The Clare Senior Hurlers will compete in their first National League Final in 11 years after powering past Kilkenny at Semple Stadium in Thurles.
The Banner were emphatic 4-22 to 2-18 winners over the All Ireland Champions in a pulsating encounter in front of the 20,500 attendance.
Man of the match Aaron Cunningham’s 2-3 helped Clare to a famous and convincing victory over Brian Cody’s Kilkenny who were outfought and outplayed for large parts of the game.
The writing was on the wall for the Cats at half time as Clare went in 3-12 to 0-10 up thanks to goals from Cunningham (2) and John Conlon (1).
Kilkenny found their way back into the game in the second half thanks to goals from TJ Reid and Jonjo Farrell but Clare’s intensity and clinical finishing proved too much for the Cats in the end. Clare’s fourth goal of the afternoon came courtesy of a superb run and finish to the net by Conor McGrath, reminiscent of his second half goal against Cork in the 2013 All Ireland Replay versus Cork.
The return to first team action for Podge Collins for the first time in almost two years and the substitute appearance of long-term absentee Tony Kelly were major positive factors for Clare. The commanding performances of David Fitzgerald and wing back and Óisin O’Brien at corner back also bode well for the coming months.
Davy Fitzgerald’s side went into the game without David McInerney and Shane O’Donnell who are both expected to return in time for the League Final against Waterford in Semple Stadium on May 1st, just five weeks before the teams square off at the same venue in the semi-final of the Munster Championship.
Waterford meanwhile, put in a very strong second hand performance against Limerick on Sunday winning out by 3-23 to 1-18.
CLARE: Patrick Kelly; Oisin O’Brien, Cian Dillon, Paul Flanagan; Brendan Bugler, Conor Cleary, Patrick O’Connor; David Reidy (0-1), David Fitzgerald; John Conlon (1-1), Colm Galvin (0-5), Aaron Cunningham (2-3); Conor McGrath (1-6, 0-2 frees, 0-2 65), Podge Collins (0-1), Darach Honan (0-2).
Subs: Tony Kelly (0-2) for Conlon, 51 mins; Cathal O’Connell (0-1) for Honan, 57 mins; Colin Ryan for Reidy, 64 mins; Aaron Shanagher for Cunningham, 67 mins; Bobby Duggan for Collins, 70 mins.
KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy; Jackie Tyrrell, Joey Holden, Shane Prendergast; Pádraig Walsh (0-2), Kieran Joyce, Conor O’Shea; Lester Ryan, Cillian Buckley (0-1); Walter Walsh (0-2), TJ Reid (1-7, 1-6 frees), Kevin Kelly (0-2); John Power (0-1), Jonjo Farrell (1-1), Richie Hogan (0-1).
Subs: Brian Kennedy for Tyrrell, 22 mins; Liam Blanchfield for O’Shea, 55 mins; Chris Bolger (0-2) for Kelly, 64 mins.
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).