Success in the early season can come in different forms. Clare won this match. Defeated Kilkenny enjoyed their little victories too.
As first round Allianz National Hurling League fixtures go this clash on a heavy pitch in bright Cusack Park, Ennis, was a fair contest that came down to tight margins before reaching a decision.
Points from Conor McGrath and top scorer, Colin Ryan from a free during the closing seven minute, against one reply from a free by Henry Shefflin, turned it into a satisfying Sunday for the All-Ireland champions, who blasted into the new season with a win.
You can never turn a defeat into a victory, but a loss for defending champions, Kilkenny was far from crushing, and especially so in the circumstances.
The ‘circumstances’ were that they fielded a largely inexperienced team, one that on paper at least looked a long odds bet to beat the MacCarthy Cup holders. Yet they weren’t swamped, bullied or whatever.
They had the pace to sprint along with Clare; they managed the heightened level of competition; they worked their socks off and closed down the pitch on opponents who proved in Croke Park last September that to give them room can be deadly dangerous.
The losers actually landed more scores than the opposition (18 against 17); they created three goal chances - Walter Walsh booted a ground ball wide from the edge of the square in the 32nd minute after ’keeper Donal Tuohy brought off a great block from Mark Kelly, there was a penalty save and then Tuohy kept out a well hit shot by Colin Fennelly in the 54th minute.
Subs made difference
And when it came to the vital push at the finish, the Clare subs Padraic Collins, Cathal O’Connell and Nicky O’Connell helped them generate that little bit more power at a vital time to get them home.
Yet, there was only a point in it against a team much better prepared than had been suggested.
Kilkenny have Tipperary next up this Sunday, and manager Brian Cody will find it hard to discard some of the ‘new lads’ on the strength of this showing.
Padraig Walsh, Brian Kennedy, Jonjo Farrell and Joey Holden put forward compelling cases for inclusion the next time.
Walsh battled with courage and intent throughout. Kennedy was a very neat operator in the left corner. Farrell showed well for a lot of ball, especially in the first half, and Holden kept his end up on a half-back line that never played as a unit before.
New full-back, Michael Walsh didn’t do too badly either, and although he was withdraw at the break, Conor Fogarty had put in a useful enough opening half.
Fennelly’s hot pace
Throw in a good showing by Henry Shefflin, who was given a guardian by the opposition for the afternoon, and Colin Fennelly as a fast paced, direct running centre-forward, and there was a fair bit to offer plenty of hope to the losers moving forward.
Clare suggested early on that they might dominate. The flying Colin Ryan registered three points without reply. Until Conor McGrath landed a Clare point in the 21st minute, Ryan, who wore No. 15 but started at 12, was their lone scorer with 1-5 to his credit (1-7 to 0-5).
Shefflin posted the next score via a free. McGrath replied before a foul on Farrell earned Shefflin another score. Farrell then applied a lovely finish to a great cross from the left of the town end goal by Fennelly before a foul on Eoin Larkin saw Henry reduce the deficit to the minimum.
The divide was scrubbed by a beautiful point from Colin Fennelly, made by a lightning fast lay-off from Mark Kelly close to goal.
That score left the teams together at half-time - 1-8 (C) to 0-11 - after a lively, fast paced affair. All the Kilkenny back were in credit after that period, although Fogarty didn’t appear for the new half, his place being taken by Jackie Tyrrell.
There was an early exchange of minors before Colm Galvin slipped Clare ahead in the 43rd minute (1-10 to 0-12).
Next up was the Kilkenny penalty, awarded after a foul on Mark Kelly. Shefflin made perfect connection with the ball, but the home defence saved at the expense of a 65. Shefflin missed.
Kilkenny’s lead point
The visitors chased at close quarters for the next 10 minutes, eventually catching up when Shefflin converted a 65 won by Colin Fennelly, after a sprinter-like burst through the home defence and the involvement via a slick hand-pass by Farrell (1-13 to 0-16).
Three minutes later Padraig Walsh grabbed the lead point for Kilkenny at the end of a lovely move started from wing-back by Paul Murphy and continued by Joey Holden near midfield.
The Clare sub Cathal O’Connell squared it - 0-17 to 1-14 - eight minutes from the finish.
By this time the All-Ireland champions had serious momentum, a big a push going. They drove on strongly, with Patrick O’Connor, Colin Ryan, David McInerney, Conor McGrath and Conor Ryan their brightest heroes.
SCORERS: Clare - Colin Ryan (1-9, 0-7 frees); Conor McGrath (0-3); Patrick Donnellan, Colm Galvin, John Conlan, Cathal O’Connell (0-1 each). Kilkenny - Henry Shefflin (0-12, nine frees, one 65); Walter Walsh, Padraig Walsh (0-2 each); Colin Fennelly, Jonjo Farrell (0-1 each).
Kilkenny - David Herity, Conor Fogarty, Michael Walsh, Brian Kennedy, Joey Holden, Lester Ryan (capt), Paul Murphy, Cillian Buckley, Padraig Walsh, Henry Shefflin, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin, Jonjo Farrell, Mark Kelly, Walter Walsh. Subs - Jackie Tyrrell for Fogarty ht; Joe Brennan for M. Kelly 53rd min; Aidan Fogarty for W. Walsh 58th min; Tommy Walsh for C. Buckley 65th min.
Clare - Donal Tuohy, Seadna Morey, Cian Dillon, David McInerney, Brendan Bugler, Patrick Donnellan (capt), Patrick O’Connor, Conor Ryan, Colm Galvin, John Conlan, Tony Kelly, Shane Golden, Shane O’Donnell, Conor McGrath, Colin Ryan. Subs - Padraic Collins for T. Kelly 48th min; Cathal O’Connell for B. Bugler 54th min; Nicky O’Connell for S. Golden 60th min.
Referee - Brian Gavin (Offaly).
Frees - Kilkenny 12 (7 and 5); Clare 15 (7 and 8).
Wides - Kilkenny 10 (7 and 3); Clare 10 (3 and 7).
Attendance - 10,125.