Buckey's late point saves Cats' blushes
Cillian Buckley's point in the final minute secured a 1-18 to 1-17 victory over Clare and Division 1A status for Kilkenny.
Clare dug in resolutely in the second half, extending Kilkenny to the very limit before being edged out. The luckless Bannermen had to play the final four minutes without Tony Kelly, which may well have been crucial.
He had given an inspired performance up to then, scoring 0-9 (0-7 from open play) and tormenting the Kilkenny defence at every turn.
Given how easily he played himself into the action all day, it's highly probable that he would have influenced the final few minutes but, unfortunately for Clare, he was forced out with a leg injury.
It typified Clare's season where luck rarely smiled on them as they suffered their way through five defeats, finishing with a drop to 1B. Two of the defeats were by one-point margins to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park on successive Sundays, adding to the frustration of a camp which has experienced only two wins in their last 12 games.
"I'm gutted with that result today. There's no other way to describe it. I really felt we were going to win," said Davy Fitzgerald.
It looked at half-time as if Kilkenny might win relatively easy after trailing by a single point (1-8 to 1-7) despite playing against a strong wind. In fact, they led by three points after 19 minutes before Clare improved their strike rate, out-scoring Kilkenny by 0-5 to 0-1 on the run-in to the interval.
They had a glorious chance to score a second goal in the 26th minute but Kelly whizzed a penalty wide. It was the only black mark on another otherwise excellent performance.
Shane O'Donnell pounced for a Clare goal - his third in two games against Kilkenny - in the fourth minute, but Kilkenny cancelled it out 14 minutes later with a sweet strike by TJ Reid off a Richie Hogan sideline cut.
Fitzgerald insisted afterwards that he wasn't overly concerned with the half-time situation, believing that Clare's style of play would be suited to playing into the wind.
Kelly and O'Donnell looked as if they had the beating of any marker and, as Clare's confidence grew, the extent of the challenge facing Kilkenny increased considerably.
Clare led by two points after 57 minutes and held a one point advantage in the 64th minute before Kieran Joyce and Walter Walsh pointed to put Kilkenny ahead.
O'Donnell equalised before Buckley hoisted a long range point in the first minute of stoppage time.
It proved crucial, allowing Kilkenny to remain in the top flight after a campaign where the won three of six games. "That was a serious game of hurling. Obviously, staying up in the top division was important to both teams, and it showed," said Brian Cody.