BY NIALL SHERRY – SPORTS EDITOR
All thoughts now turn to championship opener
Brian Cody took his charges to Cusack Park last Saturday in a bid to finish their Allianz League campaign unbeaten. However, a spirited and sharper performance by Clare saw the Banner County edge to a four-point win. This meant Clare’s remarkable run of results over Kilkenny in the National League continues, with the Cats failing to get over the Munster side in the last six seasons of the competition.
With top spot in Division 1B already secure, perhaps Kilkenny minds were not as focused as normal – and Brian Lohan’s men took advantage of this, racing into a 2-6 to 0-5 lead, thanks largely to two Tony Kelly goals. Clare’s sizzling start appeared to shock the cats into action and they rallied as the half wore on, scoring nine of the last twelve points to trail by the minimum on the short whistle, 2-9 to 0-14.
Cody’s plans were not helped, losing both captain Adrian Mullen & the returning Walter Walsh to injury before half-time. It was the towering forward Walsh’s first appearance of 2021, and no doubt he would have been hoping to play at least fifty minutes on his return. Captain Mullen had notched three points before his departure, and this will have given his manager much encouragement with Championship Hurling on the horizon.
The managers words must have inspired the Nore-siders, as they fought hard to lead by one point by the second water break, 0-21 to 2-14. However, a further two-goal salvo from the Banner men in the space of just 30 seconds, courtesy of Reidy & Shanagher left Kilkenny with too much to do. Despite a gritty comeback and bringing the game level in the 67th minute, further scores from the Clare bench saw them pull ahead to claim a deserved four-point win. The game was played at a championship level of intensity and was undoubtably Kilkenny’s biggest test of 2021, however, they will be disappointed to have come up short against the Banner.
Tribesmen at the double?
Four wins from four games had guaranteed that Kilkenny would top Group B, irrespective of the defeat to Clare. With Galway topping Division 1A with victory over Cork, ahead of a probable Leinster championship meeting with Kilkenny, this will now double as the League final should the sides meet later this summer.
KILKENNY: E. Murphy; T. Walsh, H. Lawlor, P. Deegan; D. Corcoran, P. Walsh, C. Browne; R. Reid (0-3), R. Leahy (0-1); A. Mullen (0-3), W. Walsh (0-1), B. Ryan (0-2); J. Bergin, TJ Reid (0-9 7’fs 2 65’s), E. Cody (0-4). Subs: M. Carey (0-1) for Mullen 33mins M. Keoghan (1-0) for W. Walsh 35mins C. Wallace for T. Walsh, D. Blanchfield (0-1) for Leahy and N. Brassil for Ryan all h-t L. Blanchfield for Bergin 59mins C. Buckley for R. Reid 63mins
>> SHERRY SAYS….
It’s a long way from Clare to here… Defeat at Cusack Park was not expected. Four wins from four games had been the perfect path to the last group game, but an also in-form Clare had different ideas about how things would end.
Brian Lohan’s men had suffered defeat to Antrim earlier in the campaign, but having then secured three back-to-back wins, they took to the pitch in Ennis with a certain confidence, if not a swagger.
As with the other league fixtures, Brian Cody chose to again shuffle the deck, giving more minutes to players, ahead of what he hopes to be a long hot summer.
It was great to see the return of Walter Walsh – his presence around the edge of the square could be vital in games – especially if the opposition doubles up on TJ.
Another encouraging sign was the three-point haul of this year’s captain Adrian Mullen. While both Walter & Adrian left the field before the short whistle, due to injury, both are expected to be available when the cats travel to Portlaoise on July 3rd for their Leinster Championship opener.
In the games to date, the manager has managed to get many players game time – anyone that hasn’t seen much time will have been largely due to injury.
What the cats have done through the league, is show a couple of different ways of playing – building out from the back – players in each line getting a touch before the sliotar reaches the scoring zone. The other way is delivering the sliotar from back to front quickly for scores. Both methods achieve the end result – scores, but no doubt the debate will rage across not only the county, but all hurling country as to the merits and or attractiveness of it all!
It will take a minor miracle for our championship opposition not to be Wexford – Unless Laois’s league campaign was some sort of ‘buff’, we can safely say Davy will be plotting to end our summer early.
There’s no doubt that Wexford are better than they showed last time out at Nowlan Park –but if Cody can keep his cats ticking over until they take to the O’Moore Park pitch, the Kilkenny faithful will be confident of a possible Leinster Final date with Galway – which will also double as the league final. The season starts now.
As the league draws to a close a special mention to the Saffrons of Antrim. The Ulstermen finished a very respectable 4th, ahead of both Dublin & Laois. Victory over Clare & a draw against Davy’s boys, two undoubted highlights of a successful campaign. Darren Gleeson is certainly working is magic in the Glen’s!