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Murphy tips scales as Kilkenny edge out Clare

Shane Stapleton was at Croke Park as Kilkenny locked horns with Clare in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final

Shane Stapleton was at Croke Park as Kilkenny locked horns with Clare in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final.

Kilkenny 1-25 Clare 1-22 All-Ireland SHC semi-final
Attendance: 48,360

Same as ever, Eoin Murphy proved that he is one of the game’s great goalkeepers.

Twisting his hurley back across his body, the Glenmore man somehow reacted to Peter Duggan’s 73rd-minute double to tip the sliotar onto the crossbar.

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That would have levelled the game with moments to go, but instead Kilkenny conceded just a point as Diarmuid Ryan picked up the rebound to fire over.

It was 1-5 from Eoin Cody that was the difference between the teams, and the number 15 has vaulted himself into the Hurler of the Year conversation alongside Aaron Gillane of Limerick.

In just a few weeks’ time, the two inside stars will come face-to-face in a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final, where few expected The Cats to be in season one post-Brian Cody.

2022 All-Ireland Under-20 winning boss Derek Lyng will have expected to take his side to the big dance, yet it is no small achievement for this team to play with the same intensity as in previous years.

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Brian Lohan, whose decision-making in big games has been questioned over the past year, chose to play with a sweeper in the first half in response to an expected aerial bombardment.

Whether Seadna Morey was the right man or not is up for debate, but what the manager decided was to go for speed ahead of the safe hands of Ballyea’s Paul Flanagan.

Morey has some excellent qualities but he did not cut off the deliveries to the inside line, spilled a possession or two, and it was little surprise when the tactic was abandoned at the interval.

The Banner were the better side for much of the second period but a disastrous short puckout move on 55 minutes gifted Kilkenny a crucial goal.

Billy Ryan brilliantly flicked the ball off of Rory Hayes’ stick, with TJ Reid then patiently running the ball into the danger zone before feeding Cody to fire the ball home.

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Clare had hit five points in a row to go two ahead but this put them on the backfoot, and it was uphill from there.

Shane O’Donnell levelled the game with a sensational finish on 64 minutes but The Cats’ bench made the difference.

Cian Kenny had a point and an assist, Wally Walsh won a soft free, so too did Richie Hogan after Ryan dived in, while Padraig Walsh clipped over the last point.

Lohan has a long winter to ponder his future in the managerial hotseat as his side again came up short on a big day.

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They have not made an All-Ireland final in a decade, and 25 years have now gone by since last they hoisted the Munster title.

Still, there is little doubting his popularity around the Burren, and there is a sense that his side will perform on the big days, though getting over the line is proving trickier.

Kilkenny were the smarter of the two teams in the first half and generally made Clare work for their scores.

When reflecting on those opening 35 minutes, The Banner gifted at least six of 15 points to The Cats.

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Ryan’s aimless ball found Paddy Deegan on nine minutes and he quickly assisted Tom Phelan for a point.

Under no real pressure, Cathal Malone walked himself into Adrian Mullen-shaped trouble at the sideline thee minutes later, was turned over and the ball was soon sailing over.

TJ Reid — again the top championship scorer in history — should have goaled on 17 minutes but Eibhear Quilligan got his stick to the ball, while Conor Fogarty brilliantly denied Mark Rodgers on 23.

Four Clare sidelines were turned over immediately by Kilkenny during that half and it was a sign that the Munster finalists were not on their game.

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To see Ryan miss four scoring chances from low-percentage positions was also a source of huge frustration, while an injury to Ryan Taylor helped none either.

With a five-point lead at the break, Lohan went for broke by bringing on Ian Galvin for Morey.

Conor Cleary and John Conlon had come into the game as big injury concerns but both were doing fine, which presumably gave the manager the confidence to change things.

Clare took over and, after Rodgers and David Fitzgerald points, might have levelled when Shane O’Donnell drew a save from Murphy.

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The rebound broke for Galvin and Rodgers, who seemed to get in each others’ way, and a Kilkenny man put it out for a ’65.

Clare supporters were irate minutes later when referee Colm Lyons allowed a long advantage to Cody after being whipped across by Adam Hogan before giving Kilkenny a free.

Five minutes later, Duggan was given an advantage and dropped a shot short of the Hill 16 goal, with the whistle going just as Rodgers was burying the ball.

Given the mountain they had climbed to first get level and then go ahead, The Banner were in pole position to win when two points ahead on 54 minutes.

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Gifting a goal to Kilkenny left a deep gash but again they recovered. But when it came down to the latter stages, TJ Reid and Cody did just enough to steer The Cats home.

Cody made a point afterwards of pointing out how they’re a “good team”, as though the talk of Leinster being easier than Munster is unfair. While the point remains true, very few commentators extend the talk of weakness to the Cats themselves.

They are a dogged bunch, and the team is pockmarked with players of enduring class. TJ Reid didn’t convert from play but accrued 12 points from placed balls (while Clare missed, and Rodgers refused an effort with one free).

Big players for the big day, and the biggest yet to come.

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