Kilkenny 1-20 Clare 0-14
Kilkenny turned on the style in the second half at Thurles to shatter the Banner dream and book their place in the NHL Division One final.
The Division 1B champions came in as rank outsiders, but throughout the first half they stretched their opponents, and looked capable of causing an upset.
Clare trailed by just a point at the interval, but once Matthew Ruth grabbed the game’s only goal early in the second half, Kilkenny exposed the gulf in class.
Richie Power swept over a nine points tally, and the Cats were soon purring as they pulled away in impressive fashion.
Clare displayed no fear as they courageously took the game to their opponents right from the off.
It was McGrath who settled Banner nerves with a couple of early frees, while Matthew Ruth and Richie Power were on target at the other end.
Colin Fennelly’s long range score eased the Cats ahead in the ninth minute, but an equally spectacular effort from Sean Collins, followed by Nicky O’Connell’s long range free, had the sides level at 0-4 each in the 13th minute.
Two more scores from Power eased Kilkenny two points ahead, but in the 17th minute they were denied a goal when referee Alan Kelly awarded a penalty, despite the fact that Eoin Larkin managed to finish the ball to the net as he was being fouled by Brendan Bugler.
Power’s penalty was kept out by Pat Donnellan in a major let-off for Davy Fitzgerald’s side, and while Power did make amends with his fourth point from a free, McGrath brought his tally to four with two points, one a superb effort from play, to bring the sides level on 0-6 each in the 27th minute.
Power fired over a stoppage time free to ease the All-Ireland champions ahead once again, 0-8 to 0-7 at the break.
And they struck for a goal four minutes into the second half. Larkin’s angled shot was saved by goalkeeper Patrick Kelly, but Matthew Ruth nipped in to finish to the net from close range.
Ruth and Fennelly tagged on points, and suddenly Clare found themselves trailing by five.
Clare needed a big response, and while they did pull back points through Liam Markham and O’Connell, Kilkenny were able to pick off points with relative comfort, opening oit a six poins lead through TJ Reid.
Tommy Walsh imposed himself on the game in typical fashion at the back as Brian Cody’s side grew in stature, with Cillian Buckley an immense figure in the central area.
Power was still hitting the target from frees and play, and Larkin finally got his name on the scoresheet as the margin grew to nine with 10 minutes to play.
The damage could have been greater but for the heroic defending of Donal O’Donovan and Cian Dillon, and Clare staged a minor revival to pull back scores through Colin Ryan and Pat Donnellan.
But it was to be Kilkenny’s day, and they hit the game’s last three scores, with Fennelly, substitute Kieran Joyce and Ruth all hitting the target.
Kilkenny scorers: M Ruth 1-3, R Power 0-9 (7f), C Fennelly 0-4, J Mulhall, E Larkin, K Joyce, TJ Reid 0-1 each.
Clare scorers: C McGrath 0-6 (5f), C Ryan 0-3 (2f), N O’Connell 0-2 (2f), L Markham, P Donnellan, S Collins 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: D Herity, P Murphy, J.J. Delaney, J Tyrrell, T Walsh, B Hogan, R Doyle, M Fennelly, C Buckley, T.J. Reid, R Power, J Mulhall, C Fennelly, E Larkin, M Ruth.
Subs: M Bergin for Larkin, K Joyce for Walsh, C Fogarty for Doyle
Clare: P Kelly, D O'Donovan, C Dillon, C Cooney, B Bugler, P O'Connor, L Markham, N O'Connell, P Donnellan, F Lynch, S Collins, E Barrett, C Ryan, C McGrath, J Conlon.
Subs: J Clancy for Lynch, A Cunningham for Barrett
Referee: A Kelly (Galway)