By Michael O Connor.
Super Sunday is with us this coming weekend. All teams can make the league playoffs and in theory those are in the top end of the table could still be relegated should they lose and results militate against them. A dream makers guide is this years NHL round 5. Clare and their management would have preferred it differently and ironically could have had 8 points not four had lady luck, faster movement and accuracy aided them at crucial times in games 1 and 4.
The piercing cold in Cusack Park, Ennis did not dissuade a sizable crowd in their interest in a hard hitting NHL tie between two sides who have met in two of the last under 21 finals. Level on 6 different occasions in the first half the sides were separated by a brilliantly executed goal by Lester Ryan just before the half time break. Such was the motivation in Kilkenny to save their league season it was evident for all to see Eoin Larkin remonstrating in a fatherly way with Ger Aylward when the laltter took a point and a bit more effort could have delivered a goal. They wanted to score goals and end the tie as painlessly as possible.
Kilkenny missing many of the All Ireland winning side including their entire full back line were quick of the mark from Richie Hogan before Colin Ryan replied for Clare. The first goal was hit to the net by Colm Galvin with Ger Aylward matching this two minutes later. The remainder of the first half was nip and tuck with both sides unlucky not to add to their goal tally as Colin Ryan was scorer in chief for Clare who managed just (1-5) from play over the game. Brian Hogan was imperious at centre back for Kilkenny as Conor Fogarty also impressed in the opening half. Shane O Donnell was causing numerous problems for Kilkenny but his colleagues in the forward division were unable to finish his good build up work. He won a number of frees converted by Ryan. At the interval Kilkenny were more than satisfied to hold a (2-7) to (1-7) lead after playing well below par.
Clare squandered numerous scoring chances early in the second half despite ample possession before Colin Ryan pointed a welcome free as Shane O Donnell was the key forward causing trouble for the Kilkenny rearguard winning frees and setting up colleagues. The first Kilkenny score of the second half did not materialise until a 50th minute Aidan Fogarty goal. Tony Kelly and Ryan (2fs) left the minimum between the sides with 15 minutes remaining.
Kilkenny managed only (1-3) in the second half with their three points coming from Eoin Larkin placed balls between the 58th and 64th minutes. This left Clare chasing a three point deficit for the remainder of the game. However despite incessant pressure by the home side the Kilkenny defence stood firm conceding just three points from Ryan (2fs) and Darach Honan. It would be a moot point to suggest that Honan started the game and be replaced when tired Clare would have won the tie. In the final analysis Clare will bemoan the 16 wides with 12 in the second half but still the threat around the Clare goal provided by Kilkenny proved the difference come the final whistle much to the bitter disappointment and delight in equal measure for both sides.
Kilkenny were far from the side that deconstructed Galway in the replay last Sunday but in their true tradition go for the jugular when they see an opportunity and when Clare heed and utilise this theory the trophies will be on the sideboard. Goals are targeted and points are acceptable appears to be the motto of Brian Cody’s men.
Best for the winners were Conor Fogarty who is quickly making a name for himself, Brian Hogan whose awesome power was uncontrolled by Clare, Lester Ryan, Michael Fennelly, Eoin Larkin, Ger Aylward, Aidan Fogarty, Walter Walsh and especially Richie Hogan kept Kilkenny in the league. Remember Paul Murphy, JJ Delaney, Colin Fennelly, Henry Shefflin, Walter Walsh, Matthew Ruth did not start or appear and others did not perform brilliantly. Kilkenny will be a different animal in ten weeks time. Clare are going on the correct road but the possession game broke down when hit hard by the bulky Kilkenny midfield and backs, allied to the over reliance on Colin Ryan such as Galway do on Canning, they may need to see other forwards sharing the scoring tallies.
Next weekend games sees Tipperary v Cork, Waterford v Galway and Kilkenny v Cork as the games to watch in the final round of the group stages of the NHL.
KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy, Paddy Hogan, Kieran Joyce, Conor Fogarty, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Padraig Walsh, Lester Ryan (1-1), Michael Fennelly, Michael Rice, Richie Power, Eoin Larkin (0-5, 4fs, 1 65), Ger Aylward (1-1), Richie Hogan (0-1), Aidan Fogarty (1-2). Subs: Colin Fennelly for Rice, Walter Walsh for Power, Matthew Ruth for Aylward
CLARE: Patrick Kelly, Domhnall O Donovan, David McInerney, Seadna Morey, Brendan Bugler, Patrick Donnellan (capt), Patrick O Connor, Conor Ryan, Nicky O Connell, Colm Galvin (1-0), Tony Kelly (0-1), Colin Ryan (0-11, 10fs), Fergal Lynch, Shane O Donnell (0-1), John Conlon (0-1). Subs: Enda Barrett for David McInerney, Darach Honan (0-1) for Lynch,
Referee: Anthony Stapleton (Laois).