Allianz Hurling League Division IA: Clare 1-16 Kilkenny 0-18
All-Ireland champions Clare made the perfect start to their 2014 Allianz League campaign with a narrow defeat of reigning champions Kilkenny in an exciting game at Cusack Park, Ennis on Sunday.
Colin Ryan, who finished with 1-9 on the day including 1-2 from play, scored the only goal of the game in the first half, while Henry Shefflin had a second half penalty saved by a combination of Ryan and Clare goalkeeper Dónal Tuohy.
Played in front of 10,125 supporters, despite warnings from rival managers Brian Cody and Davy Fitzgerald, both sides looked in pretty decent shape and served up a hugely entertaining game.
With Newmarket-on-Fergus man Ryan hitting 1-5 in the opening quarter, including a well-worked goal after a pass from Conor McGrath, Clare bossed the opening stages and Kilkenny stayed in touch largely thanks to the free-taking prowess of Henry Shefflin, who finished with a tally of 0-12.
Ahead by five with nine minutes to go in the first half, Shefflin and Kilkenny dug deep and hit five points in a row, including a superb effort from the 11-time All Star from play, to draw level at the half-time whistle, 1-8 to 0-11.
Inseparable for the opening 10 minutes of the second half, Shefflin had a golden opportunity from the penalty spot, but his effort in the 45th minute was superbly blocked on the line, with Colin Ryan and goalkeeper Tuohy managing between them to deflect the sliotar out of harm’s way.
With 13 minutes left, the Cats appeared to make a break for the line when Pádraig Walsh, the younger brother of defender Tommy, nudged them 0-17 to 1-13 ahead.
However, the All-Ireland champions showed the kind of character that will please their manager with an impressive response in the final 10 minutes. Sub Cathal O’Connell nailed the equaliser, before Conor McGrath and match-winner Ryan added scores.
Shefflin pegged it back to a point in the final minute, but Clare held out for a valuable win after a tremendous battle on an energy sapping pitch.
Scorers for Clare: Colin Ryan 1-9 (7f), Conor McGrath 0-3, John Conlon 0-1, Patrick Donnellan 0-1, Colm Galvin 0-1, Cathal O’Connell 0-1.
Scorers for Kilkenny: Henry Shefflin 0-12 (8f, 2’65), Walter Walsh 0-2, Pádraig Walsh 0-2, Jonjo Farrell 0-1, Colin Fennelly 0-1.
Clare: D Tuohy; C Dillon, D McInerney, S Morey, P O’Connor, C Ryan, B Bugler; P Donnellan, S Golden; C Ryan, T Kelly (Ballyea), J Conlon; C McGrath, S O’Donnell, C Galvin. Subs: P Collins for Kelly (48), C O’Connell for Bugler (55), N O’Connell for Golden (60).
Kilkenny: D Herity; C Fogarty, M Walsh, B Kennedy; J Holden, L Ryan, Paul Murphy; C Buckley, P Walsh; H Shefflin, C Fennelly, E Larkin; JJ Farrell, M Kelly, W Walsh. Subs: J Tyrrell for Fogarty (HT), J Brennan for Kelly (53), A Fogarty for W. Walsh (65), T Walsh for Buckley (65).
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)