Clare maul hapless Saffrons to close in on treble
Clare 4-28 Antrim 1-10
CLARE moved to within an hour of a third successive Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U-21 hurling crown with a merciless 27-point demolition of Antrim at Semple Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The hapless Saffrons were buried under a saffron and blue avalanche for a second successive year, having suffered a 22-point mauling in the 2013 final.
Aaron Cunningham led the charge for a Clare team that finished with 11 different scorers, Peter Duggan the odd man out in attack.
It was impressive stuff from a Clare side littered with senior stars still carrying the hurt of a failed Liam MacCarthy Cup defence.
Clare had served notice of their intentions in the U-21 grade with a Munster final blitzkrieg of Cork and Antrim were the latest victims to feel their wrath.
Cunningham hit 3-3, including two goals before half-time, as the Banner men led by 2-16 to 1-1 at the break.
They were 1-7 to 0-0 clear before Seán McAfee opened Antrim's account with an 18th-minute goal.
But resistance was futile as Clare completed a landslide win with further goals from 2013 Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly and Cunningham in the second half.
And yet joint-manager Gerry O'Connor insisted that there is still further room for improvement from Clare ahead of a September 13 showdown against Wexford, a fixture that will bring together many of the players that featured in the two classic senior ties that lit up the summer.
O'Connor admitted: "It's not ideal preparation heading into an All-Ireland final.
"We were expecting a tougher test, based on what we had been hearing during the course of the last two months.
"Ultimately, once the first goal went in, and when we went four or five points up and the sweeper system wasn't working for them, that was really game over after about ten or 15 minutes."
Hinting at major changes within Antrim, manager Kevin Ryan said: "We know what we have to do. We have plans to change all that and it's not dream stuff in the future.
"It's things that we have happening in the next month or two.
"We're going to take that opportunity over a year or two to seriously close that gap. And that's our ambition."
Ryan added: "We prepared to try and be in the game.
"We know one of the gaps is physicality, that total lifestyle of fitness that they (Clare) would have.
"We still felt we could have been within ten or 12 points of them if things had gone right for us."
Scorers - Clare: A Cunningham 3-3, T Kelly 1-3, C O'Connell 0-6 (5f), B Duggan 0-5 (3f), D Reidy 0-3, C Galvin & S O'Donnell 0-2 each, J Shanahan, E Enright, N Deasy & S Gleeson 0-1 each. Antrim: Seán McAfee 1-0, Stephen McAfee & C Clarke (1f), 0-3 each, M Bradley, D McKernan, C Burke & S McCaughan 0-1 each.
Antrim - C Butler; M Dudley, P Burke, M Bradley; R McCambridge, J McGreevy, T Ó Ciaráin; E Campbell, N McKenna; D McCloskey, Stephen McAfee, D McGuinness; D McKernan, Seán McAfee, C Clarke. Subs: C Burke for McGuinness (30), S McCaughan for McCloskey (h-t), J O'Connell for McKenna (38), M Connolly for McCambridge (44), E McGaughan for Seán McAfee (51).
Clare - K Hogan; J Colleran, J Browne, S Morey; G O'Connell, A O'Neill, J Shanahan; C Galvin, E Enright; B Duggan, T Kelly, P Duggan; S O'Donnell, A Cunningham, D Reidy.
Subs: C O'Connell for Reidy (30+1), N Deasy for B Duggan (h-t), S O'Brien for Morey (46), S Gleeson for Galvin (46), A McGuane for Shanahan (51).
Ref- P O'Dwyer (Carlow)