Kilkenny force blitzes Banner
THERE are days when a team has to admit that they came up against a superior force and yesterday was one such occasion for Clare. They worked as hard as was humanly possible, showing trademark determination and defiance but they simply couldn't match Kilkenny over the full 70 minutes of an enthralling Guinness All-Ireland hurling semi-final.
All-Ireland SHC semi-final
THERE are days when a team has to admit that they came up against a superior force and yesterday was one such occasion for Clare.
They worked as hard as was humanly possible, showing trademark determination and defiance but they simply couldn't match Kilkenny over the full 70 minutes of an enthralling Guinness All-Ireland hurling semi-final. In particular, they couldn't cope with Henry Shefflin who scored 1-13 to take his total for the championship to date to 2-38 in four games.
Shefflin possesses so many skills that there's no way of knowing which ones he will unleash on any given day. Whether the ball is in the air, on the ground or swirling through a thicket of ash, it's all the same to Shefflin whose technical excellence is as close to perfect as it comes.
He scored 1-6 from play and added seven more points from placed balls on a day when his return fell just three points short of Clare's overall total. Roaming all over the forward line, he left the Clare defence spinning with the most painful headaches as they attempted to limit the damage. Ultimately, they failed, although the eight points margin doesn't do justice to their courage and persistence.
They were only a point adrift after 63 minutes (2-14 to 1-16) but failed to score again whereas Kilkenny pointed seven times, five of which came from Shefflin, two from play, two from frees and one from a penalty which he deliberately blasted over the bar.
Cork's treble bid could
depend on how successfully
they police Henry Shefflin
Shefflin started and finished the scoring and did so many delightful things in between that even Clare fans had to admire the sheer scale of his brilliance.
His goal after just 80 seconds was typically opportunistic, whipping a ground stroke to the net when the ball dropped in over the Clare defence. He pointed a free a minute later and when Eddie Brennan added another point it looked as if Clare were headed for a disastrous day.
Not so. Between then and the 64th minutes, they out-scored Kilkenny by 1-16 to 1-12 and should have had at least two more goals. Tony Griffin and Niall Gilligan, who had scrambled Clare's first goal in the ninth minute, should have done better with good chances in the 10th and 15th minutes. It was a worrying time for Kilkenny who were springing leaks in various areas of their defence.
Their problems were compounded by the shoulder injury to centre-back, John Tennyson which forced him out after 15 minutes with Brian Hogan taking over. He did well enough but right throughout the first half, Clare continued to cause problem for the Kilkenny defence.
Tony Griffin was the biggest menace but Gilligan, Tony Carmody also had some good moments. Colin Lynch was working diligently at midfield while Seanie McMahon was steering a high proportion of the long range frees over the bar.
Clare's recovery was completed by the 16th minute when they drew level for the first time and they twice opened two-point leads. However, Kilkenny dug in for a real battle and popped over three points before Carmody hit the equaliser (1-10 each) in stoppage time.
Clare goalkeeper, Davy Fitzgerald had gifted Kilkenny a point in the 23rd minute when he was penalised for wandering outside the small square on a puck-out. It earned a '65' for Kilkenny, which Shefflin pointed while Fitzgerald was booked for protesting.
Kilkenny began the repair work at half-time, despatching Eoin McCormack in place of Michael Rice, a move that yielded dividends in the 50th minute when he scored their second goal after the ball broke from a throw-in on the Clare 20-metre line. Kilkenny had, in fact, been awarded a penalty but referee, Seamus Roche cancelled it after a brief flare-up involving players from both sides.
That goal put Kilkenny five points clear (2-14 to 1-12) but Clare refused to yield and popped over four points to put themselves in an excellent position with seven minute remaining. They should have been level but Gilligan missed a relatively easy chance from a 50-metre free.
Just as happened in last year's semi-final against Cork, Clare lost their way over the home stretch as Kilkenny piled on the points. Their misery was compounded when corner-back, Frank Lohan was sent off on a second yellow card offence in the 69th minute.
He had hurled bravely all the way as did brother, Brian, McMahon and Lynch. All four may be in the veteran stage but their determination and sheer will sustained them through another big Croke Park test. They all turned in courageous performances but it remains to be seen if they return to the grind next season.
So then, Kilkenny march on to their third All-Ireland final clash with Cork in four seasons, a collision that will test the Croke Park foundations to their very core.
Kilkenny took their points tally into the twenties for a fourth successive game and have remained unbeaten in all 15 games played in Walsh Cup, National League and All-Ireland championship.
For all that, Brian Cody will be working towards improving the defensive alignment before the final. The full-back line looked edgy in the first half but improved in the second half when Tommy Walsh swopped places with Jackie Tyrrell.
James Ryall hurled soundly all through while 'Cha' Fitzpatrick had a fine afternoon at midfield.
Eddie Brennan and Martin Comerford provided most support for Shefflin in an attack that improved when Willie O'Dwyer arrived midway through the second half.
Clare played a two-man full forward line for a period in the second half but Kilkenny held their formation which proved a sound tactic as they continued to win lots of possession further out. And with Shefflin on such a relentlessly productive streak, Clare's resistance eventually crumbled.
The momentum was with them when they came within a point of Kilkenny after 63 minutes but once again Shefflin intervened.
He broke Clare hearts with his high-octane efficiency which ultimately was the difference between the sides. Westmeath, Wexford, Galway and Clare have all been scorched by Shefflin's searing heat over the past few months, a development that will be noted in the Cork camp.
He remains the biggest threat to their three-in-a-row bid and will figure very prominently in all strategy sessions.
Indeed, Cork's treble bid could depend on how successfully they police the best sniper in modern-day hurling.