Great fun. Great, messy, imprecise fun, with a draw a fair result.
The scoreline doesn’t tell everything, however, not least because it omits mention of Clare’s 16 wides.
On another day etc.
But here’s the thing. In the circumstances this was a point gained rather than a point lost by the visitors. With seven minutes left they trailed by four against the wind. They kept digging away. They kept getting the ball into Aron Shanagher in the full-forward line and it kept sticking.
Tony Kelly, a free, and Diarmuid Ryan picked off scores. Shane O’Donnell poked home his second goal of the afternoon after an error by Eoin Murphy’s understudy Darren Brennan to put Clare 3-12 to 1-17 ahead. Walter Walsh levelled for the hosts, Aaron Cunningham and Alan Murphy (free) traded points in injury time and David McInerney might have won it for the visitors — ought to have won it, indeed — but was wide off his left from 50m.
Glass half-full? For Brian Lohan, yes. “It could have gone either way,” the Clare manager reflected. “We were delighted to get something out of the game because for long periods of the second half it didn’t look like we would get anything out of it. Kilkenny were dominant for the first 20 minutes of the second half. Our lads showed a good bit to come back into it and get the result.”
With three teams to qualify from the group, a win against Dublin next weekend will put Clare straight into the semi-finals. So far so good for the new boss. “Happy enough with that.” For the second Sunday in a row Kilkenny failed to close things out from a position of strength. On the plus side, they’d come from three points down at the interval to turn matters around. As ever, Brian Cody was minded to emphasise the performance more so than the outcome.
“We powered into it in the second half alright. There were probably a fair few mistakes and missed chances on both sides. At the end of the day neither team can quibble with the result.” Padraig Walsh — but not the remaining Ballyhale players — may be back, Cody said, when Kilkenny go to O’Moore Park on Sunday for their concluding group fixture with a quarter-final on their radar.
They began well here, pinging the ball around with speed and purpose and at the end of the opening quarter led by 0-8 to 1-3, the points having come from a variety of sources, among them two by Adrian Mullen. Clare’s goal in the seventh minute was the fruit of a joint venture by Kelly and O’Donnell, the former with the assist, the latter with the quick turn and finish.
It would get better for them. For years now O’Donnell has performed the role of a full-forward who operates as much with his back to goal as the reverse. There may be nothing new about what he does but he continues to do it effectively, as was evidenced in the 23rd minute. Colin Guilfoyle delivered the sliotar from out the field, O’Donnell was first out to it and he laid off the pass to the runner from deep, in this case Ryan Taylor. Taylor couldn’t miss and didn’t.
The goal was part of an unanswered 1-4 blast that helped put Clare 2-7 to 0-10 ahead at the interval, the caveat being that they’d registered six wides in the opening 20 minutes. Too many of their shots were hurried attempts from distance; Kelly would finish the half with three wides from placed balls.
Having lost Mullen to a nasty looking injury (“it’s a knee injury, that’s all we know for the moment,” said Cody), Kilkenny laboured following the change of ends but hit the front again in the 48th minute after Ger Aylward, Mullen’s replacement, got in behind the defence from a Brennan puckout and found the net.
Without doing anything remotely spectacular the home team pushed their lead out to four points entering the closing 10 minutes. Clare, and O’Donnell, were not finished yet and proceedings came to the boil nicely for the 5,716 attendance on an afternoon that had something for everyone in the audience.
A Murphy (0-7 fs); G Aylward (1-1); A Mullen, J Donnelly and W Walsh (0-2); D Mullen, R Leahy, B Ryan, R Hogan and E Cody (0-1).
T Kelly (0-7, 5 fs); S O’Donnell (2-1); R Taylor (1-0); D Reidy, J Conlon, C Guilfoyle, A Cunningham and D Ryan (0-1).
D Brennan; C Browne, H Lawlor, C Wallace; C Delaney, P Deegan, D Mullen; C Buckley, A Murphy; A Mullen, J Donnelly, R Leahy; B Ryan, R Hogan, W Walsh.
G Aylward for A Mullen, 22; T Walsh for Browne, ht; B Sheehan for Hogan, 43; E Cody for Ryan, 59.
D Tuohy; L Corry, P O’Connor, J Browne; S O’Halloran, C Cleary, A McCarthy; D McInerney, T Kelly; C Guilfoyle, D Reidy, D McMahon; R Taylor, J Conlon, S O’Donnell.
A Shanagher for Conlon, 44; D Ryan for Guilfoyle, 45; A Cunningham for Reidy, 59; P Collins for Taylor, 64.
Liam Gordon (Galway)