In effect, it should have meant little to the home team.
Their fate had already been decided last weekend and Brian Cody took the opportunity to rest some of his front-line bodies for next weekend’s relegation play-off, which as had been anticipated, will be against their All-Ireland winning predecessors.
Had Tony Kelly’s penalty not been saved in injury time (just as obvious a reason as John Power’s denied penalty in the first-half that the new one-versus-one rule can’t come in quicker), we might have been discussing the pluckiness of Cody’s second-string team.
Clare’s cause wasn’t helped by losing Conor McGrath and Colm Galvin to hamstring injuries in the final 10 minutes but then Kilkenny also lost the services of Jackie Tyrrell because of the same issue in the closing stages.
However, this was an occasion where some of Cody’s panel had their last competitive opportunity to stake a claim before the championship given he is sure to return to several of his old reliables for the relegation bout.
Kevin Kelly put his hand the highest, contributing 1-9 including a well-taken goal in the first-half.
Against as solid a defender as David McInerney, it was certainly a sit-up-and-take notice display from the St Patrick’s man on his full league debut.
Jonjo Farrell and Joe Lyng, both sent off against Dublin at the same venue last month, put in redeeming displays with Farrell nabbing 1-3. Lyng may have done better with a first half goal chance but his general contribution was more than satisfactory.
Clare might have been suffering fatigue especially when it was shown up against the fresh legs of so many new Kilkenny players but they never went behind from the eighth minute until the 64th when Lyng split the posts.
In those closing stages, substitute Ger Aylward doubled Kilkenny’s lead and although Seadna Morey came back with a point at the other end it was Mark Kelly’s fourth of the day in the penultimate minute of normal time that gave them the necessary cushion. Clare replacement Conor Cleary did peg them back by one but Kelly wasn’t able to punish William Phelan’s foul on John Conlon in the parallelogram.
The reward of a win for his team’s endeavour pleased Cody after three defeats on the trot. “It was a different result anyway for certain. Everything about the last few weeks wasn’t bad either, it wasn’t as if we hadn’t been doing some good hurling, we have. Today was obviously a very good performance and a good result. Obviously, at the start of the day we knew that we were going to be playing next week again in a do or die game. Today we just went out trying to perform the way we always try to perform. Obviously there is competition for places and we got a good performance and a good result.”
Leading 2-9 to 1-9 at half-time with Shane O’Donnell grabbing the brace of goals, Clare had been the better side marginally. O’Donnell took receipt of a pass from McGrath to find the net for his first and then his trickling shot deceived Paul Murphy and Tyrrell for his second in the 32nd minute.
Davy Fitzgerald anticipated Kilkenny would come back, though.
“We were against the wind in the second half. We always knew they would come back. We made a few mistakes and they capitalised on them. They have six or seven lads to come back in so they will be way stronger next week. They wouldn’t be quaking in their boots after seeing us today. We had some nice passages of hurling today. It was our errors that gave away the two goals. It was the same against Tipperary. Errors cost us. I’m fierce proud of them. They worked very hard. They’re a great bunch and we’ll keep knocking at the door. Whether we go down to 1B or not, I don’t care. If we do, we do.”
Tony Kelly looked a class apart on several occasions throughout the afternoon. His 50th minute point, his third of four in the game, was a splendid score that had echoes of Ciaran Carey’s famous effort against Clare in 1996.
Sadly for Kelly, it wasn’t like Carey’s a match-winner and if Clare are to return to Division 1B hurling for the first time since 2012 he’ll have to be at his inspired best in the relegation play-off.
What Clare succumbed to yesterday were effectively Kilkenny’s reserve cavalry. Next weekend it’ll be their special forces.
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 (inj 61); C Cleary for C Galvin (inj 68).
Referee: J Owens (Wexford) 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.
The result would have certainly altered had Tony Kelly’s penalty not been saved in injury-time.
That they will have to do it all over again possibly at the same venue next Sunday.
The PA announcer attempted to confirm a substitute but admitted to all that he couldn’t make out the number of the back of the incoming player’s jersey.
Kevin Kelly shouldn’t lose his starting spot when Cody reshuffles the pack next weekend. He was excellent both from open play and placed balls. Tony Kelly was a maestro for Clare.
Brian Cody’s line-up looked experimental but they just had that bit more fight in them than Clare.
James Owens marshalled the game well without being too overbearing. A couple of decisions baffled but he was good in general.
A relegation final next weekend with the venue to be confirmed today.