By Michael O Connor.
There was way more bite to the throw in and movement with intent in this game than the curtainraiser and quickly the supporters got behind the teams. The first real action of the game saw John Conlon being fouled enroute to goal with Conor McGrath sending over a 1st minute free. Richie Hogan responded from play before Aaron Cunningham on receipt of a David Fitzgerald handpass split the posts after five minutes. Cian Dillon was pressed into the sweeper role leaving Kilkenny veteran Jackie Tyrell free at the opposite end of the park. McGrath, Collins and McGrath sneaked Clare into a (0-5) to (0-1) lead with ten minutes played. TJ Reid, Conor Cleary and Kevin Kelly all added to the scoreboard as Clare led (0-6) to (0-3) after 14 minutes action. The positioning John Conlon and the drifting upfield of the Conor Cleary and David Fitzgerald for puck outs caused consternation in the Kilkenny ranks. It led to the first goal when a long delivery by Colm Galvin found Joey Holden one on one with John Conlon and it was the Clare man who won putting the ball past Eoin Murphy who had a day to forget in the Kilkenny goal. Aaron Cunningham added a point before responses from John Joe Farrell and Reid after 18 minutes.
Aaron Cunningham pounced on a breaking ball for the second goal as Colm Galvin who is now in the running for hurler of the year if his efforts keep up added a point to send Clare nine points clear. TJ Reid and Padraig Walsh responded in some style but when the third Clare goal came from Aaron Cunningham first timing a ball broken off John Conlon to the Kilkenny net a eleven point lead had opened up.
The remaining minutes of the first half resulted in six more points being shared with TJ Reid, John Power and Kevin Kelly on target for Brian Cody's men with responses from Clare coming from Colm Galvin, Aaron Cunningham and John Conlon to leave an unbelievable but deserved 11 points, (3-12) to (0-10) between the sides at the break.
What could Brian Cody or any manager say to his side at the break. Memories of the first half leinster final of 2012 when Galway overran Kilkenny came to mind. Ironically Kilkenny came back to win the All Ireland and with the Fennelly,s Paul Murphy and others to come back few will be getting carried away with the possibility of the decline of Kilkenny who are still favourites for the All Ireland crown in September. Ironically Kilkenny in the 2012 leinster final won the second half on the scoreboard. This actually repeated itself in Thurles on Sunday as they outscored Clare (2-9) to (1-10) in the second half and this should serve as a cold reminder to Clare to stay levelheaded.
Conor McGrath struck early in the second half as Padraig Walsh hit back from play after 38 minutes. McGrath converted a 65 before TJ Reid hit the Clare net as his 21 yard free got past a forest of Clare hurleys in the 42nd minute. Reid and Cillian Buckley narrowed the Clare lead to 7 points by the 46th minute as David Reidy ended the mini drought for Clare in the 48th minute. Walter Walsh had his first score from play as this now meant all Kilkenny forwards were now on the scoresheet.
There was never any real fear from a Clare perspective of defeat and this was stamped when a stunning goal from 35 yards of some ferocity by Conor McGrath drewe applause from all sides. It restored a 11 point lead for Clare and a huge cheer welcomed the returning Tony Kelly who replaced the injured John Conlon with 20 minutes left to play.
His first two touches ended with points as Joey Holden was begging for the final whistle to come such was the day he experienced at full back. The game was a non event in the final ten minutes as both sides added four points as Clare looked towards the final and Kilkenny now feared the wrath of training in Nowlan Park for May, June and July under Brian Cody.
CLARE: Patrick Kelly, Oisin O Brien, Pat O Connor, Paul Flanagan, Conor Cleary (0-1), Brendan Bugler, David Fitzgerald, David Reidy, Colm Galvin (0-5), Darach Honan (0-2), Conor McGrath (1-5), Aaron Cunningham (2-3), John Conlon (1-1), Padraic Collins (0-1). Subs: Tony Kelly (0-3) for Conlon, Cathal O Connell (0-1) for Honan, Colin Ryan for Reidy, Aaron Shanagher for Cunningham, Bobby Duggan for Collins.
KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy, Jackie Tyrell, Joey Holden, Shane Prendergast, Padraig Walsh (0-2), Kieran Joyce, Conor O Shea, Cillian Buckley (0-1), Lester Ryan, Walsh Walsh (0-2), TJ Reid (1-7), Kevin Kelly (0-2), John Power (0-1), JonJo Farrell (1-1), Richie Hogan (0-1). Subs: Brian Kennedy for Tyrell, Liam Blanchfield for O Shea, Conor Bolger (0-2) for Kelly
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).