Clare 1-16 Kilkenny 0-18, Cusack Park

Man-of-the-match Conor Ryan finished with 1-9 as Clare opened the Allianz Hurling League by grinding out a narrow win over defending champions Kilkenny.

Ryan's sharpshooting was crucial to this round 1 success at Cusack Park, but Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald played down the result by admitting his side are 'still way off where we need to be'.

It was all Clare early on and Ryan in particular, with the corner forward's 13th-minute goal helping them to establish a 1-8 to 0-6 lead.

However, Kilkenny rattled off the final five points of the first half to get back on terms by the half-time whistle.

Henry Shefflin grabbed two of those and the much-decorated forward accumulated 0-12 in all, including two points from play.

Shefflin and new forwards Jonjo Farrell and Mark Kelly exerted more influence as the Cats edged ahead for the first time at 0-17 to 1-13.

But Brian Cody's men missed some gilt-edged goal chances - Walter Walsh kicked wide with the goal at his mercy and Farrell and Shefflin (penalty) both had efforts saved in the second period.

Those misses came back to haunt them as Clare, despite hitting some disappointing wides themselves late on, did enough to claim the two league points on offer.

Substitute Cathal 'Tots' O'Connell landed the levelling score after a scrappy spell and a Shefflin free was all Kilkenny could muster in response to decisive back-to-back points from the excellent Conor McGrath and Ryan.

Fitzgerald predicted earlier this week that his side 'would struggle in the league' and that they 'were a mile off the pace'.

But they burst out of the blocks here as Ryan pointed inside the opening minute and he soon added a free from the left wing.

The Banner men were hoovering up almost every breaking ball and after John Conlon was fouled, Ryan stuck over his third successive point.

The intensity increased in the sixth minute as Colin Fennelly and Brendan Bugler clashed during a niggly spell, with Bugler also fouling Shefflin soon after.

Clare coughed up two midfield frees and Shefflin pointed both to close the gap to 0-3 to 0-2, and Walter Walsh had them level in the 10th minute after a strong run from Fennelly.

Walsh sandwiched his score with two poor wides, but Shefflin more than made up for it by dropping a majestic point over from near the right sideline after beating both Bugler and David McInerney to a loose ball.

Clare responded with their first goal, Conor McGrath's clever hand pass opening it up for Ryan to fire to the net despite David Herity getting a touch on the shot.

The Clare duo combined again for Ryan's fourth point of the afternoon, edging the hosts 1-4 to 0-4 clear as the sides finally drew breath.

Amid a couple of misses from Ryan, Shefflin sent over a '65' and the former replied with a long range free that was created by a pacy burst from McInerney.

The margin was widened to five points thanks to a hard-earned John Conlon point and another from the unmarked McGrath.

Shefflin and Ryan exchanged frees again, however the latter's effort was Clare's final point of the half as players like Larkin and Farrell became more prominent for the Cats.

Padraig Walsh, Shefflin (free) and Farrell, who scooped a point over off his left, pared the deficit back to 1-8 to 0-9 by the half hour mark.

The visitors increased their goal-scoring threat with McInerney needing to block a low shot from Farrell, and corner forward Walsh booted the ball to the right and wide when presented with an open goal.

Shefflin and Fennelly rescued the situation with two subsequent points to tie things up at 1-8 to 0-11, and Kelly missed an injury-time opportunity to nudge Cody's side in front.

Patrick Donnellan played a captain's role on the resumption with an inspiring score for Clare, and Colm Galvin - set up by McGrath - cancelled out Shefflin's eighth of the day.

Kilkenny full-forward Kelly then drew a penalty from Cian Dillon, but it was advantage Clare after Shefflin's shot was batted wide by a combination of Colin Ryan and goalkeeper Tuohy.

Kilkenny's leading scorer also sent the resulting '65' wide, much to the delight of the Ennis crowd, and a well-struck free from Ryan made it 1-11 to 0-12 approaching the 50-minute mark.

The scores continued to come from Shefflin and Ryan, the latter pointing a close-in free after Padraig Walsh handled the ball on the ground.

Kilkenny were beginning to hit their stride again, a terrific catch and feed by Farrell creating a point for Walter Walsh and Shefflin cancelled out a deserved score for McGrath.

The momentum looked to be behind the Cats as Fennelly powered forward and Farrell's goal-bound shot was saved at the near post by Tuohy. The resulting '65' was converted by Shefflin.

Padraig Walsh soon put Kilkenny ahead for the first time at 0-17 to 1-13 and Clare took a while to find the answers, as McGrath and Patrick O'Connor had a wide apiece.

Clare's bench certainly had an influence in swinging the game back in their favour, with substitute 'Tots' O'Connell drawing them level in the 63rd minute before McGrath pointed the hosts ahead again from close range.

Ryan and Shefflin swapped final frees at 1-16 to 0-18 and Clare should have made certain with a final point.

Ryan missed a shot from the right wing after a good set-up by O'Connor and some brilliant skill from substitute Podge Collins deserved a score in injury-time. In the end, the nineteen-point tally was enough on a day when there was very little between these champion sides.

CLARE: D Tuohy; S Morey, C Dillon, D McInerney; B Bugler, P Donnellan (0-1), P O'Connor; Conor Ryan, C Galvin (0-1); J Conlon (0-1), T Kelly, S Golden; S O'Donnell, C McGrath (0-3), Colin Ryan (1-9, 0-8f).

Subs used: P Collins for Kelly (50 mins), C O'Connell (0-1) for Bugler (56), N O'Connell for Golden (61).

KILKENNY: D Herity; C Fogarty, M Walsh, B Kennedy; J Holden, L Ryan, P Murphy; C Buckley, P Walsh (0-2); H Shefflin (0-12, 0-8f, 0-2 '65'), C Fennelly (0-1), E Larkin; J Farrell (0-1), M Kelly, W Walsh (0-2).

Subs used: J Tyrrell for Fogarty (half-time), J Brennan for Kelly (54 mins), A Fogarty for W Walsh (59), T Walsh for Buckley (66).

Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)

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