A penalty save 80 seconds into injury-time helped Kilkenny escape to victory over Clare in the National Hurling League at sunny Nowlan Park today.
In the end points from impressive midfielder Joe Lyng, Ger Aylward and Mark Kelly, against replies from Seadna Morey and Conor Cleary during the gripping closing seven minutes, tilted the balance in favour of the Cats in what was a most enjoyable affair in glorious sunshine. The final score was 2-20 to 2-19.
The result, plus the outcome of the other games in Division IA, left Clare and Kilkenny at the bottom of the table and they will now battle it out in the relegation decider next weekend. There will be a toss for venue some time around noon tomorrow.
There was little or nothing between the teams throughout. A brace of goals from full-forward, Shane O’Donnell - 9th and 32nd minutes - were the big dividers during the first half, at the end of which Clare led by 2-9 to 1-9 after playing with the fresh breeze.
By the 39th minute Kilkenny caught up after opening the new half with a hat trick of points from the lively Kevin Kelly, who was chosen as man of the match, Walter Walsh and the ever dangerous Mark Kelly (2-9 to 1-12).
There was an exchange of points between Colm Gavlin and John Power, in that order, in the minutes that followed and that set the trend for the rest of a game that gripped the 6,000-plus attendance to the final whistle.
Three times subsequently the scores were level. Clare’s Colin Ryan brought a smashing save from home goalie, Eoin Murphy in the 62nd minute, and within seconds Joe Lyng pointed the winners in front at the other end. Aylward added to the advantage before Morey reduced the divide to the minimum again in the 67th minute.
There was an exchange of minors between Mark Kelly and Conor Cleary after that before Clare were awarded a penalty beyond the 71st minute following a foul on John Conlon. Tony Kelly’s well struck shot was saved, and before the ball could be cleared down the field the final whistle was blown.
“That was a good win,” smiling Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody insisted. “What will be will be next weekend, but we don’t really care where the game is played.”
He confirmed that the Ballyhale Shamrocks contingent of Michael and Colin Fennelly, Joey Holden, T.J. Reid and so on would be available for selection following their recent win in the All-Ireland club senior final.
Scorers: Kilkenny - Kevin Kelly (1-9); Jonjo Farrell (1-2); Mark Kelly (0-3); Matt Ruth, Walter Walsh (0-2 each); Joe Lyng, Ger Aylward (0-1 each). Clare - Colin Ryan (0-7); Shane O’Donnell (2-0); Tony Kelly (0-4); Colm Galvin, Conor McGrath, Seadna Morey (0-2 each); John Conlon, Conor Cleary (0-1 each).