nestle in the corner of the net.
Scorers for Kilkenny: K Kelly (1-9, 0-4 frees, 3 65s); JJ Farrell (1-2); M Kelly (0-3); M Ruth, W Walsh (0-2 each); J Lyng, G Aylward (0-1 each).
Scorers for Clare: Colin Ryan (0-7, 4 frees, 1 65); S O'Donnell (2-0); T Kelly (0-4); C Galvin, C McGrath, S Morey (0-2 each); J Conlon, C Cleary (0-1 each).
Subs for Kilkenny: G Aylward for B Kennedy (50); R Lennon for J Tyrrell (64).
Subs for Clare: D Reidy for A Cunningham (52); D O'Donovan for P Flanagan (55); D Honan for C McGrath (61); C Cleary for C Galvin (68).
KILKENNY: E Murphy; S Prendergast, P Murphy, J Tyrrell; T Keogh, K Joyce, W Phelan; J Lyng, B Kennedy; W Walsh, J Power, M Ruth; JJ Farrell, K Kelly, M Kelly.
CLARE: P Kelly; P Flanagan, D McInerney, J Browne; C Dillon, Conor Ryan, P Donnellan; S Morey, C Galvin; J Conlon, T Kelly, C McGrath; A Cunningham, S O'Donnell, Colin Ryan.
Referee: J Owens (Wexford)