KILKENNY'S 20th ESB All-Ireland minor hurling title was one of their most hard earned (2-10 to 0-14), 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 sub 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 only 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 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.
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 0-2 each, N Arthur 0-2f, 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).