TWELVE points was the final margin as Kilkenny’s cats took the cream against Clare in Saturday’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final.
Venue: Croke Park, Dublin
Clare delivered their poorest championship performance of the year to exit at the penultimate stage in the race to claim the Liam McCarthy.
Leinster champions Kilkenny were purring from the get-go and delivered their top display of the year to outclass their opponents and deservedly advance to the All-Ireland final, what will be their nineteenth decider under Brian Cody.
His Clare counterpart, Brian Lohan was dealt a massive blow before the game with centre back John Conlon ruled out through injury. The Clonlara man participated in all non-contact aspects of the warm up but did so in discomfort.
Minus the services of their most experienced player visibly hurt Clare. However it cannot account for the eleven point margin and rather possibly highlights that the strength of the panel is not where it needs to be, the fact that Limerick could win the Munster title without Hurler of the Year Cian Lynch and All Star, Peter Casey is indicative of this.
At the head of the roll of honour with 36 titles to their name, no one can ever question the pedigree and class of Kilkenny. Therefore it came as a surprise that Clare were such hot favourites for the clash. Kilkenny’s crispness and speed of hurling was a level above their opponents, they hit 0-05 from turnovers alone in the first half, through flicks, blocks and a lack of Clare cuteness.
Inside four minutes, the sides were level twice but once Adrian Mullen pointed on six minutes, benefitting from a TJ Reid assist, Kilkenny shoved ahead and were never to be caught.
They limited Clare to 0-02 in a fifteen minute spell while firing over 0-07 themselves between the first and second quarter.
David Fitzgerald proved as has been the case all year to be the recommend puck out option and this quick distribution from Eibhear Quilligan was Clare’s main method of pulling scores together, four points alone came from this tactic with Diarmuid Ryan and Mark Rodgers also pointing in similar moves.
Facing a tidal barrage of pressure, it was inevitable that Kilkenny get past Clare’s full-back line and raid for goal. The timing of which was dreadful for Clare with Martin Keoghan’s green flag coming on the thirty fifth minute and it was the last score of the opening half, making the margin fourteen points at the interval.
Half-time substitutes East Clare duo Mark Rodgers and Cian Nolan entered the fray for David Reidy and Páidí Fitzpatrick, they needed to lead an almighty revival but it would never materialise.
Clare hit the first three scores on the restart but Kilkenny would kill off their challenge altogether on forty two minutes. Substitute Walter Walsh claimed the ball from Eoin Murphy’s puck out and offloaded to Cian Kenny who struck the sliotar low past Eibhear Quilligan.
At the other end, Eoin Murphy saved from Shane O’Donnell in the next attack. With seven of the next nine scores, the Banner continued to keep plugging away but the margin was too high to claw back and Kilkenny via TJ Reid had two of the last three scores to seal their spot in the All-Ireland final for the first time since 2019.
In Clare’s first semi-final since 2018, their fourth since 2006, it was without question the most underwhelming. With 21 wides and their lowest scoring return of the championship, the standards set throughout the year were not matched. For Clare, Shane O’Donnell, Rory Hayes and David Fitzgerald were most prominent.
At their most dangerous when written off, the narrative of Clare wearing the favourites tag was warmly welcomed in Kilkenny. They had their homework done to perfection and won all of the key battles to deservedly progress. Paddy Deegan, Mikey Butler, Eoin Cody, Adrian Mullen, TJ Reid and Cian Kenny led the way for the Cats.
Scorers Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-10 (7f), A Mullen 0-5, C Kenny 1-2, E Cody 0-3, P Walsh 0-2, M Keoghan 1-0, B Ryan 0-2, C Browne, W Walsh 0-1 each.
Scorers Clare: T Kelly (3f, 1 65), S O’Donnell 0-4 each; D Fitzgerald, D Ryan 0-3 each, M Rogers 0-2, R Hayes, D McInerney, R Taylor, P Duggan (1f) 0-1 each.
1: Eoin Murphy (Glenmore)
3: Huw Lawlor (O’Loughlin Gaels)
7: Paddy Deegan (O’Loughlin Gaels)
4: Tommy Walsh (Tullaroan)
6: Richie Reid (Ballyhale Shamrocks)
2: Mikey Butler (O’Loughlin Gaels)
5: Michael Carey (Young Irelands)
9: Conor Browne (James Stephens)
15: Cian Kenny (James Stephens)
8: Adrian Mullen (Ballyhale Shamrocks)
11: Padraig Walsh (Tullaroan)
13: Billy Ryan (Graigue Ballycallan)
12: TJ Reid (Ballyhale Shamrocks)
14: Martin Keoghan (Tullaroan)
10: Eoin Cody (Ballyhale Shamrocks)
23: Walter Walsh (Tullogher Rosbercon) for Keoghan (HT)
24: John Donnelly (Thomastown) for P Walsh (48)
25: Richie Leahy (Rower Instioge) for Browne (61)
22: Alan Murphy (Glenmore) for Ryan (65)
18: David Blanchfield (Bennetsbridge) for Carey (71)
1: Eibhear Quilligan (Feakle)
2: Rory Hayes (Wolfe Tones)
3: Conor Cleary (St Joseph’s Miltown)
4: Paul Flanagan (Ballyea)
5: Diarmuid Ryan (Cratloe)
7: David McInerney (Tulla)
17: Páidí Fitzpatrick (Sixmilebridge)
10: Cathal Malone (Sixmilebridge)
15: Ryan Taylor (Clooney/Quin)
12: Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg)
11: Tony Kelly (Ballyea)
8: David Fitzgerald (Inagh/Kilnamona)
9: David Reidy (Éire Óg)
13: Ian Galvin (Clonlara)
14: Peter Duggan (Clooney/Quin)
18: Aron Shanagher (Wolfe Tones) for Galvin (26)
23: Cian Nolan (Smith O’Briens) for Fitzpatrick (HT)
26: Mark Rodgers (Scariff) for Reidy (HT)
19: Shane Meehan (Banner) for Duggan (49)
21: Shane Golden (Sixmilebridge) for Taylor (65)
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)