Clare’s Dreams of bringing home a 5th Liam McCarthy crown will have to wait another year at least after falling to the sword of a ruthless Kilkenny at Croke Park.
The Loss of Centre Back Pillar John Conlon just before throw in came as a major blow to Clare whose absence forced a last moment reconfiguration. Coupled with twenty three wides and two spurned goal chances was something a Brian Cody side would never look on with pity and today’s encounter proved no exception
TJ Reid on his record seventy second appearance opened the scoring with a free just inside his own half with just 17 seconds on the clock.
However David Fitzgerald would equalise on the resulting puckout after a pinpoint assist from Eibhear Quilligan. Shane O’Donnell followed up with a Clare forwards only point from play in the first half to put Clare in the lead for the sole occasion throughout the seventy minutes.
Adrian Mullen equalised within a minute and followed by late introduction Páidí Fitzpatrick’s wide shortly afterwards, Kilkenny’s taste for blood would shine through setting a precedent for what was to come as Mullen would strike again with immediate effect to restore Kilkenny’s advantage.
By the 12th Minute Kilkenny raced into a five point lead with further additions coming from Eoin Cody (2) , TJ Reid and Midfielder Conor Browne.
David Fitzgerald, Clare’s second highest scorer in this years championship replied from distance, a score which traditionally would provide the catalyst required to begin a stunning Banner revival.
However the competing side’s accuracy at the posts would have the polar opposite results.
By the thirtieth minute Kilkenny created a ten point gap leading by 0-15 to 0-05. TJ Reid With three further strikes accompanied by the able assistance of Eoin Cody, Padraig Walsh, Cian Kenny and Billy Ryan rebounding after A save out of the top drawer from Eibhear Quilligan whilst Clare were forced to rely on the outstanding contributions from Wing Back Diarmuid Ryan landing scores from far back in his own patch to keep Clare in some contention.
Tony Kelly then claimed his first of the day from a placed ball on thirty three minutes on the third attempt and the following failures in Clare’s attack virtually ended the game as a contest before the break.
A marauding run from David Fitzgerald through the centre of Kilkenny’s defence opened up the possibility of a goal chance where Aaron Shanagher had exposed a gaping hole in Kilkenny’s rear guard on his right, however the over hit hand pass was duly swept up by Huw Lawlor and on the Kilkenny stock exchange a Clare shortcoming would transpire as the Cats gain.
From the responding Clare attack on thirty four Minutes Peter Duggan’s effort at goal was intercepted by Paddy Deegan and yet again Kilkenny made hay as after a skirmish in the Clare square and despite Eibhear Quilligan’s bravery, Martin Keoghan swept the rebound to the back of the Clare net.
Clare had three more opportunities before Fergal Horgan’s half time whistle to reduce the arrears, however the efforts from David McInerney, David Fitzgerald and Tony Kelly uncharacteristically failed to find their mark.
At half time Kilkenny led by 1-17 to Clare’s 0-06.
Lady luck showed no extra favour to the Bannermen come the second half as a Tony Kelly free rattled the uprights from midway on the resumption. Corner back Rory Hayes and another excellent score from Cratloe’s Diarmuid Ryan along with a David McInerney effort would follow.
However just went it looked like a shift in momentum may finally come, James Stephens ace Cian Kenny found himself one on one with Eibhear Quilligan and he made no mistake.
The score line now read 2-19 to 0-10 and just seven minutes into the second half the contest had effectively ended.
To their credit Clare did not give up and persisted in chipping away at Kilkenny’s lead , Tony would add another free followed by a brace of points from Shane O’Donnell who was a real leader for Clare in the circumstances whilst the introduction of Mark Rodger’s and Shane Meehan from the bench injected confidence and much needed accuracy.
Ten points split the sides with fifteen minutes remaining at 2-21 to 0-17 and the game was yet again within Clare’s realm of possibility, however the constant thorn in the Banner’s side of Kilkenny punishing each and every error on the scoreboard left Brian Lohan’s charges forever chasing.
This was perhaps best captured when Shane O’Donnell took off on another gaping run through Kilkenny’s backline. , however before the sliotar could be offloaded, a free was awarded for steps. TJ Reid would make no mistake from the resulting free.
Shane and Ryan Taylor added two more scores for Clare whilst David Fitz forced a flying save from Eoghan Murphy in the Kilkenny goal, unfortunately on this day Clare’s missed opportunities would be their own undoing and Kilkenny’s precision knew no bounds.
The contest ended Kilkenny 2-26 to Clare’s 0-20 with the Wides tally at Clare twenty three to Kilkenny’s five.
The Cats await the winners of Galway and Limerick in tomorrow’s Semi Final in the All Ireland Final on July 16th.