Gaelic GamesMatch Report

Fireworks arrive on final night of league as Clare hold on against Kilkenny in tense endgame

Aidan McCarthy ends evening with a tally of 2-10 as Banner seal league crown in exciting league final

Allianz Hurling League Final: Clare 3-16 Kilkenny 1-20

Having renounced excitement for the last two months the hurling league let its hair down on Saturday night. After a terrific second half, energised by goals and scoreboard swings and unseasonal aggression and unexpected tension, Clare won just the fifth league title in their history. The pitch invasion was heartfelt. On a cool April evening in Thurles it nearly felt like summer.

In the GAA every league is eaten bread soon forgotten, but Clare had a hole in their stomachs and an appetite to win something. For the last two years they had been in the top three teams in the country with nothing to show for it except a best supporting actor nomination for their part in a couple of blockbuster Munster finals, followed by two concussive defeats to Kilkenny in Croke Park. On their way to base camp for the climbs ahead they needed the validation of this win.

“It was just massive for us, particularly with our results against Kilkenny over the last couple of years,” said Brian Lohan. “We’ve had to deal with a lot of disappointment from Kilkenny so we were very focused.

“You can’t beat winning. It’s an old saying but it’s a true saying. It’s great for the group, it’s great for the county. We’ve put down a really good week. Our minors did very well on Thursday night, our under-20s did brilliant last night [beating Limerick] and the pressure was there for the seniors to do something tonight.”


For Kilkenny it was their fourth loss in a national final in less than 21 months – two All-Irelands and two leagues. All of those defeats were against teams from their peer group at the very top of the game, but it is not something they can blithely shrug off.

The late defection of TJ Reid with a hamstring strain clearly undermined their chances. Apart from his playmaking and leadership, his dead ball striking is money in the bank. On Saturday night Kilkenny missed a penalty and a couple of frees in what turned out to be a two-point game.

The penalty came two minutes from the end of normal time, with Clare four points up but suddenly scrambling. Eoin Cody, who sparked into life in the final quarter, had scored a splendid goal just three minutes earlier, but his penalty lacked conviction. After a careful roll-lift an unmenacing shot scarcely deviated off a straight line and was smothered by Eibhear Quilligan.

Clare deserved to win but their sloppiness and loss of concentration in the last phase of the game revived every other outcome. After Aidan McCarthy’s second goal, 19 minutes into the second half, Clare led by seven points, and playing with the wind they seemed to be in complete control. Before the end, that feeling melted.

McCarthy finished the game with 2-10, a superb tally on a treacherous night for shooting. Apart from the 2-1 that he scored from play he landed some clutch long range frees, near half-time and near the end. The outstanding Adam Hogan, at corner back, was the broadcaster’s choice for man of the match but it must have been a close call.

The remnants of Storm Kathleen played hell with the long-range shooting of both teams. The wind was blowing towards the Town End terrace but it wasn’t directly down the field which made shooting a trigonometry problem. Kilkenny had first use of the elements and reached half-time with as many wides, nine, as points.

Kilkenny went hunting for goals too and Adrian Mullen was involved in three chances. Once he was blocked by Hogan, the next time Conor Leen put his body in the path of Mullen’s shot, but on the other occasion Mullen didn’t recognise an overlap and took a point instead of feeding the unmarked Billy Ryan.

Kilkenny led by 0-9 to 0-6 after 28 minutes, but the rest of the half belonged to Clare. McCarthy landed a couple of frees, including one from near the Clare 65, and he pounced for the opening goal after a surging run from Mark Rodgers.

Clare led by 1-8 to 0-9 at the break and consolidated their position immediately after half-time with a cracking goal from David Fitzgerald, finishing a move started by Shane O’Donnell. Having given the league a skip O’Donnell was introduced at half time and instantly added energy and leadership to the Clare attack.

Clare pushed on in the third quarter and seemed to have put the game to bed with McCarthy’s second goal. Kilkenny, typically, refused to quit. Martin Keoghan, who came on before half-time, thundered into the game with four points; Cian Kenny, John Donnelly and Cody all belatedly exerted their influence and Kilkenny charged at Clare. They had given themselves too much to do.

Clare: E Quilligan, A Hogan, C Cleary, C Leen, D Ryan (0-1), J Conlon, C Galvin, C Malone (0-1), D Lohan (0-1), D Fitzgerald (1-0), D Reidy, P Duggan, A McCarthy (2-10, 0-9 frees), I Galvin (0-1), M Rodgers (0-2).

Subs: S O’Donnell for Galvin, half-time; A Shanagher for Reidy, 53 mins; D McInerney for C Galvin, 58 mins; R Hayes for Leen, 59 mins; S Morey for Lohan, 67 mins.

Kilkenny: E Murphy, S Murphy (0-1), H Lawlor, T Walsh, D Blanchfield (0-1), P Deegan, R Reid (0-1), C Kenny (0-2), J Molloy (0-1), A Mullen (0-3), J Donnelly (0-1), B Ryan (0-1), L Hogan, E Cody (1-4, 0-3 frees), B Drennan (0-1, free).

Subs: M Keoghan (0-4) for Hogan, 30 mins; T Clifford for Drennan, 45 mins; K Blanchfield for Molloy, 50 mins; L Blanchfield for Ryan, 60 mins.

Referee: Johnny Murphy (Limerick).

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh

Denis Walsh is a sports writer with The Irish Times