Davy Fitzgerland stays cautious after Clare demolish Kilkenny
National Hurling League Division One semi-final: Clare 4-22 Kilkenny 2-19
‘GIVE me another crack at them later in the year’ was the message from Clare boss Davy Fitzgerald after watching his side demolish All-Ireland champions Kilkenny in Sunday’s Allianz National Hurling League Division One semi-final.
The Banner men ran out nine-point winners against the Cats in front of 20,481 spectators at Semple Stadium to set up a league final clash with holders Waterford on May 1.
“It’s a nice victory, thoroughly deserved,” Fitzgerald said.
“Our workrate today was savage, our hooks, blocks and tackles were way up. The lads played with savage pride and heart, I couldn’t say enough about them. It will make things interesting for some of the lads that have to come back and try to get into that team. Very hard to leave off lads the way they played today.”
And then, the note of caution: “This is April, like,” Fitzgerald stressed.
“I’d love to have the opportunity later in the year to meet Kilkenny. There was one or two quotes used during the week that we used, that we might as well not turn up today. I thought it was very disrespectful, I don’t think we’re a bad team. I think we’ve showed that over the last number of years. We’re not full of it but I think, when we’re right, we’ll compete and that’s what we did today.
"We’re not going to be fooled by today, we know the quality that’s in Kilkenny, we know the quality that’s out there amongst a number of teams. You could probably pick out five or six teams that could win an All-Ireland. We’re not going to be fooled into thinking anything about that, we’re going to play the league final on its merits in two weeks' time. We’ll just see what happens then.”
Not ideal, perhaps, that Championship opponents Waterford will provide the final opposition five weeks before the counties joust in the Munster semi-final: “Waterford next, they were very impressive in the first game, I got to watch a bit of it," Fitzgerald added.
“They strolled through Division One and, to me, they’re the best team in the country without a shadow of a doubt at the moment.”
The mind games have begun in earnest ahead of that league decider, but Kilkenny manager Brian Cody was forthright in his post-match assessment: “No excuses, no nothing else about it,” was his verdict.
“They got on top of the game early and they played very, very well. The scoreline is a fair reflection of the way the game went.”
A little over a year after Kilkenny won a relegation play-off against Clare, they were torched by the same opponents. Aaron Cunningham and Conor McGrath sparkled in attack on a day when 2013 Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly came off the bench to make his first league appearance of the year. Kelly pointed with his first touch and added another to hand Clare their biggest lead of the game, 4-18 to 1-14.
That 13-point gap was cut to nine by full-time, but Clare were full value for it to leave themselves within touching distance of a first top-flight league crown since 1978. Cunningham hit all of his 2-3 in the first-half and McGrath finished up with a total of 1-6, including a brilliant second-half goal. Powerhouse forward John Conlon also netted for Clare as TJ Reid and Jonjo Farrell collected second-half consolation goals for Kilkenny.
Colm Galvin was also superb for Clare, in a roving commission around the middle-third of the field, picking off five sweet points. By half-time, Clare were a whopping 11 points clear, 3-12 to 0-10, as the Kilkenny full-back line struggled under an aerial onslaught. Two of Clare’s goals came from route one deliveries that Kilkenny couldn’t cope with, as Conlon and Cunningham picked up the pieces for goals one and three.
Kilkenny’s leading scorer TJ Reid somehow managed to find the net with a 20-metre free in the 42nd minute through a posse of bodies, but Clare would not be denied.
Clare: P Kelly; O O’Brien, C Dillon, P Flanagan; C Cleary, P O’Connor, D Fitzgerald; B Bugler, C Galvin (0-5); J Conlon (1-1), C McGrath (1-6, 2f, 2 65s), D Reidy (0-1); P Collins (0-1), D Honan (0-2), A Cunningham (2-3); Subs: T Kelly (0-2) for Conlon (51), C O’Connell (0-1) for Honan (57), C Ryan for Reidy (64), A Shanagher for Cunningham (67), B Duggan for Collins (70+1).
Kilkenny: E Murphy; J Tyrrell, J Holden, S Prendergast; P Walsh (0-2), K Joyce, C O’Shea; L Ryan, C Buckley (0-1); W Walsh (0-2), TJ Reid (1-7, 1-6f), K Kelly (0-2); J Power (0-1), Jonjo Farrell (1-1), R Hogan (0-1); Subs: B Kennedy for Tyrrell (22), L Blanchfield for O’Shea (55), C Bolger (0-2) for Kelly (64).
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).