CLARE............... 2-13 KILKENNY............1-11
By Michael O Connor.
Success once more and this time at national level for the Clare intermediate hurlers shortly after the maiden win in the Munster championship quickly followed by a memorable win over Galway rounded off with a five point win over Kilkenny as maybe a step towards rebuilding at senior level was taken as many younger players were seen to shine in this campaign.
The standing ovation given to one of the Banners greatest ever stars as Niall Gilligan departed the scene maybe for the last time in a Clare jersey and the sheer joy as long suffering Clare supporters were able to cross the holy sward of Semple Stadium as All Ireland Champions to greet their loved ones were the headline stories as Clare captured the Intermediate title for the first time.
For one of the best known hurling figures in Clare over the last 40 years who for the last decade or so has taken on the crusade of success with this team his finest hour arrived in the spiritual home of hurling as Clare overcame the aristocrats of hurling, Kilkenny. Now, the realms of GAA history it will be just another statistic but for the success starved hurling people of Clare anything will do and for men like Kevin Kennedy it has always being about the game.
Kilkenny started the game as if they were to upset the odds in some style and were (1-1) to no score clear after the opening five minutes. Michael Grace opened the scoring from a free with less than a minute played. Searing pace in the fifth minute from Paul O Flynn allowed him to surge clear and he blasted from close range past Andrew Fahy in the Clare goal. Clare were stunned into silence in the crowd that was surely 80% Clare dominated. Clare finally got on the scoreboard and settled early doubts when Shane Golden scored a brilliant effort which he replicated three minutes later for his sides.
Clare were nervous in the opening stages but after the end of the first quarter were more assured especially as team captain Tony Carmody blasted the ball with deadly accuracy past Kilkenny goalie Richie O Neill in the 14th minute as Clare took the lead. Clare suffered a blow soon after as Carmody as a result of a heavy challenge on his knee as he scored the goal was forced to retire from the game to be replaced by 19 year old Daire Keane. Kevin Moynihan and John Fennessy switched position as Moynihan was having a few shaky moments but settled well. Eddie Hickey and Niall Gilligan with his second free swopped scores after 23 minutes. The two Hickey, Eddie and Padraig exchanged scores in the 26th minute as the following three minutes saw three stunning scores from Kevin Dilleen, Padraig Hickey and Martin Duggan stamped Clare’s authority on the game to leave the winners five clear, (1-8) to (1-3) after 29 minutes. The final score of the half fell to Kilkenny wing back Stephen Byrne to leave Kilkenny four points adrift, (1-8) to (1-4) but ominously for Clare still within touching distance were they to up their efforts in the second half. The standard of fare was honest but unspectacular for the attendance of 2,250 on a beautiful evening at Thurles.
Seven minutes elapsed in the new half before a score was created and executed and it fell to Parteen’s Joe O Connor quickly followed by Niall Gilligan to add another effort to leave Clare six clear after 38 minutes . The game looked over as a contest when the games third goal came around. Padraig Hickey sent in a high lobbing effort attempting a point that cannoned off the post to the waiting hand of Daire Keane who finished the ball to the Kilkenny net.
Kilkenny wielded the axe at this stage as the disadvantage of having only played one game prior to the final was proving troublesome to putting out their best team. They replaced three of their forward in two minutes and it must be noted that all of their substitutes added much to Kilkenny’s final quarter rally. Ger Alyward and Simon Burke were quickly off the mark with a point each by the 45th minute as Clare brought on Paudie Fitzpatrick for Moynihan. Joe O Connor with his second score and Paul O Flynn for Kilkenny exchanged scores by the 51st minute as Clare were still six clear but on the backfoot slightly. Ronan Keane who had his quietest game of an impressive campaign sent over an important point before Conor Conway pointed a Kilkenny free. A huge moment in the game saw Andrew Fahy react quickest to body block Alyward’s goal effort that was on target. Had that materialised Clare would have had a nervous last five minutes. Declan O Rourke settled Clare nerves with a fine score in the 56th minute before two late scores from Simon Burke and Paul O Flynn had late late Kilkenny scores before Diarmuid Kirwan’s long whistle signalled great scenes of joy on behalf of all involved with Clare hurling in Thurles.
Best for Clare were Pat Kelly, Mark Earley, Alan Brigdale, Michael Hawes, John Fennessy who had a solid second half, Shane Golden, Joe O Connor, Niall Gilligan and Padraig Hickey. Kilkenny ended witha better side than they set out with and had they even a facile semi final against any team they could have been more potent opponents. The three players unreleased by Brian Cody were a loss but every county has their own views on secondary competitions. Nevertheless the Leinster champions had solid displays from PJ Rowe, Michael Walsh, Paul O Flynn, Simon Burke, Luke Harney, and Sean Phelan.
CLARE: Andrew Fahy, Mark Earley, Pat Kelly, Alan Brigdale, Kevin Moynihan, Michael Hawes, John Fennessy, Ronan Keane (0-1), Shane Golden (0-2), Martin Duggan (0-1), Tony Carmody (1-0), Kevin Dilleen (0-1), Joe O Connor (0-2), Niall Gilligan (0-2), Padraig Hickey (0-3). Subs: Daire Keane (1-0) for Carmody, Paudie Fitzpatrick for Moynihan, Declan O Rourke (0-1) for Duggan, Sean Chaplin for Golden, Conor Tierney for Gilligan.
KILKENNY: Richie O Neill, Willie Phelan, Michael Walsh, Sean Phelan, Luke Harney, PJ Rowe, Steve Byrne (0-1), Michael Grace (0-1), Willie O Dwyer, Paul O Flynn (1-2), Seoirse Kenny, JJ Farrell, Ger Shelly, Eddie Hickey (0-2). Adrian Stapleton. Subs: Ger Alyward (0-2) for Stapleton, Simon Burke (0-2) for Farrell, Ollie Walsh for Kenny, Conor Conway (0-1) for O Dwyer, Nicky Kenny for Hickey.
After the game the president of the GAA Christy Cooney presented the magnificent All Ireland Intermediate championship cup to Clare captain Tony Carmody who once more delivered his acceptance speech as gaeilge as celebrations ran on late into the night and all day Sunday in Sixmilebridge and Ennis.
Well done to the management team of Kevin Kennedy, Tommy Donoghue and Niall Romer for their efforts.
REFEREE: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)