Gaule leads way as Cats cruise to title
Kilkenny 1-15 Clare 0-4
Experience proved the key factor as Kilkenny powered past Clare to win the Division 1 camogie league title at Semple Stadium.
The Noresiders handled the occasion much better, as a sizeable crowd turned up in Thurles for the curtain-raiser to the hurling decider.
Having appeared in the All-Ireland final last September, Kilkenny were more accustomed to operating on the big stage, while this was Clare's first appearance in a senior national decider.
Colm Honan's crew looked nervous early on, particularly in failing to convert a couple of good opportunities from frees. And as Kilkenny edged ahead, they began to chase goals in the first half, when they needed points to remain in touch.
In fairness to the Bannerwomen, who defeated the champions of the past two years, Cork, in the semi-final, they were not helped at all by the loss of wing-back Eimear Considine to a knee injury in the seventh minute.
That definitely unsettled them and their defensive unit was definitely weaker for the reshuffle.
The opening quarter was cagey, with the wind and pre-match rain making playing conditions difficult. Kilkenny opened up, though, with player of the match Denise Gaule and the excellent Miriam Walsh shooting points to make it 0-5 to 0-1 after 20 minutes.
Clare's longest-serving operator Deirdre Murphy presented their chief threat and she scored a lovely point to make it 0-5 to 0-2.
Kilkenny finished the half strongly, though, and points from Gaule (free), Leann Fennelly, Aine Connery and Walsh gave them a seven-point interval lead.
Chloe Morey landed a trademark long-distance free immediately after the restart but that would be Clare's last score until Murphy's injury-time point.
Instead, with Mairead Power and Jacqui Frisby completely on top in their full-back line, and Ann Dalton, Gaule and Walsh dominant, Kilkenny exerted themselves further.
Gaule brought her tally to six points with four well-taken scores, including three from play, while Walsh and Fennelly also found the target.
Aoife Neary goaled from close range in the 41st minute to cement their superiority and Emma Kavanagh made a good block, with Frisby completing a goal-line clearance, to deny Ellen Horgan a consolation goal.
And though Murphy, Kate Lynch and Maire McGrath put up a brave resistance, Clare were never going to deny Kilkenny.
"We knew that it was going to go one of two ways," said the Cats' co-manager, Graham Dillon.
"It was either going to be an open hurling match or it was going to be a dogfight, and luckily enough we kind of dictated it and it turned into an open hurling match.
"We knew if it went that way we definitely had the hurlers to kick on so we're happy enough.
"We have an extremely strong squad. They work very hard and push one another on in training. We were just saying the other night, there's no easy options in training. Everyone who picks you up is going to give you a hard time.
"We are working hard in training and luckily we were able to bring it onto the playing field today."
SCORERS – Kilkenny: D Gaule 0-6 (3fs), M Walsh 0-4, A Neary 1-0, L Fennelly, A Connery 0-2 each, A Dalton 0-1. Clare: D Murphy 0-3 (f), C Morey 0-1 (f).
KILKENNY: E Kavanagh; M Power, K McDonald, J Frisby; C Dormer, E Keane, E Aylward; A Dalton, A Dunphy; A Connery, M Walsh, D Gaule; M Quilty, L Fennelly, A Neary. Subs: C Phelan for Connery (51), M Dargan for Walsh (54), A Kinsella for Aylward (59).
CLARE: D Lynch; R McMahon, M McGrath, C O'Leary; N O'Dea, C Morey, E Considine; K Lynch, O Duggan; D Murphy, F Lafferty, C Hennessy; N Kaiser, L McMahon, E Horgan. Subs: K Horgan for Considine (7), C McMahon for Hennessy (19), H McMahon for K Horgan (45), V Loughnane for E Horgan (46), K Cahill for Duggan (50), A Griffin for O'Leary (59).
REF – G O'Dowd (Limerick).