BY NIALL SHERRY
PHOTOS BY INPHO
Butler pockets Kelly in crushing of Clare
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Final
Croke Park, Dublin
Kilkenny 2-26 Clare 0-20
It’s a long, long way from Clare to here. That certainly was the feeling amongst the travelling Banner supporters as they emptied out of Croke Park last Saturday evening.
Brian Cody’s Kilkenny team put on a wonderful display of hurling to dismantle the much-talked about Munster team and secure a place in the July 17th decider and in doing so, a 17th All-Ireland Final for the legendary bainisteoir. They will face-off against the mighty force that is Limerick, but that’s for another day.
Make no mistake, this was a timely reminder that the latest version of ‘Cody’s Cats’ is on the right track.
The 12-point victory didn’t flatter Kilkenny, in fact they were well worth the winning margin. Yes, Clare hit an astounding amount of wides, 23 in total. It’s hard to fathom any other result in championship hurling when you amass such a stat.
From the moment Tipperary whistler Fergal Horgan threw the sliotar in, the Cats took control. indeed, their first scoring opportunity came in the opening seconds when they were awarded the first free of the day. TJ Reid, making a record 72nd championship appearance for his beloved county, and overtaking Henry Shefflin, slotted over what was to be the first of 10 scores for the Ballyhale man.
The Banner hit back moments later when midfielder David Fitgerald fired over from distance to level matters. Eire Og’s Shane O’Donnell then showed some god skill before sending over a fine point from out on the right. Little did the Clare faithful know that this would be the last time they would get their noses in front of their more illustrious opponents.
Some great pressure applied to the Clare defence by TJ and Adrian Mullen saw the Cats emerge with the ball and punish the opposition when Adrian got his first of the day.
As things settled down, we could see that Mikey Butler had been given the job of shackling Clare’s danger-man, Tony Kelly. The O’Loughlin’s man was like a second-skin on the Ballyea attacker, not giving him any room to breath, let alone thrive in the open spaces of Croke Park.
From one of the many Clare wides, Eoin Murphy took the restart which TJ plucked magnificently out of the air, before slipping the ball to the supporting Adrian Mullen who finished superbly to edge his side ahead, with about 7 minutes on the clock. By the eighth minute Brian Lohan’s men had hit 4 wides.
Eoin Cody, who had failed to raise a flag in his last couple of outings, then showed great strength to win possession before blazing away from his marker. The Shamrocks sharp-shooter made for the Clare goal from out on the left before unleashing a quality effort from the tightest of angles which ‘Hawk Eye’ confirmed what we all knew – what a point!
Some good play by The Village’s Cian Kenny saw him fouled as he emerged from a scramble out on the right sideline. TJ made no mistake. Clare tried to go long from the puck-out, but Huw Lawlor rose majestically to claim the catch above Peter Duggan. The crowd enjoyed that one. TJ then showed his tenacity and defensive ability to turnover Conor Cleary. He then moved the ball to Eoin Cody who got his second of the day. Adrian Mullen then fed the on-running Conor Browne who split the posts with a fine shot to push the Cats lead to 5 points with just over 12 minutes played, that was the fifth point in a row from the men in black and amber.
Clare were struggling. Their attack was misfiring, their defence was struggling to cope with the Cats attacking unit. They badly needed a score and it came from midfielder Fitzgerald who struck over another from distance. From the Kilkenny puck-out, TJ claimed the ball, turned and fired over, a cracking score, his adoring fans chanting ‘TJ, TJ’! The Kilkenny supporters were clearly excited by their sides opening quarter display.
Cratloe’s Diarmuid Ryan fired over a couple of nice points, with TJ adding another free after Cian Kenny was caught high. Kenny was getting on lots of loose breaking ball and was again fouled moments later, TJ pointed the free, his 5th score of the day. The Cats led 0-10 to 0-5, Clare had 7 wides, we had played 22 minutes at headquarters.
TJ then found club Adrian Mullen underneath the Cusack stand and the No.8 made no mistake. Mullen then combined with Eoin Cody to allow the latter to point. Then following another bad miss from the Banner, Eoin Murphy found Padraig Walsh with the puck-out and the Tullaroan man fired over a point with all the freedom of Croke Park.
Conor Browne then found the lively Cian Kenny who capped an industrious first half with a nice point. TJ then took another excellent catch before slipping Eoin Cody in. Cody was bearing down on the Clare goal and struck a fierce shot which netminder Quilligan somehow managed to bat away. Billy Ryan was quick to the break and slung over the point. The gap was now ten points, 0-15 to 0-5 with half an hour gone.
Such was Mikey Butler’s magnificent marking job on Tony Kelly, it took the much talked about Clare star 31 minutes to get on the scoreboard, and that was from the placed ball. Eoin Cody and TJ then managed to turnover Paudie Fitzpatrick; the ball was given to Padraig Walsh who registered his 2nd point of the day. Paddy Deegan then sent a booming pass in the direction of Adrian Mullen. The former captain took a great catch before turning and firing over.
Any thought’s Brian Lohan had of a stirring half-time talk to awaken his charges; became a lot more difficult in the 36th minute. At the Canal end, Peter Duggan had a great chance to set up a goal, but chose to take on the shot, and Cats All-Star keeper Eoin Murphy saved. Kilkenny through captain Richie Reid; quickly worked the ball down the other end, and after a little bit of a scramble, Martin Keoghan emerged with the ball and batted his effort towards goal. Again, keeper Quilligan saved the initial effort, but was powerless to prevent Mossy tapping the rebound home. Game, set and match Kilkenny, all before the short whistle sounded.
As Fergal Horgan brought the 1st half to an end, the score board in Croker read, Kilkenny 1-17, Clare 0-6. A 14-point lead for the Noresiders.
When play resumed, Kilkenny had made one change, with Walter Walsh replacing goal-scorer, Mossy Keoghan. The first two scores after the interval came from a shell-shocked Clare, with Diarmuid Ryan and Rory Hayes pointing to try and stem the rising Cats tide. As per the first half, TJ got his side’s first score from the placed ball. Tony Kelly got his second score of the day from a free moments later, but Graigue-Ballycallan’s Billy Ryan shows great pace to get away from his marker and slot between the posts. Tulla’s David McInerney then rifled over a good point, but Brian Lohan’s men still trailed by 12.
Any remote chance of a miracle on Jones’s Road was ended in the 42nd minute. A long ball out of defence was caught brilliantly by Walter Walsh, who turned before laying off a nicely weighted hand-pass to Cian Kenny. Kenny steadied himself before striking a hard low shot past the helpless Quilligan. Boom! Kilkenny 2-19, much talked about Clare, 0-10.
Eoin Murphy then pulled-off a stunning save to deny Clare a goal. Tony Kelly converted the resulting ‘65. Peter Duggan then pointed from a placed ball, before Walter hit a super point from play underneath the Hogan stand. The banner then hit 3 on the bounce, before the smallest of small revivals was halted when Adrian Mullen took a fine catch before turning and pointing. Clare sub; Mark Rodgers then raised a couple of white flags as some of the Clare crowd found their voices. TJ then rifled over a monster free from deep inside his own half, after the impressive Shane O’Donnell had been blown up for taking an extra 10 steps!
Another excellent ball out of the Kilkenny defence from Richie Reid was collected by Cian Kenny who didn’t hesitate in firing over another lovely point. The Cats constant mauling of their opponents continued when TJ & Adrian combined to force Cathal Malone into fouling. TJ punished the offence and added to his healthy tally as Brian Cody’s men led by some 13-points with an hour on the clock.
Clare badly needed goals, and probably a few at that. David Fitgerald tried in vain, but Eoin Murphy was in no mood to concede, and again denied the opposition a certain goal. The Noresiders again worked the ball from back to front with the minimum of fuss, and TJ split the posts.
Tony Kelly slotted over another free for his sides 19th score of the day. The ever-improving and hugely impressive Huw Lawlor took another great catch before arrowing a pass to TJ who secured possession before turning and firing over the bar, that was his tenth score of the game. Clare did score the final point of the game through Shane O’Donnell, his 4th from play, but it was mere consolation for the much-hyped Banner team as Fergal Horgan brought the demolition to an end. Final score at headquarters, Kilkenny 2-26, Clare 0-20.
Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy; Mikey Butler, Huw Lawlor, Tommy Walsh; Michael Carey, Richie Reid, Paddy Deegan; Adrian Mullen (0-05), Conor Browne (0-01); Eoin Cody (0-03), Padraig Walsh (0-02), TJ Reid (0-10, 7fs); Billy Ryan (0-02), Martin Keoghan (1-0), Cian Kenny (1-02).
Subs: Walter Walsh (0-1) for Keoghan (half-time), John Donnelly for P Walsh (49), Richie Leahy for Browne (61), Alan Murphy for Ryan (66), Conor Delaney for Carey (72).
Clare: Eibhear Quilligan; Rory Hayes (0-1), Conor Cleary, Paul Flanagan; Diarmuid Ryan (0-03), Páudí Fitzpatrick, David McInerney (0-01); David Fitzgerald (0-03), David Reidy; Cathal Malone, Tony Kelly (0-04, 3fs, 65) Shane O’Donnell (0-04); Ian Galvin, Peter Duggan (0-01f), Ryan Taylor (0-01).
Subs: Aron Shanagher for Galvin (26), Mark Rodgers (0-02) for Reidy, Aaron Fitzgerald for Fitpatrick (ht), Shane Meehan for Duggan (49), Shane Golden for Taylor (65)
Referee: Fergal Horgan
>> SHERRY SAYS…..
Michael, Cusack, Eamon De Valera, Percy French, Partick Hillery, Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart-Parnell, Seanie McMahon, Anthony Daly, Jamesie O’Connor and Davy Fitgerald…..Your boys took one hell of a beating in Croker last week!
In the build-up to this game, all the talk was about Tony Kelly. Much talk surrounded Kilkenny’s failure in their last 2 All-Ireland semi-finals.
Last week we witnessed one of Kilkenny’s best performances in years, certainly since 2015. The hunger, desire, passion, and clinical approach to their game was outstanding. Yes, Clare hit 23 wides, but let’s not take anything away from the Cats masterclass in Croke Park. To highlight their attributes, we scored 1-14 from turnovers.
Led by the inspirational TJ Reid and captained brilliantly by his brother Richie, the men in black and amber went for the jugular. All over the pitch, the Noresiders reveled. They won their individual battles and played like a team that had 100% belief in their manager’s plan. The four weeks of hard training, team bonding and analysis of their opponent, fully paid off.
Starting with Eoin Murphy who continues to deny attackers goals, the defence anchored by Huw Lawlor at 3 and Captain Richie Reid at 6, they are developing a mean streak. Throw-in Tommy Walsh, Mikey Carey and Paddy Deegan, and you have a great blend of youth and experience.
Last but by no means least, Mikey Butler. Jesus, you wouldn’t want him to be marking you! The job Butler did on Tony Kelly, cannot be underestimated. The talented Ballyea man didn’t score from play.
Around the middle third, the Village duo of Conor Browne and Cian Kenny, along with the roaming Adrian Mullen put in huge shifts and all got on the scoreboard, with Kenny goaling and Mullen hitting an impressive 0-5. Adrian looks to have finally shaken off the injury that curtailed his hurling journey.
Billy Ryan’s pace and endless energy, coupled with Mossy Keoghan’s goal threat are a great foil for Eoin Cody & TJ Reid. Eoin put on his best performance of the season to date against the Banner and hit 0-3.
TJ Reid, where do you start? The Shamrocks Ballyhale man rolled back the years to remind everyone T is not just for Tony, it’s for TJ. Ten points doesn’t even begin to tell the story of the legends’ contribution. His catching ability, work rate, tackling and vision are phenomenal.
From 1-26, this panel of players are on a mission. One more stop on the way. Another visit to Croker. Limerick awaits. The pressure is on them.