Clare come good to make last sixteen

Martin McMahon in action against Conor Meredith. Pic: Ryan Byrne (INPHO)
Martin McMahon in action against Conor Meredith. Pic: Ryan Byrne (INPHO)

Clare have reached the last sixteen of the All-Ireland Football Championship with a dramatic one point win over Laois.

Páraic McMahon reports from Cusack Park

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Clare 0-14
Laois 1-10
Venue: Cusack Park

In sport only one score matters, the one at the final whistle and Clare were testament to that in their Round 2A qualifier win over Laois. They led for the first time in the final minutes as substitute Shane McGrath kicked what would be the winning point with seventy minutes on the clock.

Colm Collins’ side never dropped their heads and kept battling for every ball, they showed the characteristics of fighters and reaped the rewards for their efforts. It is the first time Clare have beaten Laois in the All-Ireland Football Championship and also the only year that the Banner County have knocked them out of both the hurling and football championship in the same year.

Midfielder John O’Loughlin kicked the opening score of the game with twenty four seconds played and Donie Kingston followed this with a free to give Laois the advantage early on. Miltown’s Eoin Cleary got Clare off the mark on the ninth minute from a free and an excellent fisted score from Cathal O’Connor almost twenty five metres from goal had the sides back on level terms.

Kingston and Jamie Malone traded scores before the O’Moore men hit three points on the bounce via Conor Meredith, David Conway and Darren Strong to extend their lead to three with twenty one minutes played. Likewise Clare would reply with three unanswered scores courtesy of Cleary, Malone and Keelan Sexton.

Graham Brody’s kickout from Sexton’s point was fielded superbly in the air by Brendan Quigley, the resulting delivery to the danger area found Donie Kingston who offloaded to Stephen Attride and the Killeshin man travelling at pace fired past Joe Hayes for the only goal of the game on the twenty eighth minute. Jamie Malone and John O’Loughlin swapped scores to leave a difference of three points between the teams at half-time.

With the breeze at their backs for the second half Clare were happy going in at the break three points adrift as they knew it was a lead that could be overturned. The beginning of the third quarter saw Laois outscore Clare 3-2.

However Donie Kingston’s white flag on the fiftieth minute would be their final point of the game as the men in Saffron and Blue dug deep with Gary Brennan and Eoin Cleary notching frees to cut the deficit to two points.

Kilmurry Ibrickane’s Shane Hickey added another score on to the new scoreboard at Cusack Park and it was an excellent kick to cut the gap to the minimum with sixty six minutes on the clock. Substitutes Seánie Malone and Shane McGrath added superb scores to put the Banner in front for the first time in the contest.

A foul by Jamie Malone in the final moments saw the Corofin man shown a black card but Gary Walsh kicked the resulting free to the left of Joe Hayes’ goal to the delight of the Clare supporters as Marty Duffy’s final whistle sounded soon after.

Over the seventy minutes Laois hit eight wides while Clare had seven. Having been in front for almost the entire game the side managed by Cooraclare native Mick Lillis will be kicking themselves for leaving this one behind them.

At senior inter-county level, teams cannot fail to score in the final twenty minutes and expect to get a result. Like their counterparts they showed resilience to bounce back and reply when the other scored but crucially this hunger went missing when it mattered most.

For large stages it looked like Clare were going to be exiting the championship but the players never bought into that. They maintained their composure for the full duration of the game even when Laois were in control. Substitutes from the bench were vital as both Seánie Malone and Shane McGrath kicked vital scores.

As they prepare for their next outing against either Derry, Cavan or Sligo, Clare must improve. Granted the conditions were greasy but they coughed up possession to Laois with poor distribution. A greater contribution is needed from their forwards, of the starting six only one Clare forward scored from play and when on the back foot the marking from the Banner attackers can be bettered.

In saying that Clare are still in the football championship in the middle of July and that is a positive, the manner in which they won will be a huge boost ahead of their Round 3A qualifier. Jamie Malone, Martin McMahon, Gary Brennan and Kevin Hartnett stood out for the victors.

Clare: Joe Hayes (Lissycasey); Shane Hickey (Kilmurry Ibrickane) (0-01), Kevin Hartnett (Meelick), Martin McMahon (Kilmurry/Ibrickane); Jamie Malone (Corofin) (0-03), Gordon Kelly (St Josephs Miltown), Cian O’Dea (Kilfenora); Cathal O’Connor (Coolmeen) (0-01), Gary Brennan (Clondegad) (0-01 1f); Sean Collins (Cratloe), David Tubridy (Doonbeg) (0-01 1f), Pearse Lillis (Cooraclare); Eoin Cleary (St Josephs Miltown), Keelan Sexton (Kilmurry Ibrickane) (0-01), Pat Burke (Kilmacud Crokes). Subs: Dean Ryan (Éire Óg) for Burke (HT), Podge Collins (Cratloe) for Tubridy (47), Enda Coughlan (Kilmurry Ibrickane) for Sexton (54), Shane McGrath (Thomas Davis) (0-01), Seánie Malone (St Josephs Miltown) (0-01) for Lillis (64), David Tubridy (Doonbeg) for Malone (73) (BC).

Laois: Graham Brody (Portlaoise); Mark Timmons (Graiguecullen), Kieran Lillis (Portlaoise), Gearoid Hanrahan (Mountmeelick); Darren Strong (Emo) (0-01), Damien O’Connor (Timahoe), Stephen Attride (Killeshin) (1-00); John O’Loughlin (St Brigids) (0-03), Brendan Quigley (Timahoe); Colm Begley (Stradbally), Paul Cahalane (Portlaoise) (0-01 1f), Kevin Meaney (Arles Kilcruise); Conor Meredith (O’Dempseys) (0-01), Donal Kingston (Arles Kileen) (0-03 2f), David Conway (Arles Kilcruise) (0-01). Subs: Alan Farrell (Ballylinan) for Strong (39) (BC), Matthew Campion (St Josephs) for Begley (44), Gary Walsh (Ballylinan) for Conway (48), Ross Munnelly (Arles Kilcrusie) for Cahalane (50), Jamie Farrell (Ballylinan) for Meaney (61).

Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo)

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