*Tony Kelly gets away from Walter Walsh. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

CLARE CAPTAIN Tony Kelly never felt that Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final game was gone from them.

Three second half points from the Ballyea man helped Clare to a two point win over Kilkenny and booked their passage into the All-Ireland final where they will face Cork.

There was a lot of frustration with a poor first half performance from Clare but Tony pointed out that given the windy conditions in Croke Park they knew staying within striking distance of Kilkenny was critical. “On the field there was quite a substantial breeze blowing into the canal end and against us in the first half so we knew that if went in at half time within striking distance and get our game going in the second half that we would be able to get shots away. We were up in maybe twenty five, twenty six shots in the second half and we converted eighteen of them”.

Reflecting on the opening half, Kelly said, “In the first half we probably played the game too much on their terms and we went in at half time and re-assessed and after half time played our own game and forgot about them. We concentrated on our own game and played a good second half”.

Similarities existed between Saturday’s victory over Kilkenny and their three point loss to the Leinster champions in last year’s semi-final. “It was very similar to last year, they dictated the first half and we dictated the second half. We gave away a goal similar last year, a sucker punch. We went back down and levelled it. I suppose the key thing for us was there was enough time on the clock to get shots off”.

Substitutes played a massive role in Clare qualifying for a first All-Ireland final in eleven years, the captain felt. “The impact we got from the bench was massive. Ryan (Taylor)got on ball when he came on so did Ian (Galvin) and Shan (Aron Shanagher) as well. It was a very good effort in the second half and the boys coming on to finish it were excellent”.

Back to back All-Ireland semi-final defeats to Kilkenny were not a talking point within the Clare panel prior to last weekend, the St Flannan’s College teacher said. “A lot was made of those losses outside the camp. When you get to this stage every team is top quality, it was important for us to beat them, for confidence within our own group. We knew we were good enough but there is no point in knowing that unless you go out and prove it. We did in the second half and we are delighted with that”.

“We are just delighted to be there. We will rest the bodies and re-assess. I am delighted to be back in the final, It’s eleven years for a few of us to get back there,” he added.

This All-Ireland semi-final was a decisive game for Clare, Kelly maintained. “Today was crunch time for us. When you are losing you have to stay plugging away, try and get better year on year. Today was crunch time for us. When we got close in the second half the game was there for the taking and we grabbed it with both hands. This is a reward for the effort since Brian (Lohan) and his management team and the work that has gone in, not just this year but since COVID. We are delighted to get over this semi-final hurdle and head into an All-Ireland final”.

Of the 39,241 spectators in Croke Park, Clare appeared to outnumber the Kilkenny supporters at least three to one. The backing from the Clare public has been massive, Tony said. “That’s what you want, 38,000 today sounded like 80,000 coming down the home stretch and when we got close and took the lead it was a huge contribution from them. It’s not easy with the prices, it is quite expensive and it’s no mean feat to bring a family to Croke Park. From a players point of view its massive, especially when it got tight in the second half they are driving you home. We expect an even bigger crowd in two weeks time”.

Looking to the final and the atmosphere it will bring he said, “this is what you hurl for, this is the pinnacle game, We have quite a number of guys that were there in 2013, John (Conlon), myself, SODs (Shane O’Donnell), Peter (Duggan), Seadna (Morey), Paul Flanagan, it’s good to draw on that experience”.

“Back in 2013 we had a month to the final, now we have just two weeks. We will get the bodies right this week, knuckle down and we will see what the opposition is and plan for them,” he concluded.

 

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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