GOOD TEAMS make their own luck we are told, but a somewhat fortunate break of the ball in the 39th minute put good hurling and physically strong Clare on the road to a historic first victory in the All-Ireland intermediate final in Thurles on Saturday, writes John Knox.
Kilkenny, fielding a bunch of game junior and intermediate players against a second string senior side, were losing ground when lady luck helped deliver a goal for the winners.
Tricky corner-forward Padraig Hickey did great work on the left wing before aiming a shot from 50 metres at the town end goal. The ball came back into play off the near upright and it broke kindly near the edge of the square for lively sub, Daire Keane to plant it in the net.
Clare jumped a comfortable 2-10 to 1-4 clear. Suddenly Kilkenny’s grip on the All-Ireland title was all but finished.
The losers chased hard afterwards and shaded the scoring exchanges by 0-7 to 0-3. Keane’s goal was the defining moment, however, the winning one.
A good chance
“I genuine thought we had a right good chance,” insisted Kilkenny manager, Pat Hoban afterwards. “They were a bit better than us and they took their chances. They were physically stronger. Still I thought up to the end if we got a goal we could have rattled them.”
However, he admitted that when Clare went nine points clear after Keane’s goal, a Kilkenny win looked a very long shot.
“I was delighted the way the team played,” Mr Hoban added. “The players never gave up, they fought it out. But being down big, big players makes a huge difference. Losing three of your best players is massive.
“Physically they would have added huge strength and fitness level to the effort.”
Senior panellists, Kieran Joyce, Richie Doyle and Eoin Murphy were sorely missed. There was a time early in the second half, before Keane’s goal, when Clare looked a mite edgy, a mite vulnerable, and the missing trio could have provided that little something that would have made the difference.
Overall, however, the Cats have little to complain about. Clare were bigger and stronger, and in Niall Gilligan, he used his experience very well, John Fennessy, Michael Hawes, Shane Golden, Patrick Kelly, Joe O’Connor and Hickey they had mighty hurlers.
Team captain, Tony Carmody – he looked a massive man when receiving the cup – made a big contribution before leaving the field with a knee injury after 19 minutes. By that time he had bagged a good goal which helped rid some around him of an edginess that marked their early play.
Roared out of blocks
The losers roared out of the blocks. Within four minutes they were 1-1 to no score clear. Michael Grace pointed a good free from midfield before Paul O’Flynn scored an even better goal. In the lead up Jon Jo Farrell had an attempted shot from the left wing half blocked.
The ball shot up in the air and dropped out of the sky perfectly for O’Flynn, who had cut into the middle on to the ‘40’ from the opposite side. The Dicksboro man got a sprint start towards the goal and he buried the ball in the net.
Clare were unsure. After Shane Golden opened their account with a point, following an assist from the supreme Fennessy, they posted their third wide from four shots at goal. Golden and Gilligan added points before Carmody scored a great goal in the 14th minute.
The former senior star dug possession from the midst of a group of players 35 metres in front of goal. He galloped through before drilling a wicked shot from the left across the face of goal into the top corner of the net.
Clare were 1-3 to 1-1 ahead playing against the strong breeze. They drove on nicely after that as the opposition missed chances (8 by the break). A lovely late point from wing-back, Stephen Byrne, who claimed an opposing clearance from the sky before dashing 30 metres to score, left Kilkenny trailing by 1-4 to 1-8 at half-way.
The winners were slow to return to the field after the rest, and they were slow to find their rhythm too when the action resumed. Seven minutes passed before there was a score, a point from Joe O’Connor.
Within a minute Niall Gilligan dug possession from a melee before shooting between the posts. Within another minute Keane plundered the crucial goal. The game and title were destined for Clare.
To the losers credit, they fought well afterwards and former minor, Ger Aylward, who came on as a sub, looked particularly lively. The best of the lot was Stephen Byrne, who was supreme in the second half. P.J. Rowe, Seoirse Kenny, Michael Grace, Paul O’Flynn and Sean Phelan also fought the good fight well.
Scorers: Clare – Tony Carmody, Daire Keane (1-0 each); Niall Gilligan (0-3, two frees); Padraig Hickey, Joe O’Connor, Shane Golden (0-2 each); Ronan Keane, Martin Duggan, Kevin Dilleen, Declan O’Rourke (0-1 each). Kilkenny – Paul O’Flynn (1-2); Eddie Hickey, Ger Aylward (0-2 each); Simon Burke (0-2, frees); Stephen Byrne (0-1); Michael Grace (0-1, free); Conor Conway (0-1, free).
Kilkenny – R. O’Neill, W. Phelan, M. Walsh, S. Phelan, L. Harney, P.J. Rowe, S. Byrne, M. Grace, W. O’Dwyer, P. O’Flynn, S. Kenny, J.J. Farrell, G. Shelly, E. Hickey, A. Stapleton (capt). Subs – G. Aylward for Stapleton 37th min; S. Burke for Farrell 41st min; O. Walsh for Kenny 41st min; C. Conway for O’Dwyer 49th min; N. Kenny for E. Hickey 54th min.
Clare – A. Fahy, M. Early, P. Kelly, A. Brigdale, K. Moynihan, M. Hawes, J. Fennessy, R. Keane, S. Golden, M. Duggan, T. Carmody, K. Dilleen, J. O’Connor, N. Gilligan, P. Hickey. Subs – D. Keane for Carmody (inj) 19th min; P. Fitzpatrick for Moynihan 45th min; D. O’Rourke for Duggan 47th min; S. Chaplin for Golden 57th min; A. McNamara for Gilligan 61st min.
Referee – D. Kirwan (Cork).