There was a moment of amusement amid the confused celebrations and near hysteria after the golden touch that lit up Nowlan Park on Sunday.
“I had to chase after it because the ball went a bit too far ahead of me,” Lester Ryan smiled when he related the instant that did, but might not have decided the 2013 Kilkenny senior hurling championship final in favour of his beloved Clara.
Ryan, the lion whose season long courage and commitment typified a squad with apparently endless spirit, decided the final when he sent a rocket of a shot from a free whistling into the Carrickshock net in the 54th minute. That priceless score rescued his team from appears and pushed them 1-13 to 2-9 ahead.
But the big score that was, nearly might not have been. When lifting the sliotar for that decisive 20-metre free Ryan admitted that he threw the ball up high, but a bit too far in front of himself which necessitated a dash in pursuit.
“Luckily I caught up on the ball and got a good strike on it,” he smiled again. “There is nothing to compare with winning the Kilkenny senior hurling championship.”
For Clara, yes. For Ryan, yes also, because he now becomes the front runner to captain the county in the 2014 season.
Carrickshock will have regrets, serious regrets after a hard fought decider that was nearly choked to death by the protagonists caution, fear of losing and closing down of each other. The ’Shock looked well placed when level at half-time (0-11 to 2-5) after playing against the strong wind.
They battled their way into the lead when sub Damien Walsh turned a hard won ball by Pat Tennyson into the lead point (2-8 to 0-13) 10 minutes from the finish. They were on a roll. Within a minute Michael Rohan all but walked the ball into the net after a lovely move involving Brian Donovan and John Power sliced open the Clara defence. The ball was fouled; the goal disallowed.
Momentum was still with the losers. Another Tennyson assist saw John Power shoot Carrickshock 2-9 to 0-13 clear with seven minutes remaining.
Thus the game arrived at the 54th minute, Ryan’s big moment. He asked 10-point man and regular free taker, Keith Hogan, to step down from duty after Conor O’Shea has been fouled in front of the city end goal.
“I had to go for a goal then,” Ryan explained of the decision to go for broke. “I was glad to see the ball hit the back of the net.”
Six minutes from the finish Clara led by 1-13 (16) to 2-9 (15). The rest was frantic stuff. Clara won the divides 2-1, Ryan hitting the high end target and sub Chris Bolger doing the same against one reply from a Richie Power free after Mark O’Dwyer had been fouled.
When all the sums were totted up Clara had completed the league/championship double and taken their title haul to a magnificent six in two seasons - intermediate league and championship 2012; Leinster club 2012; All-Ireland club intermediate and Kilkenny double 2013. This was their second senior success to go with the one in 1986.
And the Leinster club championship rolls up now, starting on Sunday with a home tie at Nowlan Park against Oulart the Ballagh (Wexford).
Carrickshock enjoyed an uplifting start. John Power got to the end of a delivery from Michael Rice in the fourth minute and lashed the ball into the net. For nearly 20 minutes Keith Hogan was Clara’s lone scorer as the teams shared parity three times. When Jack Langton became Clara’s second scorer he won them the lead, 0-6 to 1-2.
Between the 24th and 29th minutes the winners made good gains through Hogan (3) and Liam Ryan, the best moment of the half when he pointed after a sprinter’s run up the left wing, to slip 0-11 to 1-4 ahead. A deadly finish by Brian Donovan, first shooting a point off his left and then a goal after a long free from Michael Rice broke nicely for him, squared it again.
Half-time: Clara 0-11, Carrickshock 2-5.
During the next 20 minutes or so the game fell apart and threw up a mere four scores, which were equally divided. Lester Ryan, Jack Langton, the Prendergasts’,Sean O’Shea and David Langton were lording it on one side. John Dalton, John Cahill, Michael Rice, John and Tennyson and young Donovan were the lion tamers on the other.
Twice the scores were level, the last time in the 48th minute after another fine contribution from Donovan (0-13 to 2-7). After Walsh won the losers the lead the momentum was definitely with them. Their first title since 1951 looked a possibility, for a while.
Clara survived the narrow escapes mentioned earlier as they lived on the edge for a while. Lester Ryan dragged them away from the precipice and pointed them in the direction of the winning line with his fearless attitude and grand strike. It was near comic book stuff, really!
“They are a great a bunch,” said thrilled manager, Michael Purcell, when paying tribute to Clara. “They have been driving themselves hard all season. They love this. They love hurling. The winning run has given them serious momentum.
“We will do our best in the Leinster club championship. It will be hard to pick ourselves up for Sunday’s game, but we will be true to our responsibility as Kilkenny champions.”
SCORERS: Clara - Keith Hogan (0-10, seven frees, two 65s’); Lester Ryan (1-1, goal free); Jack Langton, Liam Ryan, Austin Murphy, Chris Bolger (0-1 each). Carrickshock - Brian Donovan (1-2); Richie Power (0-4, frees); John Power (1-1); Michael Rice (0-2); Damien Walsh (0-1).
Clara - Killian Phelan, Tom Ryan, John Phelan, Sean O’Shea, Neal Prendergast, Shane Prendergast, David Langton, Lester Ryan, Jack Langton, Conor Phelan, Keith Hogan, Liam Ryan, Austin Murphy (capt), James Nolan, Ciaran Prendergast. Subs - Conor O’Shea for J. Nolan 49th min; Chris Bolger for A. Murphy 56th min.
Carrickshock - John Butler, John Murphy, John Dalton, David Franks, John Cahill, John Tennyson, Pat Tennyson, Michael Rice, Paddy Mulcahy, Jamie Power, Richie Power, John Power, Michael Rohan, Mark O’Dwyer, Brian Donovan. Subs - Damien Walsh for P. Mulcahy 42nd min; Niall Rohan for Jamie Power 55th min; Niall Tennyson for P. Tennyson 56th min.
Referee - Sean Cleere (O’Loughlin Gaels).
Attendance - 8,646.