Clara, the biggest winners in Kilkenny club hurling during the past 12 months, have their eyes on another glittering prize, writes John Knox.
The current Leinster and All-Ireland intermediate club champions and double winners on the local scene during the past 12 months qualified with some assurance for the senior hurling league final in which they will be chasing their fifth title in the calendar year.
James Stephens will provide the opposition in a decider that won’t make or break Clara’s season, but it will definitely give them a good indication of where they stand among the genuine contenders during what is their first season back in the top flight.
Dicksboro provided stiff opposition in this clash at well turned out Freshford on Sunday, and while they gave their all in terms of spirit and commitment, they were a bit short in terms of class. Defeat condemned them to the relegation zone.
There is a lot to like about Clara these times. They play a nice brand of open hurling. They look comfortable and confident on the ball, and they have leaders aplenty. Here Keith Hogan was powerful, a wonderful leader during the second half.
He was surrounded by plenty of genuine talent, with the likes of Lester and Liam Ryan, Austin Murphy, Shane Prenderrgast and David Langton huge performers on a day they needed people to stand up and take responsibility at times.
If Clara have a fault it is that they don’t kill off teams. The ’Boro, who are improving, didn’t make any real headway during the first half when backed by the breeze blowing towards the Threecastles end.
They were behind at half-time, 1-7 to 1-9. Yet Clara weren’t able to put them to the sword afterwards, bearing in mind they had played so well and promised so much earlier.
The losers got off to a hugely promising start when Shane Maher (two frees) and the elegant Cillina Buckley, with a superb strike from midfield, posted unsnswered points. It took the winners seven minutes to open their account, which they did through Conor Phelan.
A quick pair of like scores from the nice moving Liam Ryan and Ciaran Prendergast, a great strike from the left wing, squared it at 0-3 after nine minutes.
Buckley weighed in with another class point for the ’Boro before Lester Ryan matched it, for quality and skill level. After Liam Ryan won the lead for the winners, they had a goal from James Nolan in the 15th minute after the earlier mentioned Ryan punched the hole in the losers defence (1-5 to 0-4).
That was a fair turn around in fortunes over a short period, but Dicksboro thundered on. Kevin Kenny made a strong run through the Clara defence in the 18th minute. Shane Maher finished the move started by Kenny from nothing to the net, somehow getting in a strong stroke in a crowded goal area.
The difference was back to the minimum. At half-time it was a little more (1-9 to 1-7) in Clara’s favour, despite the fine hurling of Buckley, Evan Cody, Enda Malone, David Glynn and Maher for the losers.
Clara’s advantage never went beyond four points during the closing half, which they attained in the 55th minute (1-17 to 1-13). Prior to that a point or two was the most, but when inspiration was needed, Hogan was the man to provide it.
He did so largely by shooting regular scores - five during the closing quarter - but he was never afraid to put himself into a tough zone to win possession or an advantage. He was the main man here.
When Dicksboro threatend in the 44th minute (1-13 to 1-12) it was Hogan who picked up a wayward clearance from the losers defence before shooting a point to lift all around him. He added the next score too when it appeared Clara were set to make a decisive break when 1-15 to 1-12 in front.
Again they left Dicksboro hanging. A foul on Davy Ryan earned Shane Maher a point before he threatened the goal.
A pair of pointed frees from Hogan guided Clara into safe territory. They were home after that.
Scorers: Clara - Keith Hogan (0-9, eight frees); Lester yan, Liam Ryan, Ciaran Prendergast (0-2 each); James Nolan (1-0); Conor Phelan, Austin Murphy, Jack Langton (0-1 each). Dicksboro - Shane Maher (1-8, seven points frees); Cillian Buckley (0-4); Paul O’Flynn (0-2); Derek O’Gorman (0-1).
Clara - Killian Phelan, Dermot Nolan, John Phelan, Tom Ryan, Neal Prendergast, Shane Prendergast, David Langton, Lester Ryan, Jack Langton, Conor Phelan, Keith Hogan, Liam Ryan, Austin Murphy, James Nolan, Ciaran Prendergast.
Dicksboro - Aaron Duggan, Evan Cody, Kieran Cuddihy, Enda Malone, Tom Manning, David Glynn, Kevin Nolan, Cillian Buckley, Ollie Walsh, Derek O’Gorman, Marco Ruessman, Paul O’Flynn, Kevin Kenny, Shane Maher, Martin Gaffney. Subs - Cillian Starr for K. Nolan; Davy Ryan for M. Ruessman; Conor O’Loughlin for O’Gorman.
Referee - Paddy Neary (James Stephens).