Kilkenny’s Adrian Mullen, left, competes for possession with Conor Leen of Clare. [Inpho/Laszlo Geczo]

Banner goal blitz downs Cats

Clare 3-16; Kilkenny 1-20

Uneasy lies the head that wears a league crown — just ask Westmeath footballers who were celebrating a Div 3 title last Sunday week only to be humbled by minnows Wicklow in the Leinster championship a week later.

So Clare hurlers will welcome and celebrate their hard-won Division 1 league crown against Kilkenny on Saturday night, but they won’t go overboard, mindful that they face All Ireland champions Limerick in the Munster round-robin on Sunday week in Cusack Park.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

All that said, victory over the Cats was something to savor for both manager Brian Lohan and his squad who have gone eight years without significant silverware.

The fear from Banner fans was that they had got used to losing in big games, but this game has shown that they know how to win, even when lining out without the likes of former talismanic influences such as Tony Kelly and Shane O’Donnell, who came on in the second-half.

Kilkenny won’t lose too many nights sleep over this reverse other than it might niggle a little that they too have now lost the last two All Ireland finals and this, a league final as well. No one likes getting into the habit of losing as it can become engraved in a squad’s psyche.

This victory was the Banner’s fifth title in their history and it was the ability of sharpshooter Aidan McCarthy and midfielder Davy Fitzgerald to get goals at crucial times - particularly those on either side of half time - which proved decisive in the end at Semple Stadium on Saturday evening.

McCarthy’s first strike on a night when he amassed a cool 2-10 of a personal tally gave the Munster men a 1-8 to 0-9 lead at the interval and when Fitzgerald wrong footed his marker to shoot past Eoghan Murphy from close range early in the second half, it gave Clare belief that this could be their day.

That feeling was doubly underlined when the goalscorer then turned provider for McCarthy to get his second, leaving Kilkenny with a lot to do to get back in the game.

True to their DNA, the Cats came hunting for scores and with sub Martin Keoghan scoring four great points from play and Eoin Cody stealing in for their only green flag of the encounter, they got the margin down to a very manageable two points close to full-time.

Cody had a gilt-edged chance to put his side ahead from a penalty but his shot lacked conviction and was straight at goalkeeper Eibhear Quilligan who scrambled the ball to safety.

And so Clare held on but they will know better than anyone that on another day if their opponents had TJ Reid in their ranks instead of being absent with a hamstring injury, the result could have been so different.

This is the first trophy of Brian Lohan’s tenure in charge over the past five years and will act as a confidence spur both for the manager and all connected with the team. Their fans were jubilant and for many who spilled out onto the Thurles pitch to watch captain Conor Cleary accept the trophy, it was a reminder of the good old days and a possible harbinger of things to come as they now enter the Munster and all going well All Ireland series.

The next game will be the biggest test of their mettle, against Limerick, but they have them in Ennis which has to be a three or four point advantage to the home side.

Funny how the roads diverge for the winners and vanquished of the league final as Kilkenny will begin the defense of their provincial crown with a home run against Antrim, the opposite end of the spectrum to what Clare face on the same day.

So while acknowledging the importance of the win in the league final, Manager Brian Lohan was also realistic enough to know it is a stepping stone and not a bridge. And that sentiment was echoed by 2013 All Ireland hurling hero Shane O’Donnell, too, when he declared:  “It’s important but I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on it to be honest with you. We’ve kind of talked about it as well, if we looked back to 2016, the last time that Clare won the league, and then we went out in the first round of the championship and we lost.

"I think anyone in a county set up at the moment would take that swap, losing the league final and then winning the first round of the championship. If that happens in two weeks, nobody’s going to be remembering that we won the league and patting us on the back. So I think we need to keep it in context."

Clare: E Quilligan; A Hogan, C Cleary (capt), C Leen; D Ryan (0-1), J Conlon, C Galvin; D Fitzgerald (1-0), D Lohan (0-1); C Malone (0-1), M Rodgers (0-2), P Duggan; A McCarthy (2-10), I Galvin (0-1), D Reidy Subs: S O’Donnell for I Galvin (HT), A Shanagher for Reidy (52), D McInerney for C Galvin (58), R Hayes for Leen (59), S Morey for Lohan (59).

Kilkenny: E Murphy; S Murphy (0-1), H Lawlor, T Walsh; D Blanchfield (0-1), P Deegan (capt), R Reid (0-1); C Kenny (0-2), J Molloy (0-1); A Mullen (0-3), J Donnelly (0-1), B Ryan (0-1); L Hogan, B Drennan (0-1f), E Cody (1-4, 0-3f) Subs: M Keoghan (0-4) for Hogan (29), K Blanchfield for Molloy (49), T Clifford for Drennan (45), L Blanchfield for Ryan (60).

Ref: J Murphy (Limerick).

Cavan 3-12;  Monaghan 1-12

Boosted by three second-half goals, Cavan  shocked near-neighbors Monaghan with a turbo-charged finish to win by six points in Clones on Sunday.

For much of the game, it was the home side who looked the likelier to advance and a goal from substitute Michael Hammill put them ahead entering the final quarter. But just when you expected them to kick on and show their superiority, it was Cavan who found the extra gear to add to the Paddy Faulkner thunderbolt by recording two wonder strikes from Gerard Smith and man of the match Paddy Lynch, who ended with a 1-9 to his credit.

They hit the game’s last 2-2 to come from two points down to win handsomely on the scoreboard though in all honesty, there was much less between the sides until Lynch’s goal in the time red zone exaggerated the state of play.

The man still hoping to garner a U.S. football kicking contract, Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan,  showed he had lost none of his zest for joining the outfield folk by scoring three-points, one from play. However, as Monaghan now wait for the All Ireland series to come around in the Super Eights, they may miss him if he is called across the Atlantic and will definitely miss veteran midfielder Darren Hughes who picked up a serious knee injury that could possibly spell the end of his intercounty career.

The ageless Conor McManus, Beggan, David Garland and another veteran Karl O’Connell were all on target in the first half as Monaghan sought to lay down a marker but Lynch from play kept Cavan in touch on the scoreboard against the capricious wind that blew mainly in favor of the Farney men in the opening moiety as they turned over  0-7 to 0-5 ahead.

Oisín Brady and Gerard Smith brought Cavan on the resumption before play was broken up as Hughes was attended to and helped off to hospital. The game went into tit-for-tat mode as both sides landed a brace of frees before Cavan followers raised the biggest cheer of the day when defender Pádraig Faulkner  stayed on up in an attack to round his man and fire an exocet to the back of Beggan’s net.

That was the hint that Cavan were up for this Ulster preliminary fight more than Monaghan, who answered their own doubters swiftly with Hamill’s goal to edge them in front in tandem with sub Joel Wilson point which Beggan added to for a two-point lead.

Gerard Smith had toiled long and hard without much reward before he got his chance and rammed home a second goal to put the Breffni boys ahead. As they then defended with an incredible work rate, they turned over a ball and a long delivery saw Lynch catch and despatch in the one movement from 40 yards to an empty net which Beggan had vacated to help his forwards try to find the elusive goals that would have evened up the tie.

As Monaghan now go into limbo for a number of weeks awaiting the All Ireland series, Cavan will face Tyrone in the Ulster quarter-final knowing that this victory will bring them on in leaps and bounds.

Cavan: G O’Rourke; B O’Connell (0-1), K Brady, C Reilly; P Faulkner (1-0), N Carolan, C Brady; J Smith, O Kiernan (Denn); C Brady, G Smith (1-1), O Kiernan (Castlerahan); O Brady, P Lynch (1-9, 0-7f, 0-1 ‘45), C Madden (0-1) Subs: L Fortune for J Smith (inj., 49); T Madden for OKiernan (Denn) (44); C O’Reilly for C Madden (64); R Donohoe for O Brady (77); C Rehill for O Kiernan (Castlerahan) (79).

Monaghan: RBeggan (0-3, 0-1f, 0-1 '45); R Wylie, K Lavelle, R O’Toole; K O’Connell (0-1), K Duffy, K Loughran; D Hughes, G Mohan; C McNulty, C McCarthy, J Irwin; D Garland (0-1), J McCarron (0-2, 0-1f), C McManus (0-3, 0-2f) Subs: M Hamill (1-0) for Irwin (H-T); J Wilson (0-1m) for Hughes (inj., 48); S Jones (0-1m) for Garland (52); M Bannigan for McCarron (64); S Mooney for McNulty (77).

Ref: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).


GAA Results

National Hurling League Final

Clare 3-16; Kilkenny 1-20

Leinster SF Championship 

Wicklow 2-9; Westmeath 1-11

Meath 3-19; Longford 3-12

Wexford 4-19; Carlow 0-8

Ulster SF Championship

Cavan 3-12; Monaghan 1-12

Munster SF Championship 

Waterford 2-7; Tipperary 1-5

Cork 3-13; Limerick 0-11

Connacht SF Championship

Sligo 0-15; Leitrim 0-6

Mayo 2-21; New York 2-6