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O'Donnell finds his range to stun the Cats and book play-off spot

Kilkenny 1-19 Clare 3-13

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Banner blast: Shane O’Donnell shoots past Kilkenny’s Conor Browne to score a goal for Clare during yesterday’s League clash at UPMC Nowlan Park. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Banner blast: Shane O’Donnell shoots past Kilkenny’s Conor Browne to score a goal for Clare during yesterday’s League clash at UPMC Nowlan Park. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Banner blast: Shane O’Donnell shoots past Kilkenny’s Conor Browne to score a goal for Clare during yesterday’s League clash at UPMC Nowlan Park. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Brian Cody didn't have to speak about his frustration after his Kilkenny team blew a strong second-half position in an Allianz Division 1B game for the second successive week. His demeanour said it all.

Try as he did to adopt a diplomatic tone that respected Clare's comeback in the closing minutes, Kilkenny's benevolence was rattling around in his mind and seeping out through his words. Brevity was everything.

Having let Wexford off the hook by failing to capitalise on a gale in the second half seven days ago, Kilkenny didn't close the deal in UPMC Nowlan Park either, allowing Clare to snatch a point and become the first team from the group to ensure a place in the play-offs. A win over Dublin next week would see them top the group and advance straight to the semi-finals.

In truth, they could have nicked both points in a frantic finish that captivated the 5,716 attendance.

Trailing by four points in the 66th minute after Eoin Cody's magnificent catch and point put Kilkenny 1-17 to 2-10 clear, Tony Kelly (free) and Diarmuid Ryan edged them closer.

Shane O'Donnell, a telling influence throughout, then pounced through a thicket of scrambling bodies on a fumble by Kilkenny goalkeeper Darren Brennan to poke home for the lead.

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Liam Corry of Clare and Ger Aylward of Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Liam Corry of Clare and Ger Aylward of Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Liam Corry of Clare and Ger Aylward of Kilkenny. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

However brief it was - Walter Walsh equalised at the other end from the puck-out - Clare felt momentum and when Aaron Cunningham fired over his shoulder for the lead, it looked like they could deliver the victory.

Alan Murphy quelled things again with a free to equalise, but Clare weren't backing away and when it opened up for David McInerney on the back of a wonderful catch from O'Donnell, he looked sure to score. However, his shot drifted wide and was quickly followed by Kelly misjudging a bounce as he went to pick up with a goal chance on.

There was still time for more and Pat O'Connor needed to be exact when he hooked Bill Sheehan in the final run as the substitute went to pull the trigger, though why Liam Gordon didn't allow 'play on' with Kilkenny in a good position from the rebound was a curious one.

Absentees

Cody and Kilkenny will be comforted by the gold-plated list of absentees. TJ Reid, Colin Fennelly, Joey Holden and Padraig Walsh are all still to return after successful club exploits, while Conor Fogarty and Eoin Murphy are recovering from injuries.

But this was another game they had a grip on and didn't sufficiently squeeze, as illustrated by rival manager Brian Lohan, who was delighted to get something out of the game "because for long periods of the second half it didn't look like we would."

Lohan has rotated his squad in these opening four games, but ultimately everything still pivots around Kelly.

Kelly is the hurling equivalent of what Michael Murphy is to Donegal's footballers - a player required for countless duties. Their influences on their respective teams are profound.

One minute Kelly was back behind his half-backs mopping up, the next he had pushed far higher and was, for a long time in the second half, Clare's only attacking threat.

He finished with seven points, (five frees) but left scores out there too, missing the target from two frees, a 65 and two shots from play as part of their portfolio of 17 wides overall.

O'Donnell was Clare's other source of inspiration, always a goal threat with his willingness to present himself as a moving target and ability to quickly get control of the ball.

He had an involvement in all three goals, scoring the first with a great take and turn from a Kelly clearance on seven minutes before trapping Colin Guilfoyle's delivery on 23 minutes and picking out Ryan Taylor, whose pace took him by the cover and his shot gave Brennan no chance as they took a 2-3 to 0-8 lead.

"I was never involved with him at underage," said Lohan of O'Donnell. "But I never realised how good he was until I saw him up close. He is a good player, a really good player. And he showed it there."

By then Kilkenny had lost Adrian Mullen to a knee injury that was causing some concern in the Killkenny camp afterwards and Clare pushed on, scoring the next four points to open a five-point lead as half-time approached. But Richie Leahy and Alan Murphy (free) points put Kilkenny in a stronger position for the second half, 2-7 to 0-10 behind.

While Mullen was a big loss, it gave an opportunity to Ger Alyward, who snapped a goal when he raced on to a break in the 44th minute. That looked like it would put sufficient distance between them.

Kilkenny got to further integrate some of the younger Ballyhale players, with Darren Mullen lively at half-back and Cody showing his ability with that point. Their defence, however, struggled against a high ball and when Clare got Aron Shanagher on he did damage.

Kilkenny looked to have found a corner-back with the granite presence of Jackie Tyrrell, with Ciaran Wallace holding his own impressively.

Richie Hogan also got more game time and looked sharp before being withdrawn in the 44th minute.

Lohan admitted to being pleased with the response that his players have found in Wexford Park and now in Kilkenny. "There's a bit in them. Good resilience, good toughness," he said.

Cody revealed Mullen had gone to hospital after being stretchered off with a "good bit of discomfort in his knee."

Scorers - Kilkenny: A Murphy 0-7 (7f); G Alyward 1-1; A Mullen, W Walsh, J Donnelly 0-2 each; B Ryan, E Cody, R Leahy, R Hogan, D Mullen 0-1 each. Clare: S O'Donnell 2-1; T Kelly 0-7 (5f); R Taylor 1-0; D Reidy, J Conlon, A Cunningham, D Ryan, C Guilfoyle 0-1 each.

Kilkenny - D Brennan 6; C Browne 5, H Lawlor 6, C Wallace 8; C Delaney 7, P Deegan 7, D Mullen 7; C Buckley 6, A Murphy 7; A Mullen 7, J Donnelly 7, R Leahy 6; B Ryan 6, R Hogan 6, W Walsh 6. Subs: G Alyward 7 for A Mullen (22), T Walsh 6 for Browne (ht), B Sheehan 6 for Hogan (44), E Cody 7 for Ryan (59).

Clare - D Tuohy 7; L Corry 6, C Cleary 7, J Browne 6; S O'Halloran 6, P O'Connor 7, A McCarthy 7; D McInerney 6, T Kelly 8; C Guilfoyle 6, D Reidy 7, D McMahon 6; R Taylor 7, J Conlon 6, S O'Donnell 8. Subs: A Shanagher 7 for Conlon (44), D Ryan 7 for Guilfoyle (45), A Cunningham 7 for Reidy (59), P Collins for Taylor (64), S Morey for McMahon (68).

Ref - L Gordon (Galway).

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