Cody's fringe Cats state case for play-off berths
FOR Kilkenny, there was nothing tangible at stake but you'd never have guessed it from their fringe players - or increasingly raucous fans - as this Allianz HL relegation 'dress-rehearsal' with Clare drew to a thrilling Nowlan Park climax.
Come what may, Kilkenny were destined for the Division 1A relegation play-off. Clare craved victory and would have fulfilled their side of the bargain if Tony Kelly had goaled a stoppage-time penalty - even though Dublin's win over Galway closed off their escape route, in any event.
As it was, Eoin Murphy denied the otherwise excellent Kelly to seal a 2-20 to 2-19 victory. Afterwards, Brian Cody wasn't claiming any psychological bragging rights ahead of next weekend's rematch, with venue to be decided by a coin toss today.
But, surely, when a Kilkenny team that numbers just five of last year's All-Ireland replay 15 can outscore a Clare side boasting 11 of their All-Ireland winning starters from 2013 ... well, that is hardly designed to send Banner self-belief soaring, especially given their 12-month results graph and the recent furore over the panel exits of Davy O'Halloran and Nicky O'Connell?
Davy Fitzgerald (inset) underlined how he was "wicked proud" of his players and insisted: "Whether we go down to 1B or not, I don't care."
While Shane O'Donnell underlined his poacher's instinct with two first half goals, Clare only led 2-9 to 1-9 after playing with the wind. Ultimately, Kilkenny's relatively unheralded full-forward line of Jonjo Farrell (1-2) and the roving Mark Kelly (0-3), flanking eye-catching newcomer Kevin Kelly (1-9, 1-2 from play) carried a more consistent threat.
Clare lost Colm Galvin and Conor McGrath to hamstring trouble; ditto Kilkenny's Jackie Tyrrell. However, their Ballyhale brigade will resume training ahead of the real deal.
"It was a decent game but they will be way better next week," Fitzgerald warned. "We've been bursting ourselves trying to get results. I'm just worried that we might be a bit flat."
SCORERS - Kilkenny: K Kelly 1-9 (4f, 3 '65s', JJ Farrell 1-2, M Kelly 0-3, W Walsh, M Ruth 0-2 each, J Lyng, G Aylward 0-1 each. CLARE: Colin Ryan 0-7 (4f, 1 '65'), S O'Donnell 2-0, T Kelly 0-4, C Galvin, S Morey, C McGrath 0-2 each, J Conlon, C Cleary 0-1 each.
KILKENNY: E Murphy; S Prendergast, P Murphy, J Tyrrell; T Keogh, K Joyce, W Phelan; J Lyng, B Kennedy; W Walsh, J Power, M Ruth; JJ Farrell, K Kelly, M Kelly. Subs: G Aylward for Kennedy (50), R Lennon for Tyrrell (inj 63).
CLARE: P Kelly; P Flanagan, D McInerney, J Browne; C Dillon, Conor Ryan, P Donnellan; S Morey, C Galvin; J Conlon, T Kelly, C McGrath; A Cunningham, S O'Donnell, Colin Ryan. Subs: D Reidy for Cunningham (52), D O'Donovan for Flanagan (55), D Honan for McGrath (inj 61), C Cleary for Galvin (inj 68).
WIDES: Kilkenny 10 (6+4); Clare 6 (4+2)
YELLOW: Kilkenny 1 (Prendergast 43); Clare 3 (Browne 6, McGrath 27, P Kelly 31)
REF: J Owens (Wexford). ATT: 6,298.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Kevin Kelly (Kilkenny)