By Michael O Connor.
Formality over. Barring being thrown out at official level for a serious rule infringement Clare were nailed on for a place in the All Ireland under 21 final. Sadly the slow burning demise of this competition is being accelerated by games involving sides that are separated by multiple divisions in hurling terms and huge differences in scorelines. Each year it is hard to find more than two or three games of high standard and maybe the look to have this competition run on a national level might increase the standard of fare.
The fear was that this game would be an absolute whitewash with the Munster champions hitting goals early on. Whilst this did not happen until the 20th minute the reality was it might as well have been in the first five minutes as Clare did as they wished unchallenged and only for two good saves by the Antrim goalkeeper in the opening quarter the goals would have been on the Clare scoresheet .
After 15 minutes Clare were crusing clear leading by eight points and already thinking of the All Ireland decider in the same venue in 21 days time. Seadna Morey opened the scoring after twenty seconds as Cathal O Connell and Tony Kelly with a 65 were also on the scoreboard after only three minutes action. Padraic Collins made it four points before Antrim had their opening score courtesy of Kevin McKiernan after a Ronan Taaffe puckout was intercepted. The following seven points along the expected lines as Cathal O Connell (4), Padraic Collins, Aaron Cunningham and Tony Kelly with ease were on target from play and placed balls to open up a (0-11) to (0-1) lead. The game’s first score was set up by the hard running Collins who set up Cathal McInerney who fouled the ball before scoring his goal. Michael Devlin and Kevin McKiernan hit back with well taken Antrim points as Aaron Cunningham had his second score after 22 minutes to leave Clare (1-12) to (0-3) in front.
The Clare defence at their ease were dealing with the Antrim forward threat as interest level in the game was non existent even from the supporters of Clare who were finding it difficult to be motivated by proceedings at Semple Stadium. As the first half trundled to the long whistle the tempo of the game diluted considerably as an Antrim scoring fest was required to create any fire in the second half. Cathal O Connell struck for his fourth point from play and his sixth in total. Good teamplay between O Connell and Shane Golden allowed the Sixmilebridge senior to score a well taken score that would hardly be allowed to be created against stronger opponents. Total surrender from Antrim was signalled when a fast ball sent in from the wing was gathered by Conor McGrath whose deft flick finished the ball to the net for the Cratloe’s man first score to leave the banner men (2-14) to (0-3) clear at the break.
Cathal O Connell who was able to move around Semple Stadium with almost total freedom resumed the scoring spree before Conor McGrath struck for Clare’s third and his second goal. Aaron Cunningham made way for Peter Duggan who got on the scoresheet with his first touch before Tony Kelly added his third point as now Clare strolled 22 points clear. An unusual booking for Ronan Taaffe who was cautioned for his quick puck outs after being verbally warned in the opening half.
Clare did the most with the least amount of effort in the remaining twenty minutes as Antrim displayed why this was never even a mistmatch in the first place so weak were the Ulster champions. Media reports immediately prior to the game suggesting that the Northern team were up for the challenge was well meaning positive PR but deadly misleading.
With the full complement of subs on the field Clare added a further (1-7) in the last twenty minutes with Niall Arthur grabbing the goal as Cathal McInerney set up the Inagh/Kilnamona man. Arthur struck for two points as David O Halloran, Seadna Morey, Cathal Malone, Patrick O Connor and Tony Kelly struck for a minor each before Anthony Stapleton ended this sorry advert for Under 21 hurling.
CLARE: Ronan Taaffe, Paul Flanagan, David McInerney, Cillian Ryan, Seadna Morey (0-2), Conor Ryan, Pat O Connor (0-1), Shane Golden (0-1), Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly (0-4), Padraic Collins (0-2), Aaron Cunningham (0-2), Cathal McInerney, Conor McGrath (2-0), Cathal O Connell (0-7). Subs: Peter Duggan(0-1) for Cunningham, Cathal Malone (0-1) for Galvin, Niall Arthur (1-2) for O Connell, Stephen O Halloran for O Connor, David O Halloran (0-1) for McGrath.
Referee: Anthony Stapleton ( Laois)