A SMARTLY put away 39th minute goal by Matthew Ruth was the turning point when Kilkenny proved too good for Division IB champions, Clare in the Allianz National Hurling League semi-final in blustery Thurles on Sunday, writes John Knox.
The score opened out a lead of 1-8 to 0-8 after the Cats has turned to play with the wind, and with a pair of quick points from Ruth and Michael Fennelly, they quickly took control. By the hour mark Clare were left nine point behind (1-17 to 0-11). Subsequently an exchange of a hat-trick of scores during the closing segment of the game left the finishing margin as it had been at its biggest during the match.
“There was no doubt about it, Kilkenny were the better team, but we showed we could stand up to them,” insisted Clare manager, Davy Fitzgerald, afterwards when he announced himself less than pleased with the match officials and cried foul over the Kilkenny goal.
He felt the creator of the score, Eoin Larkin, might has carried the ball too far. The chance was initiated by Colin Fennelly who galloped up the right wing towards the town end goal before aiming a firm, hurley driven pass across goal to Eoin Larkin. The team skipper ran into a wall of bodies before getting in a shot that the goalie parried. The alert Ruth touched the ball home from the edge of the square.
With the addition of a quick brace of points the Cats took control, and they never looked back.
“We are happy to be in the final,” insisted Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody afterwards. “The game was very competitive, and it was never easy. The goal in the second half was important, but the players worked hard throughout and they made things happen.”
The Noresiders face Cork, who beat Tipperary in the other semi-final, in the decider in two weeks time, most likely in Thurles. The last time they met in the final was in 2002 when Kilkenny won by 2-15 to 2-14.
Clare, even when backed by the elements, couldn’t get control of the match. The scores were level at 0-1, 0-2 and 0-4 each during the opening quarter before points from Richie Power, the first with an assist from Jackie Tyrrell and the second following a foul on John Mulhall, appeared to get Kilkenny into the groove.
Even a good point from Conor McGrath for Clare failed to halt the Cats, who continued to charge forward. The winners were awarded a penalty in the 21st minute when Eoin Larkin was fouled. However, Richie Power’s well struck effort was saved, and during a good spell in which they dominated territorilly, the Cats threw away three chances in success.
Still, despite the misses, they did well to lead by 0-8 to 0-7 at half-time. Clare equalised through Colin Ryan within 40 minutes of the restart. The Kilkenny goal from Ruth followed, and after that Clare were left chasing the game.
Scorers: Kilkenny – Richie Power (0-9, six frees); Matthew Ruth (1-3); Colin Fennelly, Michael Fennelly (0-2 each); T.J. Reid, John Mulhall, Eoin Larkin, Kieran Joyce (0-1 each). Clare – Conor McGrath (0-6, five frees); Colin Ryan (0-3, two frees); Nicky O’Connell (0-2, frees); Liam Markham, Patrick Donnellan, Sean Collins (0-1 each).
Kilkenny – David Herity; Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell; Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Richie Doyle; Michael Fennelly, Cillian Buckley; T.J. Reid, Richie Power, John Mulhall; Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin (capt), Matthew Ruth. Subs – Mark Bergin for Larkin 62nd min; Kieran Joyce for Walsh 62nd min; Conor Fogarty for Doyle 64th min.
Clare – Patrick Kelly; Domhnall O’Donovan, Cian Dillon, Conor Cooney; Brendan Bugler, Patrick O’Connor, Liam Markham; Nicky O’Connell, Patrick Donnelly (capt); Fergal Lynch, Sean Collins, Enda Barrett; Colin Ryan, Conor McGrath, John Conlon. Subs – Jonothan Clancy for F. Lynch 60th min; Aaron Cunningham for E. Barrett 60th min; Seadna Morey S. Collins 66th min.
Referee – Alan Kelly (Galway).
Attendance - 15,442.