Cats licked as ruthless Clare show opponents no mercy
Allianz NHL Division 1 Clare 2-19 Kilkenny 0-12
For the first time in almost a year a stop has been put to Tony Kelly's almost inexorable hurling gallop.
The Clare talisman presented himself for entry to the VIP section at top of the stand in Cusack Park ahead of this Allianz Division 1A match but, without sufficient paperwork, a steadfast steward wasn't having any of it, re-routing him off in another direction with indifference to who he was.
Eventually, Kelly got access and took his seat to watch his colleagues underline that their dependency on him is perhaps not as great as it has generally seemed in recent years and certainly appeared to be in Pairc Ui Rinn eight days earlier when he scored six of their paltry 11 points in defeat to Cork.
But that was just a small sub-plot in Ennis yesterday, a mere footnote to the plight of the vanquished visitors.
When Clare hit Kilkenny for four goals on the way to a nine-point win in a Thurles league semi-final last April the general consensus was that the absence of Paul Murphy, Michael and Colin Fennelly and Conor Fogarty and Eoin Larkin was too much to absorb. And that consensus held until the All-Ireland final defeat to Tipperary when their defence was torn apart.
But this was far more worrying from a Kilkenny point of view than that Thurles encounter.
Murphy and Fogarty were both present here, Larkin has retired and the older Fennelly has sustained an injury that offers no real guarantees about a complete return. Without their enforcer in more recent years Kilkenny, you feel, are missing their most important component.
That leaves Colin Fennelly and Ger Alyward to supplement an attack that was devoid of presence and even touch so often yesterday.
A grim air of bewilderment was palpable as the players and back room staff filed quickly out of their dressing-room and on to the team bus afterwards.
For the closing 13 minutes it had been an air of resignation.
TJ Reid won a penalty which, if converted for a goal would have left just four points in it in the 59th minute and offered a small crumb of comfort that their performance didn't deserve. But Donal Tuohy saved brilliantly and though Reid converted a subsequent 65 it was Kilkenny's last score.
They didn't chase or compete sufficiently as Clare struck an unanswered 1-4 to see the game out comfortably, as unforgivable in Kilkenny terms as it gets as a 13-point defeat eclipsed the 12-point 2011 league final loss to Dublin as the biggest on Brian Cody's watch.
Physically, they again struggled against fired up opponents. At one stage near the end Liam Blanchfield took off on a run down the town side but was pursued by three opponents and caught with a heavy shoulder, leaving him in need of treatment and removal. Walter Walsh didn't see the second half either after being caught by a similar challenge.
The withdrawal of Richie Hogan in the 49th minute wasn't forced. After scoring an early point that, you felt, might calm nerves, Hogan was too peripheral and made way.
Without him buzzing and without Reid making any real inroads it's hard to see where Kilkenny can amass any kind of winning score right now.
Typically, Cody didn't seek to make excuses for such a poor performance.
"I don't know why. There are no excuses. We didn't play well in the first-half but we didn't play well in the second-half either. You are always concerned if you are not playing well. We are just going to keep going and move on," he said.
"We were well beaten, no doubt about that, but there are aspects we were unhappy about. It is early in the season but the game was on today and did we want to win it, of course we did."
For so long Cody has been able to propagate Kilkenny talent so impressively. Acorns under his husbandry have almost always made the most impressive oak. But now that challenge looks greater than it has been for a few years.
Evan Cody was given his debut at right corner-back but it was quite a baptism for him as Aron Shanagher cut loose in the opening 13 minutes with an involvement in every score as they led by 1-5 to 0-2.
Shanagher scored two points and also set up a goal with a deft pass for Wolfe Tones club mate Aaron Cunningham after only two minutes. Kilkenny were always chasing after that.
By half-time Cody had been replaced by Shane Prendergast who coped better but there was always a sense that Kilkenny were vulnerable to pace and space. Padraig Walsh's taking his place at full-back may be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul but he gave his team a sense of security there that they badly needed.
Behind him Eoin Murphy was worth his weight in gold, stopping a David Reidy shot in the first half after some wonderful approach work from the Banner and denying John Conlon late in the game.
Clare were dominant across their half-back line where David Fitzgerald was such an imposing figure. Conlon also provided presence at half-forward while Podge Collins chipped in with two points and buzzed around the place with great energy.
Cathal McInerney made a big contribution off the bench, scoring two points and winning a free for Shanagher to convert.
Joint-managers Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor were pleased with the response from last week's loss to Cork.
"We put a defensive structure to give us that platform to allow us to attack Kilkenny the way we did. And that's ultimately it.
"There was a lot of reflection," he said of the previous weekend, "a lot of discussion and ultimately we put in place a game-plan that came off today.
"Some days these come off, some days they don't and there will be a lot more performances good and bad from a lot of teams over the course of the league because it appears there is very little between any of the six teams in that league."
Kilkenny will rebound and pick up points but the guarantees of the past just aren't there any more.
Scorers - Clare: A Shanagher 1-4 (0-1f), D Reidy 0-7 (6fs, 1 65), A Cunningham 1-0, C McInerney, P Collins 0-2 each, J McCarthy, J Conlon, D Fitzgerald, P Duggan (f) all 0-1 each
Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-7 (4 65s, 2fs), C Fogarty 0-2, R Leahy, E Murphy (f) R Hogan all 0-1 each.
Clare - D Tuohy 8; S Morey 7, C Dillon 7, O O'Brien 7; B Bugler 7, C Cleary 7, D Fitzgerald 8; J Shanahan 7, D Reidy 7; J Conlon 7, P Collins 8, C Malone 6; S O'Donnell 6, A Cunningham 6, A Shanagher 9. Subs: C McInerney 8 for Cunningham (51), J McCarthy 6 or Reidy (57), P Duggan for Malone (66), S Golden for Shanahan (66), P Donnellan for Bugler (71).
Kilkenny - E Murphy 8; E Cody 5, P Walsh 7, C O'Shea 6; J Holden 6, P Murphy 6, K Joyce 7; C Fogarty 6, C Buckley 7; L Blanchfield 6, TJ Reid 7, R Leahy 6; R Hogan 5, W Walsh 5, K Kelly 5. Subs: S Prendergast 6 for Cody, JJ Farrell 5 for Walsh (35+1), J Maher 5 for Hogan (49), O Walsh 5 for Kelly (57), S Morrissey for Blanchfield (67)
Ref - J Owens (Wexford)