Nowlan Park will not have the honour of hosting this year’s NHL final, but there is the consolation that Kilkenny will be in Semple Stadium on Sunday week with Cork providing the opposition. Anyone who travelled to Thurles for Sunday’s semi-finals got poor value for the entrance fee.
The Kilkenny versus Clare game was played at a pedestrian pace and lacked intensity and urgency. This suited Kilkenny, who were well able to switch to a higher momentum in the second half.
If Richie Power had converted his first half penalty one suspects that the Cats would have pulled away earlier. They got a lucky break in the second half when awarded a lineball that perhaps should have gone to Clare.
The resultant passage of play saw Matthew Ruth score the game’s only goal, testament to the James Stephens attacker’s eye for goal.
Clare started as we expected and were full of enthusiasm for most of the first half. The Banner is a young side and their joust with Kilkenny was, no doubt, a great learning experience.
I was hugely impressed by their full-back Cian Dillon; wing-back Liam Markham and full-forward Conor McGrath. If the rest of Davy Fitzgerald’s squad can continue to improve over the next two years, Clare could be a side to be reckoned with.
Not a vintage display
This was far from a vintage display by Kilkenny, but Clare’s approach was more intent on containment than success. Deploying a two-man (and at times a one-man) full-forward line was never going to bring success to the Banner.
Fitzgerald’s short-ball tactics (reminiscent of Cork not too long ago) caused endless problems for his players. That tactic will work in Division 1B, but not against the top sides who are now coached to nullify the approach.
Over the 70 minutes Clare scored five points from play. Kilkenny, on the other hand, scored 1-14 and that statistic alone showed the gulf in class between the sides.
One area requiring some attention from Kilkenny is the number of frees conceded. The Banner converted nine placed balls and should have scored at least another three. On another day such indiscretions might prove costly.
For 35 minutes the second semi-final between Cork and Tipperary was every bit as lacklustre as the opening game. The tempo improved after the break and for the first time during the afternoon the attendance of just under 16,000 got something to get excited about.
Cork deservedly won and looked the sharper side in most sectors. Manager Jimmy Barry Murphy has assembled a fine side, supplementing a group of players with plenty of experience with some really talented youngsters.
Tipperary are missing a few key players, but the form of the side has slipped alarmingly. Manager Declan Ryan has a big job on his hands over the coming weeks as he prepares the squad to defend the Munster title.
Tipp substituted both midfielders and aside from Brian O’Meara and Pa Bourke (to a lesser extend) the attack was well contained by an excellent Cork defence. It is really no surprise that Cork made such progress under Jimmy Barry Murphy.
Matters unrelated to hurling occupied the minds of players for far too long in the county. Barry Murphy has got the players focused in the right direction again, and one could not but be impressed at the manner in which they pulled away from Tipperary.
First loss of the year
The recent League encounter in Páirc Uí Chaoimh saw Kilkenny lose for the first time this year. The Cats will not want to succumb twice to their great rivals in a matter of weeks. There is much to look forward to in Thurles on Sunday week.
If Declan Ryan has reason to be concerned after Sunday’s defeat, so too has Anthony Daly after his Dublin side not alone lost their League title, but also ended up in Division 1B in 2013.
Dublin’s progress over the past two years has been mightily impressive, but now comes the team’s biggest challenge. The side is very low on confidence at the moment after an abysmal League. A spate of defeats is not going to help as the championship approaches.
Injuries have not helped, but the manager must also have a stern word with some of his players whose indiscipline has been very costly to his team. Galway were comfortable winners in the relegation replay on Saturday.
Throughout the pitch the Westerners looked impressive, but they may never again enjoy the freedom and open spaces they got. Joe Canning’s return was a big help, but notwithstanding the feeble effort from Dublin, the Westerners may finally have turned the corner.
Right now the odds favour a Kilkenny versus Galway Leinster senior hurling final.