Kilkenny 2-19 Clare 4-22

Clare set up an Allianz Hurling League Division 1 final showdown against championship opponents Waterford on 1 May with a comprehensive victory over Kilkenny at Semple Stadium this afternoon.

The Munster rivals will battle it out for national silverware just five weeks before they meet again in the provincial semi-final on 5 June.

Davy Fitzgerald’s side were far too good for Kilkenny today, little over a year since the two counties met in a Division 1A relegation play-off.

Aaron Cunningham and Conor McGrath sparkled in attack on a day when 2013 Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly came off the bench to make his first League appearance of the year.

Kelly pointed with his first touch and added another to hand Clare their biggest lead of the game, 4-18 to 1-14.

That 13-point gap was cut to nine by full-time but Clare were full value for it in front of 20,481 spectators in Thurles.

Clare are now through to a first Division 1 final since 2005 and within touching distance of their first top flight League crown since way back in 1978.

Cunningham hit all of his 2-3 in the first half and McGrath finished up with a total of 1-6, including a brilliant second half goal.

Powerhouse forward John Conlon also netted for Clare as TJ Reid and Jonjo Farrell collected second half consolation goals for Kilkenny.

Colm Galvin was also superb for Clare in a roving commission around the middle third of the field, picking off five sweet points.

There was far more energy about Clare than their opponents and any doubts about their hunger for the fight, knowing that Waterford would be waiting for them in the final, were dispelled in blistering fashion.

By half-time, Clare were a whopping eleven points clear, 3-12 to 0-10, as the Kilkenny full-back line struggled under an aerial onslaught.

Two of Clare’s goals came from route one deliveries that Kilkenny couldn’t cope with, as Conlon and Cunningham picked up the pieces for goals one and three.

In between, Cunningham bagged the first of his brace, beating Eoin Murphy with a low shot at his near post.

Kilkenny’s leading scorer TJ Reid somehow managed to find the net with a 20m free in the 42nd minute through a posse of bodies but Clare would not be denied.

McGrath netted 20 minutes from home and after coming on as a sub to mark his return from injury, Kelly pointed with his first touch before adding another within a minute, as Clare scorched into their biggest lead of the game.  

This was a day when Kilkenny’s talismen Reid and Richie Hogan scored two points from play between them, as Clare ran riot.

Farrell netted with 17 minutes left to play but Clare held out comfortably until the finish.

They'll now meet Waterford for the very first time in a League decider. 

Clare: P Kelly; O O’Brien, C Dillon, P Flanagan; C Cleary, P O’Connor, D Fitzgerald; B Bugler, C Galvin (0-05); J Conlon (1-01), C McGrath (1-06, 2f, 2 65s), D Reidy (0-01); P Collins (0-01), D Honan (0-02), A Cunningham (2-03).

Subs: T Kelly (0-02) for Conlon (51), C O’Connell (0-01) for Honan (57), C Ryan for Reidy (64), A Shanagher for Cunningham (67), B Duggan for Collins (70+1).

Kilkenny: E Murphy; J Tyrrell, J Holden, S Prendergast; P Walsh (0-02), K Joyce, C O’Shea; L Ryan, C Buckley (0-01); W Walsh (0-02), TJ Reid (1-07, 1-06f), K Kelly (0-02); J Power (0-01), Jonjo Farrell (1-01), R Hogan (0-01).

Subs: B Kennedy for Tyrrell (22), L Blanchfield for O’Shea (55), C Bolger (0-02) for Kelly (64).

Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).