Clare may have surrendered their 100% winning run, but a draw was enough to see them shoot through to the concluding stage of the Allianz Hurling League after it finished 3-13 to 1-19 against Kilkenny at UPMC Nowlan Park.
How the league table will end up will be decided by next weekend's round of matches, but Clare, Kilkenny and Wexford look the likely qualifiers from Division 1B, although in what order has yet to be decided.
Clare left Kilkenny with regrets, having shot 17 wides. The last chance fell to David McInerney in the 72nd minute, but like with his colleagues all afternoon, he couldn’t find the target although in a great position after 40 metres from goal.
Kilkenny looked capable of bouncing back for a win after last weekend’s reverse against Wexford when a 48th minute goal from Ger Aylward boost them no end. With the addition of points from Aylward, John Donnelly and Alan Murphy, against one replay for Clare by Tony Kelly, they led by 1-16 to 2-09 heading past the hour mark.
Clare stormed back with Kelly and Diarmuid Ryan shooting fine points before Shane O’Donnell scrambled a second goal just short of the 69th minute to push them 3-12 to 1-17 ahead.
Walter Walsh equalised for Kilkenny. Sub Aaron Cunningham won back the lead for Clare before a 71st minute point from Alan Murphy earned Kilkenny a share of the spoils.
The fireworks didn't end with Murphy’s score. Afterwards Clare threatened the Kilkenny goal twice and Bill Sheehan had a chance for the home team, but both sides were happy enough to settle for a draw at that stage.
Two superbly created and taken goals by breeze assisted Clare gave them the advantage at half-time when they led by 2-7 to 0-10.
Early on Billy Ryan and Colin Guilfoyle traded points to set the tone for what was a fast, open hurling first half. The home side hit the front when young hurler of the year, Adrian Mullen, pointed in the third minute, but their time in front didn’t last long.
On seven minutes Tony Kelly blasted a fast ball out of the Clare defence and Shane O’Donnell made the best of things at the other end when beating the defence and shooting a fine goal (1-01 to 0-02).
Slick moving Kilkenny got back level thanks to scores from John Donnelly and Mullen and they were moving well when Alan Murphy shot them 0-8 to 1-3 in the 18th minute.
However, an injury to Adrian Mullen in the 20th minute, which led to him being stretchered off the field, interrupted the Kilkenny flow and the balance of power changed.
Clare mopped up five scores during the following 12 minutes, including a lovely goal from Ryan Taylor in the 23rd minute, when sent clear through on the target by O’Donnelly, to blast his side 2-7 to 0-8 ahead.
Kilkenny recovered in the run up to the break and minors from Richie Leahy and Alan Murphy from a free following a foul on Richie Hogan left them 0-10 to 2-7 down at half-way. Incidentally, Clare, who started with four changes from their selectors team, two in defence and two in attack, shot nine wides during that half.
The excitement for the 5,716 fans continued right to the finish, and there were thrills and spills aplenty.
Kilkenny: A. Murphy (0-7, frees); G. Aylward (1-1); A. Mullen, J. Donnelly, W. Walsh (0-2 each); D. Mullen, R. Leahy, B. Ryan, R. Hogan, E. Cody (0-1 each). Clare - S. O’Donnell (2-1); T. Kelly (0-7, four frees); R. Taylor (1-0); D. Reidy, J. Conlon, C. Guilfoyle, D. Ryan, A. Cunningham (0-1 each).
Kilkenny - D. Brennan; C. Browne, H. Lawlor, C. Wallace; C. Delaney, P. Deegan, D. Mullen; C. Buckley, A. Murphy; A. Mullen, J. Donnelly, R. Leahy; B. Ryan, R. Hogan, W. Walsh. Subs - G. Aylward for A. Mullen (inj) 21st min; T. Walsh for C. Browne ht; B. Sheehan for Hogan 43rd min; E. Cody for B. Ryan 59th min;
Clare: D. Tuohy; L. Corry, P. O’Connor, J. Browne; S. O’Halloran, C. Cleary A. McCarthy; D. McInerney, T. Kelly; D. Reidy, J. Conlon, D. McMahon; R. Taylor, S. O’Donnell, C. Guilfoyle. Subs - A. Shanahan for J. Conlon 43rd min; D. Ryan for C. Guilfoyle 45th min; A. Cunningham for D. Reidy 58th min; P. Collins for R. Taylor 64th min; S. Morey for D. McMahon 68th min.
Referee: L. Gordon (Galway).