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Classy Cats cream Clare

Kilkenny kings as Banner gets ripped to shreds KILKENNY 2-20 ; CLARE 0-19 KILKENNY are in 27th heaven this morning after moving to within one title of Cork on the Guinness All-Ireland honours table while the rest of the hurling world are still wondering how such a massively hyped final could collapse so badly.

As referee, Aodan MacSuibhne, who gave an excellent performance, blew the final whistle, a rainbow shimmered away in the distance as if pointing towards another Kilkenny crock of gold. Once again, they had exerted their substantial influence over Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, winning the senior and minor finals by a combined total of 21 points.

They had also completed the League-Championship double for the first time since 1983 and finished the season with ten wins from eleven competitive games, with their only loss coming against Galway in a League game last spring.

It was all very impressive by Kilkenny, in contrast to Clare who will be bitterly disappointed by the anaemic nature of their performance. The colour had long since drained from Clare cheeks after a painful collision with the stark reality that Kilkenny were a vastly superior side who looked well capable of raising their game if the circumstances required it. Kilkenny simply bowled along at a pace which was sufficient to keep clear of Clare who, apart from a spell at the start of the second half, were out-hurled, out-thought and out-scored.

Clare's pre-match comments stressed the imperative not to dither in the starting stalls as they had done against Galway and Waterford. "If we do that against Kilkenny it's good night, Irene," remarked James O'Connor on press night.

Six minutes into yesterday's game, Irene was on her way out as Clare had committed the very sin they promised to avoid. While they were still packing their gear in the foothills, Kilkenny were half way up the mountain and beginning to dream of Andy Comerford's victory speech at the summit.

DJ Carey's third minute goal, finished with typical touch and timing when he got to a Henry Shefflin lob ahead of his pursuers, wounded Clare so badly that even at that early stage, their fans must have felt an ominous chill sweeping into the massive stadium which, incidentally, didn't quite fill for the first All-Ireland in its redeveloped state. At 1-2 to 0-0 after six minutes, Kilkenny were in comfort mode, a condition they enjoyed for most of the day. They attacked Clare down straight down the middle, with Shefflin and Martin Comerford finding that their 'in-your-face' approach left Seanie McMahon and Brian Lohan so preoccupied with personal problems that they were unable to act as minders for troubled colleagues.

Despite Colin Lynch's industry, Andy Comerford and Derek Lyng ruled the key battle grounds around midfield, forcing Clare to send Ollie Baker in for John Reddan after just 20 minutes. They didn't expect to be forced into such an early adjustment but it underlined the extent of their problems on a day which started well when Gerry Quinn's remarkable recovery from a hand injury enabled him to line out at left half-back.

He played quite well too, as did goalkeeper, Davy Fitzgerald, who showcased his value when he turned a Shefflin drive from close range over the bar in the 15th minute. In fairness to McMahon and Lohan, they played their way into the game but could never fully impose themselves against Kilkenny's busy and inventive attack.

Still, McMahon ended up as Clare's top scorer on 0-6 (3 '65's, 2 frees and one from play), which puts their severe attacking problems into perspective. McMahon is a wonderful long range striker but he should be part of the auxiliary strike force, not the main weapon.

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Facts don't lie and a breakdown of Clare's 0-19 provides the perfect illustration of their attacking deficiencies. Six points came from their centre-back; four came from James O'Connor frees; midfielders, Lynch and Baker landed three between as did subs Gearoid Considine and Andrew Quinn.

That leaves just 0-3 from play between the six starting forwards, a truly miserable return on any day but even more grim yesterday as it compared so unfavourably with Kilkenny, whose original forward line landed 2-9 from play. Shefflin and Carey scored 1-3 each from play, while they also were also in punishing mood from placed balls, adding another 0-7 between them.

Carey's return to the Kilkenny squad prior to the semi-final was unquestionably the final piece in Brian Cody's cleverly constructed jigsaw. Not only did Carey return a high yield yesterday, he also created several openings for colleagues and decorated a memorable day with a beautiful point after rolling the ball on his hurley in the 52nd minute.

Shefflin also scored and created at will, while Martin Comerford's sheer persistence was a constant source of menace for Brian Lohan. Comerford crowned his debut All-Ireland with a blockdown on Lohan on the Cusack Stand side in the 64th minute, followed by a cross which Shefflin steered to the corner of the net.

The artistry which Carey and Shefflin displayed for their goals contrasted with the marked absence of craft at the other end. Clare majored in effort but had neither the subtlety nor the poise to dislodge a Kilkenny defence where full-backs, Michael Kavanagh, Noel Hickey and Philip Larkin were immense.

All three stood proud and strong with Larkin, in particular, having a wonderful game, which matched anything his father, 'Fan' ever delivered in an All-Ireland final. That's some compliment but it's the least Philip deserves.

The only period when the Kilkenny defence looked troubled was immediately after half-time when Clare set about paring back an interval deficit of 1-11 to 0-8. They out-scored Kilkenny by 0-4 to 0-1 in the first 13 minute to trail by 1-12 to 0-12 and would have been closer were it not for misses from Markham and Lynch.

It was the only time that Kilkenny were asked the hard questions and they didn't take long to find the answers. They calmly re-asserted themselves and fired over six points between the 50th and 59th minutes to crush Clare's resistance.

Kilkenny sent on Charlie Carter and Brian McEvoy, who quickly added a point each and, right at the end, they gave that great warrior, John Power a chance to contribute to another All-Ireland final success in what is probably his final season. It was that type of occasion for Kilkenny, an occasion when they saw out the final 15 minutes on auto-pilot while Clare's hopes of winning a 4th All-Ireland title had crashed under the heavy weight of forward failure.

SCORERS Kilkenny: H Shefflin 1-7 (4f), DJ Carey 1-6 (3f), M Comerford, E Brennan, A Comerford, J Coogan, D Lyng, B McEvoy, C Carter 0-1 each. Clare: S McMahon 0-6 (3'65's, 2 f), J O'Connor 0-4 (4f), C Lynch, N Gilligan, G Considine 0-2 each, T Griffin, A Quinn, O Baker 0-1 each.

KILKENNY J McGarry 8; M Kavanagh 9, N Hickey 9, P Larkin 9; R Mullally 8, P Barry 7, JJ Delaney 7; A Comerford 8, D Lyng 8; J Hoyne 7, H Shefflin 9, J Coogan 7; E Brennan 7, M Comerford 8, DJ Carey 9. Subs: C Carter 7 for Coogan (53), B McEvoy 7 for Hoyne (56), J Power for Brennan (71).

Booked: P Barry (42)

CLARE D Fitzgerald 8; B Quinn 7, B Lohan 7, F Lohan 7; D Hoey 6, S McMahon 7, G Quinn 8; J Reddan 5, C Lynch 7; J O'Connor 7, T Griffin 6, A Markham 5; T Carmody 6, N Gilligan 7, D Forde 5. Subs: O Baker 7 for Reddan (20), G Considine 8 for Forde (56), A Quinn 7 for Markham (61), C Plunkett for Baker (69). Booked: T Griffin (45), B Quinn (51).

REF A MacSuibhne (Dublin)

Attendance: 76,254