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Clare signs of next glory era

THE main beneficiary from last Saturday's Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling final could well be Clare senior boss Davy Fitzgerald.

The Banner County supremo is in line to reap the rewards following Clare's second U21 success in four seasons.

Clare beat Kilkenny in the 2009 decider and a blistering second-half performance delivered another title at Semple Stadium, with joint-manager Donal Moloney backing his young guns to leave their mark as senior players.

Rich praise was forthcoming from Moloney, who has worked with this bunch from the U16 grade.

Moloney's sidekick Gerry O'Connor set the ball rolling at U14 level before the pair, best friends away from hurling, linked up shortly after.

They've had their fair share of heartbreak, including a 2010 All-Ireland minor final defeat against Kilkenny, but a team backed for glory delivered in style in Thurles.

A devastating second-half display did the trick for a Clare side fuelled by self-belief. They were rocked by two sucker punch goals approaching half-time but Clare won the second half by 1-10 to 0-4.

There were 9,250 spectators present to witness a second-half exhibition and the frightening statistic for would-be challengers in 2013 is that Clare will have 26 survivors from a 35-man squad.

The big hope now is that Clare can push on and make a breakthrough at senior level, following a number of barren seasons. Eight of last Saturday's U21 team have already sampled senior fare and Moloney reckons that a talented crop could emulate the achievements of the great Clare sides that claimed All-Ireland senior titles in 1995 and 1997.

He said: "These guys are incredible athletes, incredible ball players. We're probably looking at probably some of the best potential hurlers in the history of Clare hurling on the field, in terms of what they did here tonight. That's no offence to the guys of the 90s - they were incredible in what they did. These are a different type of player."

And Moloney revealed that the seeds of this success were sown back in May, when Clare demolished Kilkenny in an U21 challenge match in Templetuohy.

He said: "We played Kilkenny down in Templetuohy early on in the year. It was like pressing a light switch with the guys, in terms of how they took them on that night.

"The way it started today, there were shades of that again. But then Kilkenny, true to form, threw everything at us, were very economical in getting their scores and so on, wasted very little, maybe bar one goal chance.

"In the second half, the belief the guys had in Templetuohy and the gameplan in Templetuohy, they rolled it out again and just caught fire."

A lethal full-forward line bagged 2-11 on the night, with Cathal O'Connell notching 1-6. Captain Conor McGrath supplied the assist for O'Connell's first-half goal before weighing in with a crucial haul of 1-1 in the second half.

And Cathal McInerney played his part too, notching four points from play, split evenly between both halves.

Clare's overall display drew praise from Kilkenny boss Richie Mulrooney, who was boss in 2010 when the two counties clashed in the minor decider.

Mulrooney said: "When we beat them in 2010, they were extremely gracious to us, their management team of Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor.

"It's my turn now. I couldn't speak highly enough of the Clare fellas but I'm also really proud of our own lads as well."