THE coronation was a dour affair dictated in the main by harsh elements with rain spitting heavily from a slate grey sky all afternoon, but for Clara it wasn’t about the niceties or beauty, but simply about completing the final step.
And they did so with confidence and assurance when winning their fourth Kilkenny intermediate hurling championship final at Nowlan Park on Sunday, thus regaining senior status lost so cruelly after a replayed relegation shoot-out last season.
“It wasn’t about the performance, medals, the cup. It was all about getting back senior,” insisted satisfied Clara manager, Robert Shortall, afterwards.
There was no denying Clara were kings of the grade in season 2012. They thundered through the season unbeaten, winning the league/championship double.
Fate recognised their undoubted superiority, if you like, and added a bonus, because this fourth success put Clara on top of the intermediate Roll of Honour with Conahy Shamrocks.
St Patrick’s, the current All-Ireland club junior champions, are a young and fast outfit who like a bit of firmness in the ground. The day was very much against them, but there was more besides, it must be added.
“When I saw the rain in the morning I was concerned,” admitted St Pat’s wily manager, Maurice Aylward. “We can’t complain. Clara are a very good team and they are worthy champions.”
Experience and physical strength were important elements in the Clara armour. And on this day, a wonderful work ethic added to those other fine qualities as the players slaved for the cause from start to finish.
The constant rain, heavy ball, heavier underfoot conditions and biting November wind conspired to turn the game into a heavy slog rather than a crisp, open or free flowing affair that would have been the case on a better day.
Clara had the hurling, appetite and physical make up to meet the demands. The teams shared a mere two points during a tough and demanding second half. That was no commentary on the quality of the contestants, rather a consequence of the awful day and awful conditions generally.
And yet there were those who showed exceptional qualities. Their talents shone through the greyness.
James Nolan scored two early points, and literally hurled up a storm in all parts of the field afterwards. Liam Ryan opened well, winning two good balls on the wing, and he never stepped back from that high line of performance either. And team captain, David Langton did likewise, driving into every tackle and closing down his wing for the afternoon.
Others who made massive contributions to a massive win were full-back, John Phelan, who won a powerful ball before charging through two tackles and delivering up field for the Clara goal in the 15th minute; Shane Prendergast, who was solid in the heart of the defence; Conor Phelan, a mighty grafter who can make things happen for a team; Jack Langton and Lester Ryan were great too.
St Patrick’s, who defended the city end goal, conceded a point after only 51 seconds, and they were led all the way home from there. David Langton powered through a good challenge to clear his lines.
The ball was claimed by colleague, Keith Hogan at the other end, and he was fouled. From 20-metres to the right, Hogan scored the free.
They proceed to get three points clear by the fifth minutes thanks to the addition of two scores from the sure firing James Nolan, both from fair distances on the right wing.
St Patrick’s opened their account through their best player, Kevin Kelly, in the sixth minute, via a free. Kelly was their lone scorer in the game. At half-time he had three points in the bag, two frees and one 65.
The St Patrick’s returns told part of the story of the day. They simply couldn’t get their attack going. Despite the hard graft of Brian ‘Brook’ Phelan in midfield, they couldn’t get a hold in this area, and neither could they best the Neal and Shane Prendergast/David Langton trio on the Clara half-back line.
Keith Hogan converted a free for Clara in the 13th minute to edge them 0-4 to 0-1 ahead. The losers missed a chance either side of that score, and then things got worse at the end of the quarter when they conceded a goal.
John Phelan made that strong burst from the full-back position for Clara, bouncing off two tackles on the way, before lashed the ball from the ‘40’ towards the edge of the St Pat’s square. Austin Murphy fielded, and finished to the net, taking his team 1-4 to 0-1 clear.
The advantage was sliced back a little at the break (1-6 to 0-3), and it appeared as if there was everything to play for after the turn.
There was, of course, but Clara weren’t in the mood for easing up, and Pat’s continued to struggle up front. During the opening eight minutes of the half Clara threatened twice, but missed the target each time. St Pat’s didn’t get within sight of goal. The trend was set for a half of out and out effort.
Ironically, the losers had the first score of the half from a free by Kevin Kelly in the 39th minute. Liam Ryan was gifted possession on the left wing within 60 seconds, and he drilled over a great point off his left.
All the second half scoring was completed within two minutes. The hurling continued to be hard and uncompromising. There were few scores or near misses to report. Clara were the better team, no doubt.
Very good for the losers were Kevin Kelly, Geoff Morrissey and Brian ‘Brook’ Phelan.
Scorers: Clara – James Nolan (0-3); Austin Murphy (1-0); Keith Hogan (0-2, frees); Lester Ryan, Liam Ryan (0-1 each). St Patrick’s - Kevin Kelly (0-4, three frees, one 65).
Clara – Kevin Nolan, Tom Ryan, John Phelan, Sean O’Shea, Neal Prendergast, Shane Prendergast, David Langton (capt), Jack Langton, Lester Ryan, Conor Phelan, Austin Murphy, Liam Ryan, Ciaran Prendergast, James Nolan, Keith Hogan. Subs – Chris Bolger for C. Prendergast; Brian O’Shea for K. Hogan; Stephen Quinlan for A. Murphy.
St Patrick’s – Michael Gannon, John Mooney, Stephen Staunton, Robbie Healy, Kieran Delaney, Geoff Morrissey, James Gannon, Brian ‘Brook’ Phelan (capt), Geoffrey Brennan, Michael Brennan, Kevin Kelly, Jody Phelan, Barry Staunton, Bill Staunton, Joe Brennan. Subs – Eoin Bergin for M. Brennan; Brian Mulhall for K. Delaney; Conor Delaney for J. Brennan.
Referee - Richard Dowling.
PS - Because of a colours clash, both clubs wear maroon jerseys, the teams changed strip for the final. Clara played in the blue of WIT. Team captain, David Langton, donned a true Clara shirt for the presentation of the Hanrahan Cup.