Clara 2-12 O’Loughlin Gaels 1-13: Let’s start at the end, if only because there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. At the very end, after the hurly-burly was done, after the battle was lost and won. That’s where the backdrop to Clara’s second Kilkenny SHC title in three seasons, and third ever, was painted.
Keith Hogan, the winning captain, took delivery of the Tom Walsh Cup and delivered a thoughtful, generous and witty speech. He thanked everyone who needed to be thanked (including “the mammies for making the sandwiches after training — I’m pretty sure the daddies didn’t”) before finishing on a poignant note.
Back in January, he pointed out, the club had suffered a body blow when Johnny Ryan, one of its stalwarts and the father of Lester, Liam and Tom, who all played yesterday, died in an accident in his own farmyard. “A pillar of Clara GAA,” Hogan declared. “A massive influence on everyone’s life, on and off the pitch. We’re here because of men like Johnny Ryan.”
They were. And yesterday they honoured Johnny Ryan in the only way they could. And they honoured him beautifully.
If it wasn’t the finest of Noreside deciders, it was far from the worst. If it didn’t quite keep the viewer enraptured, it demanded attention till the last puck of the ball, which is more than most county finals — in any county — manage to do. It was a reasonably engaging affair, if slightly underpowered, short on the kind of big beasts that make the ground thump. It lost its way in the second half, when the pace and tempo dropped; O’Loughlins, with a healthy contingent of youngsters in their ranks, possessed neither the physique nor the nous to raise it again.
The numbers tell the story. Of the losers’ tally of 1-13, 0-8 arrived from placed balls, seven from the stick of Mark Bergin. Their forwards managed a combined 1-3. In contrast, all but two points of Clara’s 2-12 were sourced from play. Input of their starting forwards? A more than healthy 2-8.
The best of the sextet was Liam Ryan, whose pace and accuracy proved too much for the O’Loughlins’ defence in the first half. By the interval he’d racked up 0-4, the first two points in the opening 10 minutes and the other two just before half-time. He failed to find the range again, but he’d already done his bit — and some more besides.
Also on form was Ryan’s brother Lester, whose deliveries from midfield kept the winners ticking over and led directly to both goals. The first materialised as early as the fourth minute and was originated by Ryan deep in defence. When the ball dropped in the right-half forward position Conor O’Shea got the critical touch. It set Ciaran Prendergast clear in space and he finished past Stephen Murphy in the O’Loughlins goal.
The second goal turned out to be the game-breaker. Lester Ryan had just levelled the scores at 1-10 apiece four minutes after the restart when O’Loughlins, attempting to go short in midfield, coughed up possession. Ryan was on hand to deposit the sliotar on the edge of the enemy square. Murphy and his defenders were unable to clear it and O’Shea got the vital touch to put it over the line. Parity had become a three-point gap and O’Loughlins would never erase it.
They did come close. Martin Comerford, who had a fine spell midway through the second period, reduced the arrears to two points. Sammy Johnston made it a one-point game with a 39th-minute effort from the right. Comerford had a good chance to level matters but his shot from 45 metres in a reasonably central position drifted wide.
Moments later Hogan evaded the clutches of his big brother Brian to snipe a fine point off his left at the other end, and eight minutes from time the same man made it 2-12 to 1-12 with a monster free from deep inside his own half. That would suffice. The only score thereafter was a Murphy point from a close-range free for O’Loughlins in the second minute of injury-time. The goalie trotted up the field with only one objective in mind but got under his shot and it whizzed over the bar.
Prendergast’s goal had helped Clara to a 1-4 to 0-1 lead after 10 minutes, upon which O’Loughlins patiently played their way into the argument, assisted by Danny Loughnane’s goal — he timed his run perfectly to meet Johnston’s hanging delivery from the right — and a string of frees from Bergin. At the break it was 1-9 apiece, an accurate reflection of proceedings. That the fare in the second half didn’t hit the same heights will bother neither Clara nor the restful, contented spirit of Johnny Ryan.
Scorers for Clara:
C O’Shea (1-2); Liam Ryan (0-4); K Hogan (0-3, 0-2 frees); C Prendergast (1-0); C Bolger, D Langton, Lester Ryan (0-1 each)
Scorers for O’Loughlin Gaels:
M Bergin (0-8, 0-7 frees); D Loughnane (1-0);
S Murphy (free), D Burke, J Nolan, M Comerford, S Johnston (0-1 each)
K Phelan; D Nolan, S Prendergast, S O’Shea; N Prendergast, T Ryan, D Langton; Lester Ryan, J Langton; C O’Shea, K Hogan, Liam Ryan; J Byrne, C Bolger, C Prendergast.
J Murphy for C Prendergast (60)
S Murphy; A Forristal, A Kearns, E Kearns; H Lawlor, B Hogan, P Deegan; M Bergin, S Mahony; D Burke, E Grant, M Comerford; S Johnston, D Loughnane, M Kelly.
J Nolan for Mahony, ht; A O’Brien for Lawlor, ht; C Bergin for Johnston, 47 mins; D O’Connor for Grant, 53 mins.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved