I was concerned that one week might not be enough for Clara to be ready for the considerable challenge expected from Wexford champions, Oulart the Ballagh in the Leinster club senior hurling championship.
Not alone had Clara endured an energy-sapping 60 minutes last Sunday week against Carrickshock in the county final but the players have been on the go for the past two years without a break.
An extra week may not seem important, but the mental and physical exertions over recent weeks took its toll on the players. The Clara squad may be young, but they have crammed a lot of hurling and football, plus celebrations, into the past two years.
Despite claiming a couple of Kilkenny scalps in recent years, the Wexford men have still not won the Leinster title. That is one trophy they would dearly love to claim as they know that time is running out for them.
The Wexford championship was more competitive this year than it has been for some time. Oulart had to perform to their optimum to overcome Ferns in the county final.
This year manager, Martin Storey is at the helm. He knows the players well. They would have come to Nowlan Park expecting a tight game. Storey was in Nowlan Park for the Kilkenny final so he saw the challenge ahead.
Clara started well and continued where they left off against Carrickshock, but the visitors slowly edged their way back. It is said that goals win games, but if that was the case then Clara’s brace in the second half should have been enough to win.
Oulart showed tremendous character to come back with a fine array of points from all distances and angles. Clara’s failure to close down the play was ultimately their undoing.
I felt that it was still anyone’s game with time running out. The prospects of extra-time loomed large. But, Oulart, with many years experience of tight battles in Leinster, dug deep to finish impressively.
Their success was merited, but in hindsight it was also a game that Clara could have won. The Kilkenny champions lacked the sharpness and focus which has stood them in good stead for the past two years.
Everyone involved with Clara will be disappointed. In time, when they reflect on the past two years, they can be mightily proud of what they have achieved. It has truly been a golden period.
Easy for Lisdowney
Unlike Clara, the Kilkenny junior champions Lisdowney had little problem disposing of a weak challenge from Laois side Shanahoe. Lisdowney scored early with Eddie Hickey pointing in the first minute. While Shanahoe equalised almost immediately, that was as good as it got for the losers.
Lisdowney continued to tap over the points with consummate ease. The game was won when Paddy Bowden rounded his marker and shot to the net. This was the first of three goals for Bowden. He could well have had a fourth goal but for a smart save from an alert Shanahoe goalkeeper.
A noticeable difference between the sides was that whenever a Lisdowney player was caught in possession a simple hand pass or a deft flick of the ball with the hurley averted any danger. Shanahoe battled bravely but they lacked the skill and movement of their opponents.
In right half back, Leigh Bergin, Shanahoe had one of the best players on the pitch. Although playing in a defensive role for the entire game Bergin scored nine points, five of which came from play. It was an impressive performance from the young Laois minor player who starred for his county this year.
Next up for Lisdowney are Carlow Town hurling club, who participate in the Kilkenny All-County Junior Hurling League.