CLARE 4-28 ANTRIM 1-10
Clare's quest for a third All-Ireland under-21 hurling title in a row
continued apace with a 4-28 to 1-10 win over Antrim at Semple Stadium this afternoon.
Donal Moloney and Gerry O'Connor's charges were never behind during this game, with the Banner County giving a solid performance throughout.
With senior stars, such as last year's Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly, Aaron Cunningham and Shane O'Donnell to the fore, Clare powered to a 2-16 to 1-01 interval lead.
Eight players were on target for the Munster champions before the break, including Cunningham, who fired 2-01, his goals coming in the 13th and 20th minutes.
Antrim worked hard on the restart, with the likes of Ciaran Clarke, Stephen McAfee and Ryan McCambridge on target.
However, Kelly bagged Clare's third goal in the 39th minute, and the Banner County stormed to victory with Cunningham completing his hat-trick 10 minutes from time.
22 points separated the sides when they met in last year's All-Ireland decider, and Clare were even more impressive this time around, with 27 points to spare at the full-time whistle.
The Banner County looked like emulating this from the off, with Antrim under huge pressure defensively in the opening stages, and after 17 minutes, Clare led by 1-07 to 0-00.
Points flowed freely for the Banner County in the opening minutes, with Colm Galvin, David Reidy and Bobby Duggan on target to ensure a 0-05 to 0-00 lead after nine minutes.
Clare pressed hard, but Antrim goalkeeper Ciaran Butler worked tirelessly between the posts.
The MacUilin's clubman denied Jarlath Colleran in the 12th minute, and followed up by denying Peter Duggan's goal-shot soon after.
However, Cunningham (pictured above) smashed the ball to the net for Clare's first goal on the follow-up.
10 points clear, Clare were in firm command, but Antrim finally broke their scoring deadlock in the 18th minute.
Ciaran Clarke set off on a bursting run, and crossed the ball, for Sean McAfee to tap the ball to the net to ensure a 1-07 to 1-00 score-line.
Clare responded with quick-fire points from Eoin Enright and Bobby Duggan, before Cunningham broke through for his second goal to open up a 12-point gap.
The Saffrons answered this with a Daniel McKernan point, but Clare fired seven scores without reply, Cunningham, Galvin, Duggan, Kelly and Jamie Shanahan on target to ensure a 2-16 to 1-01 half-time lead.
Antrim battled bravely on the restart, and indeed the Saffrons outscored their opponents by four points to two inside the opening seven minutes of the half.
Ciaran Clarke, Stephen McAfee and Ryan McCambridge were on target for Kevin Ryan's charges, but once Kelly pounced for Clare's third goal there was simply no looking back.
Kelly's goal started a period which saw Clare score 1-05 without reply in an eight-minute spell.
Substitute Conor Burke, Stephen McAfee and Saul McCaughan responded with points for Antrim, but Clare were cruising to victory.
Cunningham's third goal came with exactly 10 minutes of normal time remaining, and despite the defensive efforts of goalkeeper Ciaran Butler and centre-half-back Jackson McGreevy, Clare stormed to an impressive win, although Clarke and defender Michael Bradley claimed consolation points for Antrim late on.
Clare: K Hogan; J Colleran; J Browne, S Morey; G O'Connell, A O'Neill, J Shanahan (0-01); C Galvin (0-02), E Enright (0-01); B Duggan (0-05, 3f), T Kelly (1-03), P Duggan; S O'Donnell (0-02), A Cunningham (3-03), D Reidy (0-03). Subs: C O'Connell (0-06, 5f) for Reidy (31); N Deasy (0-01) for B Duggan (HT); S O'Brien for Morey (45); S Gleeson (0-01) for Galvin (45); A McGuane for Shanahan (51).
Antrim: C Butler; M Dudley, P Burke, M Bradley (0-01); R McCambridge (0-01), J McGreevy, T Ó Ciaráin; E Campbell, N McKenna; D McCloskey, Stephen McAfee (0-03), D McGuinness; D McKernan (0-01), Sean McAfee (1-00), C Clarke (0-02). Subs: C Burke (0-01) for McGuinness (28); S McCaughan (0-01) for McCloskey (HT); J O'Connell for McKenna (37); M Connolly for McCambridge (44); E McCaughan for Sean McAfee (51).
Referee: Paud O'Dwyer (Carlow)