Clare 4-22 Kilkenny 2-19: And the hits just keep on coming.
An 11th straight win for Clare to maintain their 100% record in 2016, and their most relevant win yet.
Kilkenny may have been down significant bodies but then so too were their opponents, who started without three men in David McInerney, Tony Kelly, and Shane O’Donnell who will form much of their spine this summer.
As if to remind us he hasn’t gone away, it was Kelly as a substitute who tellingly put Clare 12 and then 13 points ahead with his first two touches of the league, never mind the game. His contributions also served as a note that while this may have been Clare’s best performance since September 2013, it wasn’t produced by their best team.
Clare under Davy Fitzgerald have often been castigated as a team restrained by a leash. Yesterday’s performance made a mockery of that assessment. Kilkenny’s defensive miscommunications in the first half may have contributed to their demise but then it was Clare who asked them those troubling questions.
Pigeon-holing them as a short hand-passing team may also become a thing of the past too. If John Conlon’s direct goals against Limerick and Tipperary indicated they had added another arrow to their quill, their three first-half goals, all coming from long balls in, confirmed they can mix it up.
Colm Galvin made a playground for himself in the middle of the park. Once more underlying his class, his sharp-mindedness in such claustrophobic scenarios brought to mind what might have been had he returned earlier than he did for Clare from his spell in Boston last summer. Aaron Cunningham gave his most convincing performance in a Clare jersey, helping himself to 2-3 before half-time.
Kilkenny’s pillars were attacked with full effect. TJ Reid was at the heart of a lot of the Cats’ good play and yet mustered one point from play. Richie Hogan managed a first- half point and a goal chance but was made a peripheral figure thereafter. By doing that, Clare almost gave truth to Ger Loughnane’s theory that Kilkenny over-rely on the pair.
Clare led this game from wire-to-wire, leading 0-5 to 0-1 after 11 minutes and going six ahead in the 16th minute when Conlon exposed a foul-up between Eoin Murphy and Joey Holden. Murphy was cursing himself again in the 20th minute when he didn’t do enough to cover his inside post from a Cunningham shot.
By the time Hogan had a goal chance at the other end to add to an earlier Reid opportunity, Clare were 2-8 to 0-5 up. The din made by the Clare supporters in the 20,481 crowd was followed on occasion by murmurs of disbelief at the spectacle of Kilkenny being made to look second best.
The decibel levels of each reaction increased in the 26th minute when David Fitzgerald struck speculatively into the edge of the square and Cunningham again profited from some questionable defending.
Just over 12 months ago, Kilkenny had been given not one but two tastes of how Clare felt the best means of beating them was isolating Shane O’Donnell and hoping he would either score or pass it to onrushing players. On this occasion, they were even more direct.
Afterwards, Brian Cody wasn’t in a position to review those costly first-half concessions. “I’ll look at it again and see what happened. They got three goals obviously in the first half and that’s a great cushion for any team. I’m not sure how exposed we were or how unexposed we were but at the end of the day they got the goals. Were they preventable? Possibly.”
But Clare were also doing things quicker (puck-outs) and with more purpose (support play). Up 3-12 to 0-10 at half-time, their lead had grown to 12 by the time Reid’s close-range free was spilt into the net. Points from Reid and Cillian Buckley followed in quick succession but Clare didn’t falter and responded with two of the next three scores before Conor McGrath darted towards goal and struck authoritatively to end the game as a contest.
Kelly’s quick brace of points were greeted with robust cheers few supporters of Kilkenny’s opponents have been allowed to enjoy these past couple of seasons, even if Jonjo Farrell did return fire with a consolation goal, the first Clare have coughed up from open play in the league.
That came in the 53rd minute but the rest was a formality. Kilkenny beaten and they as much as everyone else knew it. “It’s a nice victory, thoroughly deserved,” said Fitzgerald. “Our work-rate today was savage, our hooks, blocks, and tackles were way up. The lads played with savage pride and heart, I couldn’t say enough about them. It will make things interesting for some of the lads that have to come back and try to get into that team. Very hard to leave off lads the way they played.”
Scorers for Clare:
A Cunningham (2-3); C McGrath (1-5, 0-2 frees, 0-2 65s); C Galvin (0-5); J Conlon (1-1); T Kelly (0-3); D Honan (0-2); P Collins, D Reidy, C O’Connell (0-1 each)
Scorers for Kilkenny:
TJ Reid (1-7, 1-6 frees); JJ Farrell (1-1); K Kelly, P Walsh, W Walsh, C Bolger (0-2 each); R Hogan, J Power, C Buckley (0-1 each).
P Kelly; O O’Brien, P O’Connor, P Flanagan; C Cleary, B Bugler, D Fitzgerald; D Reidy, C Galvin; D Honan, C McGrath, P Collins; C Dillon, A Cunningham, J Conlon.
Subs for Clare:
T Kelly for J Conlon (inj 51); C O’Connell for D Honan (57); Colin Ryan for D Reidy (64); A Shanagher for A Cunningham (67); B Duggan for P Collins (70+1).
E Murphy; J Tyrrell, J Holden, S Prendergast; P Walsh, K Joyce, C O’Shea; L Ryan, C Buckley; W Walsh, TJ Reid, K Kelly; J Power, JJ Farrell, R Hogan.
Subs for Kilkenny:
B Kennedy for J Tyrrell (22); L Blanchfield for C O’Shea (55); C Bolger for K Kelly (63).
F Horgan (Tipperary)
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