Kilkenny crushed Clare 2-26 to 0-20 in Saturday’s opening All-Ireland Hurling semi-final to set up a decider against Limerick or Galway who meet on Sunday.
The Cats were utterly dominant against a Clare side who had been expected to give them a stern test.
Martin Keoghan hit a Cats goal just before the break as they led 1-17 to 0-6 with Clare having struck 11 wides.
After Cian Kenny’s goal, a Clare mini-revival cut Kilkenny’s lead to 10 but the Cats were never under any threat.
Free-taker TJ Reid finished with 0-10 – including three scores from play – but Adrian Mullen was named man of the match as he contributed five points with defenders Mikey Butler and Paddy Deegan both outstanding and all-action Eoin Cody also a huge influence in the Cats half-forward line.
Clare’s wides count totalled an extraordinary 24 by the end of the contest as they continued to go for long-range scores despite exhibiting alarming inaccuracy throughout the contest.
Cody facing into 19th final as Cats boss
Kilkenny’s victory means manager Brian Cody is facing into the 19th All-Ireland Final of his incredible reign which began in 1998.
Points from David Fitzgerald and Shane O’Donnell put Clare 0-2 to 0-1 ahead after four minutes but that was the only time they led as Kilkenny responded with six straight scores by the 12th minute – including two successive Mullen efforts.
Tony Kelly’s usual accuracy from placed balls deserted him as he fired a couple of bad wides amid his struggles in opening play against Butler.
When Clare did manage to direct ball into Kilkenny territory, inevitably it was Cats defenders such as Butler, Paddy Deegan, Huw Lawlor and Tommy Walsh who were emerging with ball in hand.
The gap remained five by the 20th minute as Reid’s fifth point left it 0-9 to 0-4 but within 10 minutes the game was effectively over as Kilkenny’s lead was extended to 0-15 to 0-5 with the totally unmarked Padraig Walsh’s 27th-minute point summing up the paucity of Clare’s challenge.
The Banner misery was increased seconds before half time as Keoghan bundled to the net from close range after his own shot had been half-blocked by Clare keeper Eibhear Quilligan. All that after the Banner men had butchered a potential goal chance of their own seconds earlier at the other end.
No doubt with Brian Lohan’s words ringing in their ears following their lamentable first-half display, Clare attempted to summon up a rally after the break as Diarmuid Ryan and corner-back Rory Hayes hit the opening scores of the second period.
But Kenny’s goal – set up by substitute Walter Walsh’s towering catch – put 15 between the teams to disabuse Clare of any notion that there might be a road back into the contest.
With the introductions of Cian Nolan and Mark Rodgers making Clare more competitive and Shane O’Donnell also coming more into the game, the Banner men did cut the margin to 10 by the 55th minute, following two successive Rodgers scores.
But two more Reid frees and a Kenny effort from play halted Clare’s brief period of momentum.
Reid brought up his 0-10 total by slotting Kilkenny’s two concluding scores as their display suggested they will take a lot of beating on 17 July, which is quite a turnaround from a Leinster SFC round-robin campaign which saw them lose to both Galway and Wexford.
Kilkenny: E Murphy; M Butler, H Lawlor, T Walsh; M Carey, R Reid, P Deegan; A Mullen (0-5), C Browne (0-1); E Cody (0-3), P Walsh (0-2), TJ Reid (0-10, 7 f); B Ryan (0-2), M Keoghan (1-0), C Kenny (1-2).
Subs: W Walsh (0-1) for Keoghan HT, J Donnelly for P Walsh 49, R Leahy for Browne 62, A Murphy for Ryan 66, D Blanchfield for Carey 72.
Clare: E Quilligan; R Hayes (0-1), C Cleary, P Flanagan; D Ryan (0-3), P Fitzpatrick, D McInerney (0-1); D Fitzgerald (0-3), D Reidy; C Malone, T Kelly (0-4 3f 1’65), S O’Donnell (0-4); I Galvin, P Duggan (0-1f), R Taylor (0-1).
Subs: A Shanagher for Galvin 26, M Rodgers (0-2) for Reidy HT, A Fitzgerald for Fitzpatrick HT, S Meehan for Duggan 50, S Golden for Taylor 66.
Referee: F Hogan (Tipperary)