Bord Gáis Energy GAA Hurling All-Ireland U21 Final: Kilkenny 2-11 Clare 2-17
Clare delivered a remarkable second half performance to take their second-ever All-Ireland U21 title after a cracking contest against Kilkenny in Thurles on Saturday night.
The Banner trailed by three points, 2-7 to 1-7, at the break having conceded two goals just before half-time, but they hit the first four scores of the second half and Conor McGrath landed a crucial second goal in the 44th minute to secure a famous win.
Cathal O’Connell, the Clare corner forward, won the man of the match award after hitting 1-6, including a fine early goal and playing a crucial role in McGrath’s clincher.
Clare had the better of the opening exchanges and a flurry of scores from their lively attack gave them a 0-3 to 0-2 lead after five minutes.
Two minutes later, O’Connell breached the Cats’ defence, profiting from a slip from a Kilkenny defender to fire a low shot past Dylan Walsh, the Kilkenny goalkeeper.
Two further points in quick succession, from Colm Galvin and Patrick O’Connor, saw the Banner men lead by 1-5 to 0-2 after eight minutes.
Kevin Kelly and the impressive Walter Walsh pulled scores back for Kilkenny, before the Cats came roaring back into the game in the second quarter.
Walsh tested Ronan Taaffe’s reflexes with a rasping shot, which the Clare goalkeeper deflected over the bar, before Kevin Kelly left just two points between the sides with his second of the game in the 21st minute.
Then, just before the break, Kilkenny struck with a double dart of goals. For the first, John Power was fouled after catching a high ball in the square, and the big full-forward drove home the resultant penalty himself.
In added time the Cats moved a goal clear when Ger Aylward found space and finished expertly to leave his side 2-7 to 1-7 ahead at half-time.
Clare hit the first four points of the second half, with O’Connell racking up three of those, to retake the lead, before Aylward levelled matters with the Cats’ first score of the second half on 40 minutes.
Kilkenny were on the rack, though, and Clare dominated the remainder of the game game, with Cathal McInerney putting his side back into the lead and full-forward McGrath netting a fine goal at the end of the third quarter.
In truth, the final 15 minutes were one-sided, as the Clare defence dominated the game, with Kevin Kelly keeping the Cats in touch with a series of frees.
A fine McInerney point on 55 minutes all but sealed the win, while, Tony Kelly had the final say, giving his side a thoroughly deserved six-point win.
Kilkenny Scorers: K Kelly 0-6 (0-4f), P Walsh 0-1, W Walsh 0-2, G Brennan 0-1, G Aylward 1-1, J Power 1-0 (1-0 pen).
Clare Scorers: C McInerney 0-3 (0-1f), C O’Connell 1-6 (0-4f), S Morey 0-1, C Galvin 0-1, P O’Connor 0-1, T Kelly 0-2 (0-1f), C McGrath 1-0, P Collins 0-1, S Golden 0-1.
Kilkenny: D Walsh; J Corcoran, W Phelan, B Kennedy; L Harney, R Doyle, J Lyng; G Brennan, O Walsh; K Kelly, P Walsh, C Buckley; W Walsh, J Power, G Aylward.
Clare: R Taaffe; P Flanagan, D McInerney, K Ryan; S Morey, C Ryan, P O’Connor; C Galvin, S Golden; A Cunningham, P Collins, T Kelly; C O’Connell, C McGrath, C McInerney.
Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan