Clare 4-24 Antrim 0-8
There was much confusion over the final score in this All-Ireland U-21 HC semi-final in Semple Stadium on Saturday, the scoreboard saying one thing, live broadcaster TG4 saying another, the actual scoreline different to both.
But there was absolutely no confusion over which was the better side and even less confusion now surely as to whether or not this lopsided provincial system is even remotely fair as it stands.
Not to put a tooth in it, Antrim had no business being in this All-Ireland semi-final. It didn’t do justice to the competition, didn’t give any value for money to the admittedly poor attendance of just over 3,300 in Semple Stadium, didn’t do Clare any favours either as they prepare to take on Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final.
It was 0-4 to 0-0 after seven minutes, the high-powered Clare attack already sensing blood and being a little too ambitious early on, eschewing clear point-scoring opportunities to try and force a goal or two (they were denied on several occasions by fine Antrim keeper James O’Mullen).
After 20 minutes however, the Banner had found the range, led 1-11 to 0-1. At the break it was a whopping 2-14 to 0-3. Game over.
Cathal McInerney and captain Conor McGrath got the first-half goals, McGrath again and impressive sub Niall Arthur got the two thereafter.
A farce really, never a contest. Antrim have had the occasional competitive side over the years but All-Ireland semi-final berths at this level should be earned, not inherited through long outdated structures.
Afterwards, joint Clare manager Donal Moloney – Gerry O’Connor is his working partner – was in pragmatic form. It wasn’t any great test, he agreed, but what can Clare do but play the hand they’re dealt?
“It was an All-Ireland semi-final so we had to prepare properly, do whatever was necessary. We did that. It’s just unfortunate that Antrim aren’t that strong at the moment.”
He’s adamant that it won’t hinder preparations .
“There won’t be any problem preparing for a final and there was never going to be any problem preparing for a final.
“Over the last two years at minor level we believe we’ve left at least one All-Ireland minor title behind us so we want to win this one badly.”
Adamant as Donal is however that this non-contest won’t interfere with Clare’s preparations, you have to wonder. Kilkenny got a great game against Galway, a real test and will have learned much about themselves.
“It was hard for guys maybe to stay focused,” Donal explained.
“Some of the shots were a little bit sloppy but some of the subs that came on like Niall Arthur and Peter Duggan acquitted themselves very well. We are pleased with that. They’re pushing all the time [to start].
“There is a very thin line between all of our first 24/25 and even beyond that. They’re pushing very hard for places.”
Perhaps that’s where Clare will have to get themselves ready, the training-ground – they’ll get hell of a lot tougher games there than they did here.
Scorers for Clare: C O’Connell 0-7 (2fs), C McGrath 2-0, N Arthur 1-2 (1f), T Kelly 0-4 (1f, 3 65s), C McInerney 1-0, S Morey, A Cunningham, P Collins 0-2 each, P O’Connor, S Golden, C Malone, P Duggan, D O’Halloran, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Antrim: K McKiernan, M Devlin (1f) 0-2 each, J Black, E McAlonan, C Laverty, D McKinley, 0-1 each.
CLARE: R Taaffe; P Flanagan, D McInerney, K Ryan; S Morey, C Ryan, P O’Connor; C Galvin, S Golden; A Cunningham, P Collins, T Kelly; C O’Connell, C McGrath (c), C McInerney.
Subs: C Malone for Galvin (37), P Duggan for Cunningham (37), N Arthur for McGrath (44), D O’Halloran for O’Connell (44), S O’Halloran for O’Connor (44).
ANTRIM: J O’Mullan; R McCloskey, R Gillan, C Morgan; F Donnelly, M Donnelly, J McCouaig; J Black, A McKeown; M Devlin, S Dobbin, K McKiernan; N Elliot, C McCann (c), D McCloskey.
Subs: E McAlonan for McKeown (17), C Laverty for F Donnelly (30), C Murray for McCouaig (40), D McKinley for Dobbin (44), N McFadden for McCann (51).
Referee: A Stapleton (Laois).
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