Kilkenny 2-26 Clare 0-20
IN the history of hurling no manager is better than Brian Cody at extracting the maximum return from a team both individually and collectively. So, despite losing twice in the Leinster series, Kilkenny will contest the All-Ireland final on Sunday week.
In a disappointingly one-sided semi-final in Croke Park, they demolished Clare with arguably one of their best performances since beating the defending All-Ireland champions Limerick in the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final.
They were simply in a different class to a subdued Clare side who never touched the heights they reached during the Munster championship. A goal from Martin Keoghan in injury time at the end of the first half gave the Cats a commanding 1-17 to 0-6 advantage at the break. A second goal in the 42nd minute from Cian Kenny essentially wrapped up the tie.
Man of the Match TJ Reid was outstanding with a 0-10 contribution and his performance in the first quarter set the tone for Kilkenny’s dominance. In contrast Tony Kelly failed to sparkle; he didn’t score from play and Clare notched up 23 wides on a evening to forget.
Incredibly, this is Cody’s 17th time to manage Kilkenny to victory in an All-Ireland semi-final since 1999. Ominously for Kilkenny’s final opponents, the 67-year old has only been the losing manager in just five of his final appearances.
For Clare it was a bitterly disappointing end of a championship campaign in which they were unbeaten in normal time in their five previous matches but came up woefully short.
Centre-back John Conlon, a pivotal figure this season, was ruled out through injury. His place was taken by Páidí Fitzpatrick, who was making his first championship start this season having made his debut last year at the age of 30.
There were a plethora of positional changes. As expected, David McInerney went to centre-back while Cathal Malone and Ryan Taylor started at midfield. Kilkenny opted to give Mikey Butler the job of policing Tony Kelly and he did a superb job.
The first quarter was dominated by Kilkenny, who looked sharper in all sectors. McInerney did squander a couple of long distance placed balls but the Munster side were unable to get Tony Kelly on the ball.
In contrast TJ Reid, who had Paul Flanagan as his marker, was central to all the best of Kilkenny’s enterprising early play. He provided the assist for two Adrian Mullen points; another for Eoin Cody after robbing Clare’s full back Conor Cleary. He also converted two frees - one from his own 65 and a point from play.
It was 7-2 after 12 minutes before David Fitzgerald notched his second point and Clare’s first score for ten minutes. They did improve marginally at the start of the second quarter with Diarmuid Ryan hitting two excellent points – but in between his two scores he fouled Cian Kenny.
Clare were reduced to hitting hopeful shots from distance and their inaccuracy came back to haunt them. With ten minutes left in the first half, Clare had notched nine wides and dropped two shots shorts while the Cats recorded one wide.
Kilkenny were far more clinical. After Clare had reduced the margin to four points in the 21st minute, their opponents reeled off six points on the spin. Clare introduced Aron Shanagher who replaced Ian Galvin after 27 minutes, but it made no difference.
Clare’s problems stemmed from their inability of their backs to cope with the power and precision of the Kilkenny forwards. TJ Reid was giving Paul Flanagan a torrid time and Adrian Mullen, who moved to the half forward line, was exploiting the inexperience of Fitzpatrick. By half time he had hit four points from play.
Clare goalkeeper Eibhear Quilligan saved his side in the 30th minute with a brilliant save from Eoin Cody – the move ended with a Billy Ryan point. But the individual excellence of Quilligan couldn’t save his side in injury time at the end of the half.
Ironically, for the first time in the contest, Peter Duggan made a threatening run but his shot was blocked by Richie Reid. Kilkenny tidied up at the back before launching a counter-attack which the Clare full-back line failed to deal with and Martin Keoghan goaled at the second attempt after Quilligan had heroically blocked his first effort.
The half time whistle couldn’t come fast enough for Clare as Kilkenny were in complete control, leading 1-17 to 0-6 at the break. It had been the longest 36 minutes of hurling for Clare, whose fans in the official attendance of 39,626 had fallen silent.
Despite scoring his goal, Keoghan was withdrawn at half time with Walter Walsh replacing him. Clare introduced Mark Rodgers and and Aaron Fitzgerald.
Tony Kelly’s evening of woe continued when he struck a free off the upright though Clare did hit the next two points, but after 42 minutes Kilkenny exploited weaknesses in the Clare defence again with Walter Walsh setting up Cian Kenny for their second goal.
By the 45th minute it was 2-19 to 0-10. Tony Kelly, who had recorded five wides, was replaced by Peter Duggan but he was substituted four minutes later. However, inspired primarily by the excellent David Fitzgerald, Clare rallied and scored five of the next six points. It was the first time in the contest that they built up some degree of momentum and Kilkenny briefly looked leggy.
But as they had done throughout, Kilkenny retained control again with a couple of scores and as the crowd headed for the exits, the game petered out to its inevitable conclusion.
Clare: T Kelly (3f, 1 65), S O’Donnell 0-4 each; D Fitzgerald, D Ryan 0-3 each, M Rogers 0-2, R Hayes, D McInerney, R Taylor, P Duggan (1f) 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-10 (7f), A Mullen 0-5, C Kenny 1-2, E Cody 0-3, P Walsh 0-2, M Keoghan 1-0, B Ryan 0-2, C Browne, W Walsh 0-1 each.
Clare: E Quilligan; R Hayes, C Cleary, P Flanagan; D Ryan, D McInerney, P Fitzpatrick; D Reidy, R Taylor; S O’Donnell, T Kelly, D Fitzgerald; D Reidy, I Galvin, P Duggan. Subs: A Shanagher for Galvin (27), M Rodgers for Reidy ht; A Fitzgerald for Fitzpatrick (ht), S Meehan for Duggan (49), S Golden for Taylor (65)
Kilkenny: E Murphy; H Jawlor, T Walsh, P Deegan; R Reid, M Butler, M Carey, C Kenny, C Browne; A Mullen, P Walsh, B Ryan; TJ Reid, M Keoghan, E Cody. Subs: W Walsh for Keoghan ht; J Donnelly for P Walsh (49), R Leahy for Browne (62), A Murphy for Ryan(66), D Blanchfield for Carey (70 +2)
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)