Gaels are outgunned by Clara's power play
Clara 2-12 O'Loughlins 1-13
Published 26/10/2015 | 02:30
It won't be recalled as one of the classic Kilkenny county finals but that's of no concern to Clara as they celebrate a second senior championship success in three seasons.
They did it the hard way after looking early on as if they would easily brush aside the challenge of an O'Loughlin Gaels side that were slow from the starting blocks.
They trailed by 1-4 to 0-1 after 11 minutes as Clara's slick play repeatedly stretched their defence to breaking point.
Ciaran Prendergast pounced for a goal in the fifth minute and with Liam Ryan showing prominently in the half-forward line, Clara had all the appearances of a side that were intent on setting a target the Gaels couldn't reach.
Their six-point lead was all the more impressive as it had been achieved against the wind, leaving the Gaels facing a real test of their resolve and character.
"We said we'd try to hit the ground running and not let them settle. They are a serious confidence team when things are going well for them.
"They got on top in the second quarter but we dug in and settled things down. We wanted to be level or a point up or down at half-time and that's how it worked out. We felt we'd be able to step it up again in the second half," said Clara captain Keith Hogan.
It was 1-9 each at the interval but, significantly, there was quite a variation in how the scores had been accumulated. All except a point of Clara's total had come from open play, whereas 0-8 of the Gaels tally resulted from frees pointed by Mark Bergin.
Clara would have been unhappy at conceding so many scoreable frees and had regrets too over the manner in which the goal was conceded.
A high delivery into the goal area wasn't cleared and full-forward Danny Loughnane flicked the ball to the net in the 12th minute.
With Bergin on target from all angles and distances, the Gaels hit a purple patch, which yielded 1-8 in the final 18 minutes of the half. They led by two points after 23 minutes but Clara rallied and were back level at half-time. Moving Martin Comerford out to midfield was a key factor in the Gaels revival as he restricted Lester Ryan's influence to some degree.
At the age of 36, Comerford isn't as quick as in his prime days but his game-reading remains as smart as ever, taking him to the point of action quite regularly.
And when he got possession, he used it intelligently.
He did his best to provide a captain's example and, having weathered the early storm, the Gaels would have felt at half-time that they were in with a really good chance of taking the title. Granted, they were facing the wind in the second half but having raised the intensity levels in the second quarter, they appeared primed for a powerful effort.
They started well, with sub Jack Nolan giving them a one-point lead but then Lester Ryan made two crucial interventions. First, he hoisted an inspirational long-range point and, in the 35th minute, fired a speculative shot towards the Gaels' goal, which Conor O'Shea finished to the net to leave Clara leading by 2-10 to 1-10.
The scoring rate dropped after that, with the final 25 minutes yielding only five points in a 3-2 split to the Gaels.
Points from Comerford and Sammy Johnston cut the deficit to a point in the 40th minute but the Gaels didn't score again until stoppage time. By then, they needed a goal to save the day and got an opportunity when they were awarded a free just outside the Clara 20-metre line.
Goalkeeper Stephen Murphy was entrusted with the strike but he got under the ball, firing it high over the bar. It was the Gaels' last big chance and Clara held out for the final minute.
"Winning the title in 2013 was great but this is even better. We won the league as well this year, so it has been a great season," said Keith Hogan.
It's not finished yet either as Clara will now take their challenge into Leinster where they will be well-fancied to make a serious bid for honours.
It was a special day for Hogan who ended with family bragging rights after his duel with older brother, Brian, the Gaels' centre-back
It was pretty much honours even by the time Keith moved elsewhere in the second half. It was a most unusual situation to have two brothers marking each other but, according to Keith, it was all very convivial.
"We shook hands at the end and sure we'll meet for a pint later," he said.
He would have been in much better humour after a victory that brought Clara their third county title.
Having lost last year's final, they were determined to avoid an unfortunate double and had the resources to achieve it, despite the best efforts of a O'Loughlin Gaels team that paid a heavy price for the slow start.
In fairness, they battled back with commendable courage but expended a whole lot of energy in wiping out the deficit.
So instead of taking a lead into the break after playing with the wind, it was all square, leaving Clara much the happier side.
They didn't exploit the wind to any great degree in the second half but O'Shea's goal provided them with a cushion which sustained their effort all the way to the finish line.
David Langton, Shane and Neal Prendergast, Lester Ryan, Liam Ryan and Conor O'Shea were especially effective for Clara, while Andy Kearns, Brian Hogan, Mark Bergin, Martin Comerford and Mark Kelly were most conspicuous for the city side.
The attendance in Nowlan Park was 7,217.
Scorers - Clara: C O'Shea 1-2, Liam Ryan 0-4, C Prendergast 1-0, K Hogan 0-3 (2f), D Langton, Lester Ryan, C Bolger 0-1 each. O'Loughlin Gaels: M Bergin 0-8 (7f), D Loughnane 1-0, D Burke, J Nolan, M Comerford, S Johnston, S Murphy (f) 0-1 each.
Clara - K Phelan; D Nolan, S O'Shea, T Ryan; N Prendergast S Prendergast, D Langton; Lester Ryan, J Langton; C O'Shea, K Hogan, Liam Ryan; J Byrne, C Bolger, C Prendergast. Sub: J Murphy for C Prendergast (61).
O'Loughlin Gaels - S Murphy; E Kearns, A Kearns, A Forristal; H Lawlor, B Hogan, P Deegan; M Bergin, S Mahoney; D Burke, E Grant, M Comerford; S Johnston, D Loughnane, M Kelly. Subs: A O'Brien for Lawlor (h-t), J Nolan for Mahoney (h-t), C Bergin for Johnston (47). D O'Connor for Grant (54).
Kilkenny SHC final