ALL-IRELAND CHAMPIONS Kilkenny guaranteed their Division 1A status for another year after a Cillian Buckley injury-time winner edged a relegation thriller in Nowlan Park.
With the sides level on eight occasions in the second period, it seemed nothing could separate them as the stubborn visitors, spearheaded by chief threats Shane O’Donnell and Tony Kelly, repeatedly caused Kilkenny problems.
However, the home side refused to panic and finally got their reward when TJ Reid gathered a Pa Kelly clearance to set up Buckley for the decisive score from the left wing.
This winner-takes-all clash lit up as early as the third minute when Tony Kelly fed O’Donnell in space to flick over goalkeeper Eoin Murphy and fire into an empty net for his third goal against Kilkenny in a week.
It would be the beginning of a remarkable partnership as Kelly and O’Donnell both pointed to keep their side in front at 1-3 to 0-5 by the end of the opening quarter.
Kilkenny finally settled with a TJ Reid goal in the 18th minute after the Ballyhale Shamrocks man fielded a Richie Hogan lineball from 45 metres to snatch a three point advantage.
However, Brian Cody’s men would only score one more point for the remainder of the half as David Reidy (2), O’Donnell, John Conlon and Kelly all pointed while the latter also struck a penalty wide as wind-assisted Clare held a minimum 1-8 to 1-7 half-time advantage.
The inspirational Reid gained parity in the 38th minute, a pattern that would be repeated throughout the half as these heavyweights went point for point.
Targetman O’Donnell set up numerous scores, mainly for ace marksman Kelly who fired six second half points to force the pace.
Reid and league top scorer Hogan did likewise for the Cats as extra-time loomed, much to the delight of the 7,162 engrossed supporters until Buckley’s winning strike settled matters to send a battling Banner down to Division 1B for 2016.
Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid 1-3; Richie Hogan 0-5 (2f), Colin Fennelly, Walter Walsh 0-3; Cillian Buckley 0-2; Michael Fennelly, Joey Holden 0-1 each
Scorers for Clare: Tony Kelly 0-9 (1f, 1’65); Shane O’Donnell 1-3; David Reidy 0-3; John Conlon, Seadna Morey 0-1 each
1. Eoin Murphy (Glenmore)
2. Shane Prendergast (Clara)
3. Paul Murphy (Danesfort)
4. Joey Holden (Ballyhale Shamrocks)
5. Kieran Joyce (Rower Inistioge)
6. Lester Ryan (Clara)
7. Cillian Buckley (Dicksboro)
8. Joe Lyng (Rower Inistioge)
9. Michael Fennelly (Ballyhale Shamrocks)
10. Walter Walsh (Tullogher-Rosbercon)
11. TJ Reid (Ballyhale Shamrocks)
12. Matthew Ruth (James Stephen’s)
13. Jonjo Farrell (Thomastown)
14. Colin Fennelly (Ballyhale Shamrocks)
15. Richie Hogan (Danesfort)
Mark Kelly (O’Loughlin Gaels) for Ryan (55)
1. Patrick Kelly (Inagh-Kilnamona)
2. David McInerney (Tulla)
3. Cian Dillon (Crusheen)
4. Domhnall O’Donovan (Clonlara)
5. Jack Browne (Ballyea)
6. Conor Ryan (Cratloe)
7. Patrick Donnellan (O’Callaghan’s Mills)
8. Colm Galvin (Clonlara)
9. Patrick O’Connor (Tubber)
10. John Conlon (Clonlara)
11. Tony Kelly (Ballyea)
12. Colin Ryan (Newmarket-on-Fergus)
13. David Reidy (Éire Óg)
14. Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg)
15. Conor McGrath (Cratloe)
Cathal O’Connell (Clonlara) for McGrath (21, inj)
Shane Golden (Sixmilebridge) for Colin Ryan (53)
Aaron Cunningham (Wolfe Tones) for O’Connell (62)
Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge) for Galvin (62)
Bobby Duggan (Clarecastle) for Kelly (67, inj)
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork)