Clare are worthy champions, but Kilkenny disappoint

One could have two views after Kilkenny’s All-Ireland under-21 hurling final loss to Clare by six points on Saturday.

One could have two views after Kilkenny’s All-Ireland under-21 hurling final loss to Clare by six points on Saturday.

On the one hand there is the consolation that 11 of the starting team are under-age again next year, leaving one to hope that their championship prospects will be much brighter in 2013.

And then there is the uncomfortable reality that Kilkenny, apart from the closing 12 minutes of the first half, was comprehensively out-hurled by the Banner youngsters who looked far superior to the Cats in most facets of the game.

Caused problems

Right from the throw-in it became clear that Clare had a focus and determination in its play that would cause Kilkenny many problems. The Banner’s forceful style would quickly see scores posted on the scoreboard and we wondered when we might get a response from Kilkenny.

The first Clare goal was evidence of their sharpness all over the field. They looked a side high on confidence. Their willingness to attack Kilkenny at every opportunity was clear evidence of that confidence.

Then with a little under 15 minutes remaining in the half Kilkenny struck with a John Power goal from a penalty. The penalty award was a little fortunate.

Ger Aylward, who operated too far from the Clare goal during the first half, scored a brilliant individual goal just before the interval. The Cats now had a three point advantage, a margin that seemed very unlikely mid-way through the half.

One expected Aylward’s goal to inspire the Cats in the second half, but it was Clare who upped their game to such an extent that the opposition had no answer to the pace, first-touch and team work of its opponents.

One point from play not enough

No team, not even Kilkenny, can expect to win an All-Ireland title with a paltry return of just one point from play in the second half. Clare dominated every sector of the pitch and their ploy of playing an extra player between defence and midfield worked excellently.

Teams are finally beginning to cope with Kilkenny’s aerial dominance. Clare excelled in this facet of Saturday’s final and I was surprised that Kilkenny persevered with the tactic right up to the finish.

I have no doubt that both teams expended big efforts getting their players in shape for the encounter, but Clare appeared fitter and sharper and their team-work and first touch left Kilkenny players floundering on many occasions.

There is much for Kilkenny to ponder after this defeat as it was more comprehensive than the six point margin that separated the sides at the finish would suggest.