*Players keep their eyes fixed on the sliotar during the All-Ireland SHC semi-final. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

CLARE’S bid to reach the All-Ireland senior hurling final for the first time in a decade came up agonisingly short against a battle-hardened Kilkenny.

Kilkenny 1-25
Clare 1-22
Venue: Cusack Park, Ennis

A pulsating contest that kept all 48,360 spectators enthralled went the way of Kilkenny who withstood a powerful second half rally by Clare and produced some moments of magic to tee up a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final where they will meet Limerick.

There was Conor Fogarty’s exceptional block to stop Mark Rodgers from getting a goal on twenty two minutes, the opportunity arising from a perfectly executed passage of plays where Shane O’Donnell weaved right and left before offloading the sliotar to the Scariff attacker.

Then there was a match-winning save by Eoin Murphy. The three-time All Star made a sublime stop to a Peter Duggan which had it hit the net would have been a contender for goal of the season.

Clare had their own spells of wonder, chief among them Shane O’Donnell’s sixty second minute goal where he showed impressive power to hold off his man before reminding spectators he has a fondness for raising green flags on Jones’ Rd.

Ryan Taylor battles with Conor Fogarty. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Despite producing a below-par opening half, Clare bounced back with aplomb on the restart and in their gusto scored five points without reply to leave Kilkenny sweating and Derek Lyng calling for experienced reinforcements. The Cats did bite back and hit 1-01 without reply, the goal arising from a turnover on a short puckout to Rory Hayes, one of the few errors made by the Shannon man in the entire game, the impressive Eoin Cody was the man to put the ball past Eibhear Quilligan, the Clare keeper having pulled off two impeccable saves earlier in the tie.

For the opening ten minutes, it was a see-saw affair where the sides were level on four different occasions but Clare’s challenge waned and this was exploited by Kilkenny. The Banner County hit just three points in the final fifteen minutes of the first half, only one of these from play while the Leinster champions added five white flags in this period and by the sounding of the half-time whistle held a five point advantage.

Brian Lohan and Clare kept Kilkenny waiting for the second half to commence and what followed was a flurry of activity in the Clare attack as they left the Cats gasping for air. Cathal Malone, David Fitzgerald and Mark Rodgers all hit the target to cut the deficit to two, TJ Reid converted a placed ball before Ian Galvin and Adrian Mullen traded scores.

Then the rally of five points in a row from Clare brought Croke Park to its feet. Three from Rodgers had them level before David Reidy shoved the Munster finalists in front, freetaker Rodgers added to the lead but then Paddy Duggan ended Kilkenny’s twelve minute wait for a score and they came back to life with Cody goaling immediately afterwards.

All Star David Fitzgerald had the next score but then TJ Reid produced a fine piece of skill by converting a sideline cut, substitute Cian Kenny restored Kilkenny’s lead to three points before it was wiped out by O’Donnell’s bullet to the net.

Kilkenny responded to the concession of a goal by getting the next three points to cancel out the green flag, Clare’s hopes of getting another goal were thwarted by the fantastic Murphy save, he made another stop from Duggan moments earlier.

Diarmuid Ryan and Rodgers had points for Clare in the closing stages but white flags for Kilkenny materialised through Cody and substitute Padraig Walsh.

As ever, Clare’s men in saffron and blue gave every last drop for their county. They were within touching distance of an All-Ireland final appearance with a second half display to be immensely proud of. Individually and collectively, there was no poor performances.

Walter Walsh is tackled by John Conlon. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Use of a sweeper in the opening half hurt Clare more than it helped them, they hadn’t played with a sweeper all year and it certainly provided a false aid as the more attacking approach implemented in the second half underlined that they are a strong attacking team and will punish teams when the likes of David Fitzgerald are given the support to cut through opposing defences.

Derek Lyng and his management received a great boost off their bench with both Cian Kenny and Padraig Walsh scoring while both Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan also impacted on proceedings.

Clare made only three substitutes, David Reidy and Ian Galvin both scored on their introduction from the bench while Aron Shanagher was only brought on with seventy minutes on the clock. While a decision on who to take off would not have been easy, freshness in the closing ten minutes would have reinvigorated their second half challenge. If it is a case of the bench not being good enough then that is something which needs to be rectified over the coming months.

Shane O’Donnell was a standout performer for Clare and is a certainty to win an All Star later this year. Strong contributions were made across the field but ultimately even greater contributions were made by their Kilkenny counterparts, notably Eoin Cody, Huw Lawlor and Adrian Mullen.

Scorers Kilkenny: TJ Reid (0-12 11f 1’65), E Cody (1-05), A Mullen (0-02), T Phelan (0-01), B Ryan (0-01), H Lawlor (0-01), P Deegan (0-01), C Kenny (0-01), P Walsh (0-01).

Scorers Clare: M Rodgers (0-10 4f 4’65), S O’Donnell (1-01), C Malone (0-02), D Fitzgerald (0-02), R Taylor (0-01), P Duggan (0-01), D McInerney (0-01), T Kelly (0-01), I Galvin (0-01), D Reidy (0-01), D Ryan (0-01).

Kilkenny:
1: Eoin Murphy (Glenmore)

4: Tommy Walsh (Tullaroan)
3: Huw Lawlor (O’Loughlin Gaels)
2: Mikey Butler (O’Loughlin Gaels)

5: David Blanchfield (Bennetsbridge)
6: Richie Reid (Ballyhale Shamrocks)
7: Paddy Deegan (O’Loughlin Gaels)

8: Conor Fogarty (Erin’s Own)
9: Adrian Mullen (Ballyhale Shamrocks)

12: John Donnelly (Thomastown)
11: Martin Keoghan (Tullaroan)
10: Tom Phelan (Conahy Shamrocks)

15: Eoin Cody (Ballyhale Shamrocks)
14: TJ Reid (Ballyhale Shamrocks)
13: Billy Ryan (Graigue Ballycallan)

Subs:
24: Walter Walsh (Tullogher Rosbercon) for Keoghan (43)
22: Cian Kenny (James Stephens) for Donnelly (53)
18: Cillian Buckley (Dicksboro) for Fogarty (55)
25: Richie Hogan (Danesfort) for Phelan (60)
19: Pádraig Walsh (Tullaroan) for Ryan (67)

Clare:
1: Eibhear Quilligan (Feakle)

2: Adam Hogan (Feakle)
3: Conor Cleary (St Joseph’s Miltown)
4: Rory Hayes (Wolfe Tones)

25: Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge)

5: Diarmuid Ryan (Cratloe)
6: John Conlon (Clonlara)
7: David McInerney (Tulla)

11: Tony Kelly (Ballyea)
8: Cathal Malone (Sixmilebridge)

9: David Fitzgerald (Inagh/Kilnamona)
10: Peter Duggan (Clooney/Quin)
12: Ryan Taylor (Clooney/Quin)

14: Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg)
15: Mark Rodgers (Scariff)

Subs:
21: David Reidy (Éire Óg) for Taylor (32) (inj)
13: Ian Galvin (Clonlara) for Morey (HT)
17: Aron Shanagher (Wolfe Tones) for Reidy (70)

Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)

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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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