Kilkenny ‘keep raising the bar’

A BAD-NEWS day for Clare in Cusack Park yesterday — and for the rest of hurling as Kilkenny continue their relentless march towards perfection, and yet another honour-laden season.

“Kilkenny keep raising the bar,” said a disappointed Clare manager Mike McNamara. “If they’d bring it down a little, then maybe…”

No need to say anymore, Mike, because we all know – under Brian Cody, that just ain’t going to happen. You look first at two of the Kilkenny players being eased back into action yesterday. After his hiatus while his club, Ballyhale Shamrocks, were still involved in the All-Ireland championship, Henry Shefflin came back to inter-county competitive action for the first time this season, scored Kilkenny’s second goal – the killer goal, according to Mike Mac.

Eoin Larkin was introduced at the break and within half a minute had set up the first Kilkenny major, bearing down on the Clare goal in trademark style, drawing the cover before parting unselfishly to Aidan Fogarty. Then you think of those yet to come, the likes of full-back Noel Hickey, midfielders Cha Fitzpatrick and Derek Lyng, wing-back JJ Delaney also an absentee, you look at the results achieved by Kilkenny in their last three league outings, and you realise these guys are in a league of their own.

One thing above any other Clare needed yesterday was a good start. Instead we had the opposite as a composed and confident Kilkenny rattled off five unanswered points in the first ten minutes, Clare had the same number of shots at goal, from positions almost as favourable, but every effort sailed wide. To their credit they kept plugging away, and at the break were just three points adrift, 0-9 to 0-6, but from those early debilitating misses it was always a game of catch-up for Clare – not a game you’re going to win against Kilkenny.

Above all else, and though they are a supreme point-taking outfit, the Kilkenny killer-weapon is the goal, and encouragingly for Clare in that opening period they had managed to keep a clean sheet on that score. Half a minute into the second half, however, that Fogarty goal, and that all changed. Clare did continue to battle, but continued also to shoot themselves in the foot with their inaccuracy from play; it wasn’t as poor as in the opening minutes of the first-half but two bad wides early on, after the Fogarty goal, two shots that could have had Clare right back in it and brought the anxious fans into the mix, instead had the effect of reinforcing the doubts on the field and in the stands. Soon, then, the time was ripe for Kilkenny to strike again, and strike they did, twice in a matter of minutes.

In the 53rd minute, it was Henry getting on the end of a goalkeeping error to tap to an empty net (2-11 to 1-8). Clare responded magnificently, substitutes Mark Flaherty and Barry Nugent combining for the latter to drill past David Herity from close range. Immediately, however, and sign of a team low in confidence, Clare were caught off guard, and Eddie Brennan won the break from Herity’s subsequent huge puck-out, hared away, set up Fogarty, who coolly shot home his second. At that stage, 3-11 to 1-8, and even with still 12 minutes on the clock, it was very much game over.

Scorers for Kilkenny: H. Shefflin 1-5 (0-4 frees, 0-1 65); A. Fogarty 2-1; R. Power 0-4; E. Brennan 0-2; R. Hogan, M. Rice, E. Larkin, M. Grace, 0-1 each.

Clare: C. Ryan 0-6 (all frees); B. Nugent 1-0; T. Carmody, N. Gilligan (65), M. Flaherty (free), 0-1 each.

CLARE: P. Kelly; C. McMahon, C. Dillon, G. O’Grady (c); J. McInerney, B. Bugler, P. Donnellan; B. O’Connell (c), P. Vaughan; T. Carmody, D. McMahon, J. Clancy; J. Conlan, N. Gilligan, C. Ryan.

Subs: M. Flaherty (Ryan 43); B. Nugent (Gilligan 55); A. Markham (Vaughan 67).

KILKENNY: D. Herity; M. Kavanagh, B. Hogan, J. Tyrell; T. Walsh, J. Tennyson, J. Ryall; M. Fennelly, M. Rice; M. Comerford, E. Brennan, H. Shefflin; R. Hogan, R. Power, A. Fogarty.

Subs: E. Larkin (Comerford 35); M. Grace (Hogan 55); TJ Reid (Fennelly 62); C. Hickey (Kavanagh 67). Blood sub: S. Cummins (Kavanagh 8/14).

Referee: J. Ryan (Tipperary).

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