Cats fail to claw back from first-half blitz
Clare 2-18 Kilkenny 1-18
Kilkenny may be misfiring in a manner that the Nowlan Park faithful haven't witnessed for a long time, but they remain utterly convinced that it will be corrected in due course.
It's a slow, frustrating process as they are beginning to realise but the spirit among the squad and supporters remains very much intact.
That was evident in the second half of a cracking contest in Nowlan Park yesterday when Kilkenny's on-field defiance, which empowered them to reduce an eight-point interval deficit to two points in the 67th minute, energised their supporters in the crowd of 6,416 into believing that a full recovery was likely.
Alan Murphy, who had earlier struck 0-10 from placed balls, missed a chance to reduce the margin to a point when dragging a 65' wide before Clare sub, Niall Deasy closed out the scoring in stoppage time. He was one of ten Clare players to score in a game where their first-half blitz took them 11 points clear after 19 minutes.
They had inflicted all of the damage in 11 minutes of impressive enterprise, accompanied by a lucky break when Kilkenny goalkeeper, Eoin Murphy, fumbled a long range shot by David Reidy over the goal line.
Clare's first goal, scored in the eighth minute, was a much purer effort, clinically finished by Shane O'Donnell.
With Clare leading by 2-7 to 0-2, the challenge facing Kilkenny looked insurmountable as they were being ripped apart all over the pitch. They needed a quick response and it came when Bill Sheehan flicked the ball to the net off a long range free from Murphy.
It stabilised Kilkenny's effort to some degree but they were still encountering problems, which prompted Brian Cody to introduced no fewer than three subs in the first half hour.
Different times indeed for Kilkenny but circumstances demanded it. The replacements, Pat Lyng, Martin Keoghan and Enda Morrissey did well and are likely to see more action when Kilkenny resume their league commitments on Sunday week.
Clare led 2-12 to 1-7 at half-time before Kilkenny cut the margin to five points early in the second half. They were six down at the three-quarter stage but raised their game considerably in the next 15 minutes, firing over four points.
Clare had plenty of chances to extend their advantage, only to be let down by poor shooting. They hit 12 wides in the second half, taking their total to 18.
Such waste might have been fatal on another day but their large first half deposits provided them with enough to live off.
"Our finishing left a bit to be desired. We had a monopoly of possession but Kilkenny were left in the game and they kept coming back. You never run away with anything in Nowlan Park," said Clare joint-manager, Donal Moloney.
They ran plenty of positive lines and angles in the first half, in particular, working the ball cleverly out of defence and finding colleagues with long and short passes. It was deeply frustrating for Kilkenny, who weren't closing down opponents or space in a manner which usually comes as second nature to them.
Or at least it used to, but times are different now as they operate off more modest playing resources than was the case during the many glory years they enjoyed since 2000.
They are short some well-established names who will, no doubt, be back for the championship but Cody has no interest in dwelling on absent friends.
"Any time you go out you're not experimenting because who is to say who will play in the championship anyway? The fellas on the field today were the Kilkenny senior hurling team and that's it.
"At the end of the day you've got to get out there and play on the day. You can never legislate for what might happen in the future. You can only deal with what happened today and how it went. Everybody that was out there was fully intent on trying to hold on to a jersey. And some fellas did themselves a lot of good," Cody added.
That was certainly the case in the second half when Clare were held scoreless for 20 minutes.
"The first half and the second half were very, very different. In the first half the game went away from us. Clare were totally on top.
"We were eight points down at half-time but obviously the reaction in the second half was very, very good.
"We really went at it - there was great honesty in the team, great drive. We created a lot of scores and really got back into the game so I'm very happy with the second half and very disappointed with the first half," said Cody.
Having beaten Tipperary and Kilkenny now, Clare are delighted with just about every facet of the league so far and while they aren't looking too far ahead, the reality is that one more point from their remaining three games would almost certainly be enough to earn them a quarter-final place.
"We're happy with the start we've made but we would want to be more efficient that we were in the second half today. Having said that, we're delighted with the fight shown by our players. They applied themselves brilliantly over the two games," said Moloney
And while he was disappointed with the wides total, the fact that they created so many chances is encouraging.
"They were fractionally off at times. It's something we're going to have to look at because it was an issue for us last year too. It's something we'll have to work on."
Scorers - Clare: D Reidy 1-3, P Duggan 0-5 (3f, 1s/l), J Conlon 0-3, S O'Donnell 1-0, C Malone 0-2, D Fitzgerald, C Galvin, T Kelly, S Morey, N Deasy 0-1 each. Kilkenny: A Murphy 0-10 (8f, 2'65s'), B Sheehan 1-0, W Walsh, M Keoghan, E Murphy (2f) 0-2 each, R Leahy, P Lyng 0-1 each.
Clare: D Tuohy 7; J Browne 7, C Cleary 7, P O'Connor 7; D Fitzgerald 7 D McInerney 8, S Morey 7; C Galvin 8 T Kelly 7; C Malone 7, J Conlon 8, D Reidy 8; S O'Donnell 7, P Duggan 7 (0-5, 3f, 1s/l), P Collins 6. Subs: M O'Malley 6 for Fitzgerald (55), I Galvin 6 for Collins (61), N Deasy (0-1) for Malone (66), J McCarthy for Duggan (71).
Kilkenny: E Murphy 6; J Holden 7, P Walsh 7, P Deegan 6; C Buckley 7, R Lennon 6, J Lyng 5; J Maher 7, O Walsh 6; J Donnelly 6, R Reid 5, R Leahy 8; B Sheehan 7, W Walsh 8, A Murphy 7 (0-10, 8f, 2'65'). Subs: E Morrissey 7 for J Lyng (19), P Lynch 7 for O Walsh (26), M Keoghan 7 for Reid (26), C O'Shea 6 for Lennon (44), L Blanchfield for Donnelly (62).
Ref - J McGrath (Westmeath)