By Michael O Connor.
The opening score fell to corner forward Matt Ruth in what transpired to be rather a lacklustre first half as effort was not missing on either side but still the buzz that was expected was not present amongst the crowd. The loss of James McInerney from centre back allowed the entry of Liam Markham and the Cratloe man took the chance with both hands and was one of his sides best performers. His clubmate Conor McGrath hit the first Banner score after he was upended in the 3rd minute and repeated the feat two minutes hence after Fergal Lynch was impeded. Both sides shared a dozen wides in the first 35 minutes but without doubt Kilkenny were far more culpable from their lofty standards. Richie Power with a free and a sharp effort from play send the All Ireland champions a point clear with seven minutes played. CIT student Colin Fennelly and Sean Collins exchanged scores by the 12th minute.
A huge free from Nicky O Connell from the halfway line and one from play by McGrath sandwiched two successful efforts by Richie Power, one a free to leave Kilkenny ahead by the minimum with 19 minutes enacted. A major let off for Clare materialised as Eoin Larkin had the ball in the Clare net but referee Alan Kelly had blown for a penalty. The resulting penalty hit by Power was saved by Pat Donnellan with the second effort sent wide. A minute later Kilkenny through Richie Power was also wide, thus a possible four point advantage to Kilkenny disappeared.
The quality of fare on offer did not lend itself to the supporters getting involved as Clare were holding on and Kilkenny were underperforming as spectators were waiting for Kilkenny to burst into life with a succession of scores. Ironically mistakes from Clare were giving Kilkenny their best scoring chances. The last ten minutes of the half witnessed four more scores with Colin Fennelly and Richie Power from play and free on target for the champions as two points from Colin McGrath left Clare a point adrift, (0-8) to (0-7) at the interval.
Clare required goals in the second half to win. They also required the concession of as little Kilkenny goals and also a more potent threat on the Kilkenny square. The intricate passing cost Clare at times yet the honesty of effort was upsetting a Kilkenny side that was not on operating at normal levels.
Colin Ryan after 6 passes between the 45 and 21 yard line finished the work with a fine score before Matt Ruth had the ball in the Clare net after Eoin Larkin appeared to overcarry the ball as he spun it across the Clare square. This drew down the ire of the Clare management on the match official. This appeared to upset the Clare psyche as Cian Dillon, Domhnall O Donovan and Brendan Bugler between them appeared afraid to play the ball out of defence and ended giving away a line ball. Matt Ruth who finished well, Michael Fennelly and a monstrous score from John Mulhall stretched their side five points clear after 46 minutes as Clare were unable to get the ball for the first fifteen minutes of the half past the Kilkenny half back line.
Unusually for the accurate Conor McGrath his freetaking let him down as he had three wides at crucial times in the game. Liam Markham hit Clare’s second point of the half in the 47th minute after great work by Enda Barrett yet it was sparse pickings up front as the half forward line was unable to win ball never mind create or take chances and this resulted in the entire line being substituted. Between the 48th and 58th minutes seven points were added with Kilkenny sealing the game shooting five of the seven with Power (3), TJ Reid and Eoin Larkin on target. The Clare responses did little to ease the pain as Nicky O Connell and Conor McGrath kept Clare within eight points, (1-16) to (0-11) and looking impossible to score even one goal against a Kilkenny full back line that was never extended.
Both sides began to empty their benches as Power and Clare captain Patrick Donnellan swopped scores before Coljn Ryan took over the freetaking duties from McGrath and slotted over efforts in the 65th and 66th minutes. These scores ended Clare’s involvement with the scorekeeper. Kilkenny continued to keep ticking over with three more points in the final minutes from Michael Fennelly, Kieran Joyce and Matt Ruth as a last gasp half chance for a consolation goal by sub Jonathan Clancy was denied by David Herity.
Kilkenny move on to play Cork in only their third ever meeting in a National hurling final as Clare prepare for a June 16th showdown with Waterford in Semple Stadium knowing that the league will be a distant memory. Best for Kilkenny included Michael Fennelly, Richie Power in patches, Cilian Buckley, Matthew Ruth, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Paul Murphy, and Brian Hogan.
Cian Dillon was the Clare sides best player with Liam Markham also capable. Domhnall O Donovan also did well but conceded scores to Matt Ruth. Patrick Donnellan, Colin Ryan and Enda Barrett also tried hard with little reward.
KILKENNY: David Herity, Paul Murphy, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Richie Doyle, Michael Fennelly (0-2), Cillian Buckley, TJ Reid (0-1), Richie Power (0-9), John Mulhall (0-1), Colin Fennelly(0-2) Eoin Larkin (0-1), Matt Ruth (1-3). Subs: Mark Bergin for Larkin, Kieran Joyce (0-1) for Walsh, Conor Fogarty for Doyle,
CLARE: Pat Kelly, Domhnall O Donovan, Cian Dillon, Conor Cooney, Brendan Bugler, Pat O Connor, Patrick Donnellan (0-1), Nicky O Connell (0-2), Liam Markham (0-1), Fergal Lynch, Sean Collins (0-1), Enda Barrett, Colin Ryan (0-3), John Conlon, Conor McGrath (0-6). Subs: Jonathan Clancy for Lynch, Aaron Cunningham for Barrett, Seadna Morey for Collins,
REFEREE: Alan Kelly (Galway)