By Michael O Connor.
Low key but still an All Ireland final. That was the bottom line for both sides in Semple Stadium. What transpired was never expected by either side but the five goal salvo created and delivered with Kilkenny efficiency ended this game by goal three as a physically lighter Clare side tried to their limits but were never in contention after twenty minutes.
Kilkenny were playing only their second game in the competition whilst Clare had overcame Limerick after extra time and were chasing their second ever title in this grade following their inaugural 2011 success, also against Kilkenny. The leinster champions made five changes to the side from the provincial final meaning business that alerted many to their desire for continued success. Clare had two changes from the Munster final starting lineout
Alan Murphy was quickly into the referee's notepad for a heavy frontal challenge on Shane Taylor who had to retire after less than one minutes action as he was replaced by Dara Walsh. The paltry attendance of 1,401 in what was only 6th game in the whole competition saw opening minutes of little real fare to entice more of this competition in the intervening years.
The game's first score fell to Doora Barefield's Davy Conroy with a long range effort before in the 8th minute Danny Russell set up Kevin Hehir for the Clare sides second score. Hehir turned provider with a surging run through the centre after being set up by Mikey O Neill. His flick pass on the edge of the square was finished brilliantly to the net by Ryan Taylor as Clare were now (1-2) to (0-0) clear after 10 minutes of Semple Stadium action.
Kilkenny hit three wides before a soft goal conceded by Clare as Nicky Cleere got the ball over the line in the 13th minute seemed to unsteady Clare that after a positive start allowed Kilkenny majority possession the following couple minute. This was ended with a 16th minute Shane McGrath score that he help initiate when he won possession at midfield.
Jack Langton responded for the first Kilkenny point from 75metres before once again Clare were soft at the back. A high ball sent in by Alan Murphy was flicked to the net by John Walsh evading the outrushing Daniel Vaughan. Kilkenny were now a point clear after 17 minutes, Danny Russell scored a wonderful effort to level matters. Disaster number 3 was not far away another high ball caused trouble for a slight Clare full back line and it fell to Billy Ryan who blasted past Daniel Vaughan to send the Leinster champions (3-1) to (0-7) clear after 19 minutes. Kevin Hehir was next to score with his second of the first half as Nicky Cleere with a rare Kilkenny free was successful before once again the Clare goal was breached for the fourth time as Luke Scanlon raced clear from a breaking ball and gave Daniel Vaughan no chance. Kilkenny's Nicky Cleere added another free as seven points now separated the sides that soon became eight with Luke Scanlon on target.
A Shane McGrath free lifted the siege but only momentarily as another Nicky Cleere free was sent over. The final score of the half was a Shane McGrath free as Clare were in serious trouble and nothing less than two goals would bring them back into the game. Half time score Kilkenny (4-5) Clare (1-7). The physical stature of the Kilkenny side was overwhelming Clare in key defensive positions.
A Jason McCarthy point settled the Clare nerve early in the second half but once more the willingness of Kilkenny to go into the tackle hard but fair was too much for the lighter Clare players to absorb and contend with. Another issue was the Clare fouling around the body of the inrushing Kilkenny midfielders and forwards that proved profitable for their freetakers.
Shane McGrath kept Clare in the game with another free as now a goal was paramount for Clare without conceding scores. A controversial free in the eyes of Clare supporters was sent wide by Nicky Cleere. This let off was kind to Clare as McGrath added another free in the 41st minute to narrow the deficit to five points. A speculative effort from Billy Ryan was over the bar after a pressurised clearance from Daniel Vaughan fell his way. Only frees from McGrath was ensuring Clare supporters had a reason to care about the final quarter. Indecision in the Clare rearguard led to John Walsh on score Kilkenny's 20th point. Sustained pressure from Clare led to a well worked Jason McCarthy point entering the final quarter. Just as Clare got a foothold Pat O Grady's men attacked and another piece of poor defending allowed Billy Ryan another score. McGrath converted a foul on Hehir who was back in the game after a promising opening 10 minutes. Again another free converted by Kilkenny, this time by Alan Murphy kept 6 points between the sides entering the last ten minutes. Kilkenny's ability to concede frees 50m from goal was classical to deny Clare any form of a goal chance to make the game competitive. McGrath with his 8th an 9th scores narrowed it to four before Billy Ryan and Alan Murphy restored an invaluable six point lead and this was the end of the Clare challenge as Kilkenny tagged on scores as Evan Cody received a second yellow card as John Walsh rounded off with his side's fifth goal.
The Kilkenny full forward line scored (3-10) with the vast majority emanating from play as they overran their opponents with ease. Others from the winners to shine included Luke Hickey, Conor Delaney, Luke Scanlon, Alan Murphy and Tom Alyward. Clare had honest performers in Shane McGrath who was for me the most consistent player on the field aided well by Kevin Hehir, Jason McCarthy with Danny Russell and Ryan Taylor early on.
KILKENNY: Aaron Duggan (Dicksboro), Evan Cody (Dicksboro), Tom Aylward (Mullinavat), Luke Hickey (James Stephens), Jason Cleere (Bennettsbridge), Conor Delaney (Erin’s Own), Jeoff Brennan (St Patrick’s), Jack Langton (Clara)(0-1), Luke Scanlon (James Stephens)(1-2), Alan Murphy (Glenmore)(0-2), Conor Tobin (Fenians), Richy Leahy (Rower Inistioge), Billy Ryan (Graigue Ballycallan) (1-4), Nicky Cleere (Bennettsbridge)(1-4), John Walsh (Mullinavat) (2-2).
Subs: Sean Morrissey (Bennettsbridge)(0-1) for Tobin (45), Jack McGrath (James Stephens) for Leahy (54), Shane Donnelly (St Lachtain’s) for Murphy (60)
CLARE: Daniel Vaughan (Tulla), Rory Hayes (Wolfe Tones), Eoin Quirke (Whitegate), Ciaran Cooney (O’Callaghan’s Mills), Aidan McGuane (Kilmaley), Shane Taylor (Broadford), Jason McCarthy (Inagh-Kilnamona) (0-2), David Conroy (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield), Kevin Hehir (Inagh-Kilnamona)(0-3), Oisin Donnellan (Feakle), Shane McGrath (Feakle) (0-10), Daragh Corry (Tulla), Danny Russell (Éire Óg)(0-1), Michael O’Neill (Kilmaley), Ryan Taylor (Clooney-Quin)(1-0)
SUBS: Dara Walsh (Éire Óg) for Taylor (2, inj), Eoin Enright (Kilmaley) for Hayes (HT), Paraic O’Loughlin (Clonlara) for Donnellan (40).
Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow)