Coming into this game I gave Clare a great chance to win for two reasons: I didn’t think Kilkenny were impressive against either Tipperary, Galway or even in their win against Waterford; Kilkenny were missing so many front-line players.
Then, when I got to Cusack Park and learned that JJ Delaney was out as well, I thought it was definitely going to be Clare’s day.
As the game progressed I felt stronger and stronger about that. Kilkenny were playing very poor for long stretches — how long did it take them to score in the second half, 15 minutes? And that score, when it came, was a goal — it took them over 20 minutes to get a point. That’s not the Kilkenny we’ve come to know over the last 13 years.
How they won this game, despite all those weaknesses, still baffles me. Clare had 16 wides to 11 for Kilkenny but many of those Clare wides were horrendous. In general play, if Clare had been a bit more direct they’d have won this game. I know you have to be measured these days but Clare overdid it yesterday and it cost them. Shane O’Donnell had Kieran Joyce in real trouble at the edge of the square — remember Joyce is not a natural full-back — and Clare could have exploited that with early, direct ball. They didn’t. They started off with just Shane up front. That’s when they should have let the ball rip and get it up front as quickly as possible.
Clare made another mistake three or four times in the second half when they had Colin Ryan come back deep into his own half to hit long-range frees. He’s a good free-taker but I think Clare would have been better advised to have keeper Patrick Kelly take a few of those, or even Brendan Bugler or Nicky O’Connell. All these mistakes proved costly.
The big problem for Clare though was they lacked punch up front, 0-4 scored between five starting forwards and two subs yesterday. That’s not good enough. They’re fit, they’re strong but they’re not scoring and taking the wrong options too often.
Midfield was a weak link too yesterday and this is an area they’ll have to address if they’re to make progress this year. A big positive from a Clare viewpoint, however, is that even with all those wides and the lack of power in midfield, they still came within a point of Kilkenny, the All-Ireland and league champions.
The Banner are going to have to maintain this push now, with a big test coming up against Tipperary, who were shocked by Waterford in Walsh Park, next weekend. Clare are going to have to get a lot smarter in their play though.
From a Kilkenny viewpoint, I’d say Brian Cody will really have been rubbing his hands together on the way home because he’ll know this was a game they were fortunate to win. Had the Clare forwards taken their chances, Kilkenny were lost.
Reasons for Cody to be happy? The fine performances from a several new faces. People were talking about two Walshs after last year’s All-Ireland final, Tommy and big Walter at full-forward, and both were in action yesterday. The Walsh who caught my eye though was Padraig, Tommy’s younger brother, playing at left-half back. Directly behind Padraig another youngster, another newcomer, Conor Fogarty, also sparkled. We’ve been seeing more and more of Conor in this league and every time I see him he looks better.
Yet another new boy, Lester Ryan, also did really well for Kilkenny. I’ve talked about this guy before and I think he’s got what it takes. Up front, Ger Aylward got 1-1, his pace causing problems for Clare.
All those guys give Kilkenny and Cody reason to smile. It wasn’t all the youngsters who shone for Kilkenny though. Aidan Fogarty, Eoin Larkin and best of all, Richie Hogan, all stood out for the Cats, offered great leadership.
Kilkenny were lucky to get this win and it now puts them back right in the mix for the three play-off places. What a finish we have in prospect now next Sunday, all six teams still in with a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals while relegation is also a possibility. Great win for Kilkenny, even better win for Waterford, and good draw ground out by Cork in Galway.
Six days to super Sunday — can’t wait!
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