Brennan yields net gain for Cats
ESB All-Ireland MHC final
KILKENNY'S 20th All-Ireland minor hurling title was one of their most hard earned, with underdogs Clare producing a gutsy performance which fell just short at Croke Park yesterday.
As has been the case with Kilkenny teams at all grades in recent times, their ability to score goals proved crucial, as two second-half strikes supplied the much-needed oxygen which ultimately delivered the Irish Press Cup.
Twice in the first half, Clare led by six points as they thundered into their opponents to make a mockery of the pre-match odds, which had Kilkenny at 1/12 for the win.
At half-time, they were 0-9 to 0-5 clear and led by 0-10 to 0-5 early in the second half, before Kilkenny's top scorer Michael Brennan struck for his side's first goal, five minutes after the break.
The provider was full-forward Ger Aylward, who later scored a fine point from play, and eight minutes later, as is their habit, Kilkenny struck again.
Brennan's kicked effort was heading to the net for his second green flag before substitute Paul Buggy, with a suspicion of square ball, steamed in to apply the finishing touch before the sliotar crossed the line.
That goal levelled the scores at 2-5 to 0-11 and Kilkenny went on to move three points clear, as Clare went without a score for 13 minutes. It appeared that the energy used up in the first half took its toll on the Banner County, appearing in a first minor decider since their solitary success at this grade in 1997.
But credit to them for cutting the gap back to just a single point in the dying minutes, before Brennan's point in the third minute of stoppage-time finally decided the issue.
And so Kilkenny, beaten finalists last year, regained the trophy they last won in 2008 and, remarkably, they went through the entire 2010 championship campaign without conceding a goal from open play.
Manager Richie Mulrooney also revealed after the game that full-back Willie Phelan, who missed last year's final through injury, defied medical science yesterday as he lined out with a broken collarbone.
Two doctors' opinions suggested that the Dunnamaggin powerhouse would be lucky to make it to half-time, but not only did he make it that far, he got through the entire 64 minutes.
Clare can look back proudly on a campaign that yielded a first Munster title since 1989 and a first All-Ireland final appearance in 13 years, but joint-managers Donal Maloney and Gerry O'Connor struggled to mask their disappointment afterwards.
They did so much right in the first half, storming 0-7 to 0-2 clear after the sides had been level twice in the opening exchanges. Clare had the benefit of an unpredictable breeze blowing towards Hill 16 and their full-back line, with Seadna Morey absolutely brilliant in the left corner, was most vigilant against a Kilkenny attack that whipped five goals past Galway.
And Clare received another boost in the 24th minute, when John Power, goalkeeper for Kilkenny last year, saw his penalty saved by Ronan Taaffe before skipper Paul Flanagan cleared on the line. The award was harsh as Ollie Walsh was fouled by Stephen O'Halloran outside the small square, but referee Anthony Stapleton gave a penalty.
Tony Kelly added a superb point for Clare, who looked so much hungrier than their opponents, to move six clear, but Kilkenny's response was to clip over three of the remaining four points of the half to remain in touch.
The Leinster kingpins went five down when midfielder Tony Kelly hit his second point for Clare within two minutes of the restart, but the goals duly arrived, two within eight minutes, and the Cats' tails were up. When Kilkenny teams score a couple of goals, they develop match-winning momentum and Clare just couldn't recover sufficiently.
When the chips were down, midfielder Kevin Kelly stepped up to the plate and the introduction of Buggy was an inspired move on Mulrooney's part.
Brennan's goal arrived at a critical time, while in the second half, there was much better movement and interplay from Kilkenny's inside line, where Aylward was a more than useful fulcrum.
For Clare, Morey had the game of his life in that left corner and Stephen O'Halloran was also useful on the left wing. David O'Halloran finished with five points to his name, including three from play, while Paudge Collins picked off a brace of first-half points from play.
Scorers -- Kilkenny: M Brennan 1-2, P Buggy 1-0, K Kelly 0-2, O McGrath 0-2f, J Power (0-1f), P Walsh, C Buckley, G Aylward 0-1 each. Clare: D O'Halloran 0-5 (0-2f), T Kelly, P Collins, N Arthur (fs) 0-2 each, E Boyce, D Keane, A Cunningham 0-1 each.
KILKENNY -- D Walsh 7; J Corcoran 7, W Phelan 8, B Kennedy 7; P O'Carroll 7, L Harney 7, O McGrath 7; K Kelly 8, O Walsh 6; J Power 7, P Walsh 7, C Buckley 8; M Brennan 8, G Aylward 7, T O'Hanrahan 6. Subs: P Buggy 8 for O'Hanrahan (38), P Holden 5 for Walsh (40), R Reid for Holden (57).
CLARE -- R Taaffe 7; H Vaughan 6, P Flanagan 6, S Morey 9; E Boyce 7, K Lynch 7, S O'Halloran 8; C Galvin 7, T Kelly 8; C Malone 6, P Collins 7, J Shanahan 7; D O'Halloran 8, N Arthur 6, D Keane 6. Subs: A Cunningham 7 for Malone (41), A Mulready 6 for Vaughan (inj, 47), D McInerney for Arthur (58).
REF-- A Stapleton (Laois).