AS the numbed excitement from Kilkenny’s senior All-Ireland draw continues mid-week, another group of Kilkenny players – some of them senior panellists also – have more pressing thoughts than September 30, writes Sam Matthews.
The under-21’s have garnered a reputation for devastating firepower and Saturday’s All-Ireland final against Clare will be their sternest test yet. The likes of Walter Walsh, Ger Aylward, and in particular, Kevin Kelly have dominated score sheets in recent weeks, and Clare joint manager Moloney is not underestimating the Cats’ quality.
“We would have huge respect for those guys. We met them before and saw what they have done to other opposition,” he told the Kilkenny People. “They are clinical with their finishing. They were on the backfoot for 15 minutes against Galway, and then in five minutes they were way ahead. We know what they can do.”
For that semi-final the Tribesmen were marginal favourites. Kilkenny defied both the bookies and recent history, but Moloney says it was no surprise to him.
“I suppose there are two ways of looking at that,” he said. “One way is that Galway had nearly a whole team that is also on the senior panel. Another way is that they have a lot of very skilful individuals, but were they really a team to hold together during a battle?
“Ultimately, they were not. Once Kilkenny put them under enough pressure they folded. I think Kilkenny could have beaten them by more.”
Clare boast eight senior panellists in their squad, but they have no distractions like an upcoming All-Ireland final replay. It has been full steam ahead for them since destroying Antrim by 28 points on August 25.
“We learned absolutely nothing. We never expected to take anything from it though,” he said.
What effect this will have on Clare’s momentum remains to be seen. Moloney is aware, even after overcoming Waterford and Tipp, that the Cats will be on a different level in terms of physicality. But having secured victory over Kilkenny in recent challenge matches, he felt his team will be able to cope.
Comparing challenge matches with championship finals must obviously be done with great caution, but Moloney said it would be naive to dismiss any past encounters.
“A lot of people on the outside say a challenge match means nothing, but we would be lying if we said nothing can be read from it, and Richie (Mulrooney) would say the same,” he said. “I’m sure Richie will use the last game as motivation, and we will do the same.”
Last year, Clare’s under-21s failed to get out of the province. It is only three years from a historic one-point win over Kilkenny in the 2009 under-21 All-Ireland final.
Clare overcame Waterford in the semi-final comfortably, 2-22, 0-9. Cathal O’ Connell scored 0-10. He will be one to keep an eye on. The Munster final was a real nailbiter. A late, injury time goal beat Tipp. It was substitute Niall Arthur who buried the sliotar in the net.
That type of quality coming off the bench – and strength in depth – is a big factor in Clare’s success this year.
“The competition for places is fairly intense, it has been all year,” said Moloney. “It is new territory for Clare, to have this level of competition for places, at the minor level and so on. We have the culmination of three minor teams, and we have options available.
“I think we have plenty of experience in the squad. Coming up through the underage, they have had more exposure than any other Clare side. Many of them would have senior experience in there as well.”
What sort of game can we expect this weekend in Thurles?
“I think it will be very close,” he says.
“I think it will be an enthralling contest, both sides and their management have a lot of respect for each other.”
While a few players picked up minor injuries during last week’s round of club championship matches, Moloney remains optimistic that he will have a fully-fit panel from which to choose.
Starting 15 from last championship match: Ronan Taaffe; Paul Flanagan, David McInerney, Killian Ryan; Patrick O’Connor, Conor Ryan, Seadna Morey; Colm Galvin, Shane Golden; Tony Kelly, Padraig Collins, Aaron Cunningham; Cathal McInerney, Conor McGrath, Cathal O’Connell.