“Shocked” was the reaction of Clare boss Davy Fitzgerald, not at a rare Kilkenny scalp but to the deep reservoirs of energy and effort exhausted by his players in grinding out a one point win.
Clare’s winter training schedule had been shorted by a team holiday to Mexico last month and the recent Waterford Crystal final hammering to Tipperary had reinforced to Fitzgerald that his charges were well off the pace heading into the league’s opener.
Indeed, Kilkenny had taken advantage of a lacklustre third quarter from the hosts to move in front, but Clare replied with three late scores to see out the result.
“I am shocked. I didn’t think they would have that much in the tank. Genuinely I didn’t, because the trimming we got inside in the Waterford Crystal was a big one,” Fitzgerald said.
“Maybe that hurt them; maybe that trimming mightn’t have done them any harm. It hurt them a small little bit to get beaten like that. They showed great courage out there today. These conditions wouldn’t be our ideal conditions. They worked hard. We have to be realistic though, Kilkenny did create chances. Probably we missed one or two ourselves that we could have taken as well.
“It was nice to see that bit of fight. I know we are behind, I am certain of that. I think they will be patchy because it is going to be hard for them to get up that high every single day.
“If they do they won’t have much in the tank come the middle of the year. That is my honest opinion. To get that kind of a performance out of them took a lot over the last week or so.”
Central to the home side’s late spurge, according to Fitzgerald, was the second-half introduction of Podge Collins and Cathal O’Connell. The Clare manager was impressed by the contributions of the latter, but singled out goalkeeper Donal Tuohy for particular praise.
“Kilkenny could have won that game just as easily as we did. I still think we have an awful lot to work through. I think what helped us in the end was the subs we used. I think they actually got us a bit of momentum and we know we are probably not just fit enough yet, not near what we want anyway. That’s we decided to bring in the subs, it wasn’t because the lads were playing bad, it is just we needed to get new blood in there to try and give us a small bit of a buzz coming into the last ten minutes.
“Donal Tuohy in goals, had to wait two years for a chance, he made an unbelievable save. I do know Kilkenny had two or three opportunities of goals. Tuohy made a great save, we stopped the penalty. They had another wide open chance in the first-half.
“It is a win, but I’m not reading into it. Kilkenny have practically only half a team out there today. They have a lot of young fellas in.
The All-Ireland champions travel to Dublin next week and Fitzgerald acknowledges there will be a sizeable backlash from Anthony Daly’s men in the wake of their Pearse Stadium hiding.
“If you get a bad beating, there is only one way you are going to respond, you are going to come out and throw the kitchen sink at us. Going up to Parnell Park it will be wicked tight. They got a beating today so they will be like men possessed the next day.
“My job is to get the lads, who are after giving everything today, to get up to that high pitch again the next day to meet what we are going to meet.”
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