Allianz HL Division 1 quarter-final relegation play-off
Kilkenny 1-18 Clare 1-17
Given their dominance these last 10 or so years, it’s not often the phrase “Cats by a whisker” could be attributed to a game, certainly not one of this import.
Punny as it is, the phrase succinctly describes what transpired in Nowlan Park yesterday.
Clare had the better individual players in Shane O’Donnell and Tony Kelly but they lacked the cohesive effort of Kilkenny to upset the odds and retain their top flight status at the expense of last year’s All-Ireland champions.
In a second half when the sides were level on no less than seven occasions, right up to the 67th minute when O’Donnell restored parity again, it was Kilkenny who ultimately broke free of the wrestle to stay up.
For Clare goalkeeper Patrick Kelly, it was a moment to forget, as his attempted clearance in injury-time was foiled by the excellent TJ Reid, who laid the ball back to Cillian Buckley who knew his wind-aided shot was good as soon as he struck it.
The 7,162 Nowlan Park attendance celebrated the score and the subsequent final whistle with gusto in a game where Kilkenny looked troubled on occasions, whether it was in handling O’Donnell and Kelly or finding their scoring range, particularly in the second half.
Some would also suggest referee Cathal McAllister did them little or no favour, particularly when he twice applied the new advantage rule in Clare’s favour, despite the rule not yet being in operation.
Unusually, Kilkenny made just one substitution and Kevin Kelly, so good in the counties’ meeting the previous Sunday, was afforded no action. Kilkenny managed to win without him but matters were tense, as indicated by the murmurs of concern in the stands as O’Donnell and Kelly made light of the wind facing them in the second half.
“We weren’t firing on all cylinders, with regard to the whole game in general,” admitted Brian Cody, “but it was a game that took an awful lot of digging in and fighting and sticking with it. There was some brilliant chasing, and hooking and blocking and dispossessing of players, combined with some great scores.
“It was bound to be that kind of game because the consequences of losing were serious for both counties. Neither county wanted to be in that situation and it showed in the game too, because it was a game where a lot of players stood up to be counted. Cillian showed that at the very end when he took on great responsibility to go for the final score.”
Clare led 1-8 to 1-7 at half-time, O’Donnell and Reid having exchanged goals within 14 minutes of one another. O’Donnell availed of a slip by Paul Murphy in the fourth minute and then expertly lifted the ball away from Eoin Murphy to slide the ball to the net. Reid’s came as a result of fetching a Richie Hogan sideline cut and smashing it beyond Kelly’s reach.
Kelly turned on the charm in the second half, scoring three points in four minutes to arrest a positive Kilkenny start to the new half, although it was O’Donnell’s incessant runs out towards the wings which were providing his team-mates with the opportunities to score.
Thanks to O’Donnell setting up David Reidy for a third score and then Kelly for his eighth, Clare led by two in the 55th minute. That advantage was restored when Kelly, in almost unstoppable form, answered Buckley’s first point.
“He was tearing them apart,” said Fitzgerald of Kelly. “I was watching, at different times, they had Cillian Buckley on him and they had the loose man actually standing within 10 yards of him as well. They paid him a lot of attention.
“I’m happy with our performance. We came down to Kilkenny in front of 7,000/8,000 people, you saw how vocal it was, I’m very proud of the lads. We have massive respect for Kilkenny, we know they are a great team, they showed it, but we are there or thereabouts with them.”
A Michael Fennelly point on the hour mark following a successful effort from brother Colin brought the sides level for an eighth time in the game. With O’Donnell again the provider, substitute Seadna Morey put Clare up again, only for Kieran Joyce and Walter Walsh to return fire in the space of a minute.
O’Donnell split the posts in the 67th minute and extra-time looked ominous before Buckley’s rescue effort. After a tumultuous week for Kilkenny, the permeating sense wasn’t triumph but relief.
Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid (1-3); R Hogan (0-5, 2 frees); C Fennelly, W Walsh (0-3 each); C Buckley (0-2); M Fennelly, K Joyce (0-1 each).
Scorers for Clare: T Kelly (0-9, 1 free, 1 65); S O’Donnell (1-3); D Reidy (0-3); J Conlon, S Morey (0-1 each).
Subs for Kilkenny: M Kelly for L Ryan (57).
Subs for Clare: C O’Connell for C McGrath (inj 21); S Golden for Colin Ryan (54); A Cunningham for C O’Connell, S Morey for C Galvin (both 63); B Duggan for T Kelly (inj 68).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork)
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved