That second-half revival
At half-time this game was taking on a familiar pattern as a Kilkenny hurling team had recovered from a slow start and stamped their intentions on the game with a goal-scoring spree. Ger Aylward’s strike before the break pushed Kilkenny ahead by 2-7 to 1-7 and they seemed poised to take control. And yet Clare’s belief never wavered.
Just like the Munster final where they hung in contention and got their reward, Clare stuck to their hurling philosophy in the second-half. They had only notched two points in the last 22 minutes of the the first-half but four points without reply in the first eight minutes of the second-half wiped out Kilkenny’s lead and put Clare ahead. They kicked on from there, with the magnificent Cathal O’Connell at the heart of their best efforts, and Conor McGrath’s 44th minute goal essentially settled this contest.
Shutting down the Kilkenny forward line
The second quarter of the match had hinted at the attacking threats that Kilkenny possessed – Walter Walsh’s power, Ger Aylward’s opportunism, John Power’s class and Kevin Kelly’s style. Yet in the second-half those weapons were nullified with Aylward’s 39th minute point the solitary Kilkenny score from play.
Clare’s rearguard improved greatly. Seadna Morey and Patrick O’Connor demonstrated why they are county seniors while Conor Ryan and Paul Flanagan demonstrated why they have the ability to make the jump to that level.
Even until the last whistle Clare refused to yield at the back with O’Connor first dispossessing Walsh as he barged forward in the 50th minute and then flicking the ball out of the reach of the Kilkenny forward near goal at the death. Restricting the impact of Kilkenny’s forward line helped propel Clare to glory.
Cathal McInerney the unexpected attacking star
Every All-Ireland final has a surprise figure, an unheralded player who bursts forward to take control of the game and make it his own. Clare’s Cathal McInerney fell neatly into that category last night. In 2011 McInerney was starting in the championship for Ger O’Loughlin’s Clare senior side but a loss of form lead to him being a peripheral figure earlier this season.
He did not start for the U21’s against Waterford and Tipperary but was included from the off against Antrim and last night displayed his prowess. McInerney struck four neat points from play, should have been awarded a penalty in the second-half and also won a couple of frees which O’Connell converted. The Cratloe player’s impact was crucial.
Food for thought for Kilkenny
Last night Kilkenny fielded 11 of the team that overturned Clare in the 2010 All-Ireland minor final yet the dynamic has changed in two years. Killkenny sought to bring their physicality to bear and for a while that worked with the likes of Willie Phelan, Richie Doyle and Walter Walsh in powerful form approaching half-time. But in the second-half they were undone by the precise passing, neat stickwork and blistering pace that Clare possessed.
It was interesting to reflect that pace is one of the chief weapons Galway have used against Kilkenny in this year’s championship at senior level with Johnny Coen and Damien Hayes most effective in that regard. Using a similar ploy against Kilkenny at U21 level reaped a rich dividend last night for Clare who are developing a prototype player that is small, fast and skilful.
Clare maintain the progress of 2012
They exited the All-Ireland championship at senior level on July 14th but that mid-summer departure cannot dull the bright glow that Clare hurling currently emits. Consider the statistics – two All-Ireland U21 titles in the last four years, two Munster minor crowns in 2010 and 2011, and a critical NHL Division 2 final victory this year which will expose their young talents to a higher quality of senior hurling next spring.
The county’s minor side could easily have won last month’s All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin as well with Jamie Shanahan and Conor Cleary brilliant prospects from that team. Underage success does not guarantee future senior performance of course. But considering the class of their U21 showing last night, there must be great positivity ahead of the 2013 season in Clare.