CLARE travelled to O’Moore Park in Portlaoise last Sunday well warned that they would face a serious test from the midlanders and so it proved in this Round 2 tie.
Laois haven’t been in the top group in senior hurling for some time but recent results suggested they would be difficult opposition for a new-look and inexperienced Clare outfit.
The visitors had to work particularly hard to come out on top in this one and it may yet prove that the experience they gained in grinding out this win will be of immense benefit to Ger O’Loughlin’s squad.
A point behind with eight minutes remaining, they finished strongly scoring 1-3 while conceding just a point to record their second successive victory in this campaign.
Showing three changes in personnel and some positional switches from the team that lined out against Down seven days earlier, Clare found themselves under pressure from an early stage on Sunday.
Alan Brigdale, Brendan Bugler and Darach Honan were replaced by Pat Vaughan, John Conlon and Colin Ryan, while the positional changes saw Domhnaill O’Donovan at corner-back with Nicky O’Connell at wing-back having played at midfield against Down.
Clare were two points adrift at the end of the first quarter and by this time, they had managed just one point from a Mark Flaherty free, on a day when the Killanena man struggled to repeat the form he had showed seven days earlier.
In an eight-minute spell at the start of the second quarter, the winners struck 1-3 without reply with the goal coming from Colin Ryan in the 25th minute. He won possession from a clearance by his Newmarket clubmate James McInerney before getting inside his marker and firing a powerful low drive to the corner of the net. Forty seconds later, he could have repeated the feat but this time, his effort on goal went high and over the bar after he had received a hand pass from Mark Flaherty.
It was 1-5 to 0-6 in Clare’s favour at the interval and while they would have the assistance of the wind for the second period, there was some concern amongst the small band of Clare supporters that made the journey to the midland venue for the game. Three of Clare’s six first-half wides came from frees, two from Flaherty and the other from Colin Ryan. In general, the Clare attack had played second fiddle to the home side’s defence who were first to the ball for much of the game.
At the other end, the Clare defence was on top and this was particularly true of full-back Cian Dillon who dominated at the edge of the square
Laois made one change to their attack during the first half and they followed with a further two at half-time while Clare returned for the second half with Alan Markham at corner-forward in place of Ogie Murphy.
The home side launched the first attack of the half and almost had a goal inside the first minute. Scores were scarce as defences continued to dominate. A brace of long-range efforts from the stick of Nicky O’Connell stretched Clare’s advantage to four points before Laois won a penalty 13 minutes into this period. Willie Hyland, their top scorer on the day, duly blasted the ball to the net to leave just the minimum between the sides.
While this score served to drive Laois to step up a gear, it also saw Clare respond in a determined mood when it looked like the game might be about to slip away from their grasp. Diarmuid McMahon was called into the action and he went to wing-forward with Fergal Lynch going to the edge of the square to replace Mark Flaherty.
Points were swapped twice before Laois finally got on terms when John Brophy pointed with 10 minutes remaining. Two minutes later, the Laois followers had plenty to cheer about when substitute Shane Dollard put them in front for the first time since the opening period of the game but the cheering of their supporters had hardly died down when Clare were back in front.
Philip Brennan’s puck-out caused problems for the home side’s defence and quick as a flash, Alan Markham sent a bullet-like drive to the net. It was a sickening blow for the home side and while Willie Hyland replied with a point, they never really recovered. Clare had three points in the closing minutes from Pat Donnellan, John Conlon and Colin Ryan (free) to secure the points.
The manner in which Clare battled back when it appeared as if they were heading for a defeat will have pleased the management but there will be concern on a number of fronts, not least of which is the form of the attack. There will have to be an improvement here ahead of their next outing which is against Wexford at Cusack Park on Sunday week.
Clare: Philip Brennan; Pat Vaughan, Cian Dillon, Domhnaill O’Donovan; Nicky O’Connell, James McInerney, Pat Donnellan; Jonathan Clancy, Brian O’Connell (captain), Seán Collins, John Conlon, Fergal Lynch; Martin Ogie Murphy, Mark Flaherty, Colin Ryan.
Subs: Alan Markham for Murphy (half-time); Diarmuid McMahon for Flaherty (46 minutes); David Barrett for Lynch (65 minutes).
Scorers: Colin Ryan (1-3), 0-2 frees; Alan Markham (1-0) Nicky O’Connell (frees), John Conlon (0-2) each; Pat Donnellan, Mark Flaherty (free), Jonathan Clancy, Seán Collins, Fergal Lynch(0-1) each.
Frees for: 15; wides: 13. Bookings: None.
Laois: Patrick Carroll; John A Delaney, Darren Maher, Conor Dunne; Matthew Whelan, Brian Campion, Michael McEvoy; Eamonn Jackman, Brian Dunne; John Brophy, Owen Holohan, Willie Hyland; Eoin Costelloe, John Rowney, John Purcell.
Subs: Neil Foyle for Purcell (22 minutes), Colin Delaney for Holohan (half-time), Tommy Fitzgerald for Rowney (half-time), Shane Dollard for Jackman (54 minutes), Jimmy Dunne for Foyle (66 minutes).
Scorers: Willie Hyland (1-5), 1-3, frees, 0-1 line ball; Brian Campion (0-2) frees; Eamonn Jackman, John Rowney, John Brophy, Shane Dollard (0-1) each.
Frees for: 13; wides: 11.
Bookings: Willie Hyland (39 minutes).
Referee: Denis Richardson, Limerick.
‘We showed good character’ says Chaplin
THE manner in which Clare battled and, of course, the end result pleased selector Danny Chaplin on Sunday. Speaking after watching the side account for Laois in Round 2 the Sixmilebridge native said, “We are delighted with the result as we knew coming up here that it would be a battle. We showed good character and good battling qualities. There were a few funny decisions from the referee in the second half which appeared to bring them into it,” he said.
Chaplin felt the second goal offered a small bit of breathing space. “Look, we knew that they would come at us. They threw everything at us there in the second half and it’s great to get the win,” he said.
“They have a good bit more than us done, but fitness aside, we showed good character and we stuck at it for the 70 minutes. Our lads fought very hard and this was true especially in the second half, which was a surprising as you would think it would be the other way around as we had the breeze in the second half. Our backs hunted in packs and we got in good blocks. We chased and hunted everything. The workrate was very good all over the field,” the Broadford manager said.
Chaplin agreed that Clare are facing another big test against Wexford in Cusack Park. “We have Wexford and Antrim coming up and these with Laois are probably the three toughest games in it. It will be tough but we are taking every game as it comes. We still have some injury problems and we hope to have more back in contention for the next day. We will be continuing to make a change or two for games throughout the league as we want to give guys games,” he said.
This weekend will be another busy one for the Clare mentors. “We have a lot of guys playing in the Fitzgibbon Cup and we will be keeping an eye on these games,” added Chaplin.
On Saturday evening, Clare are due to play a Cork selection in a game to mark the official opening of new lights in Fermoy. This fixture was due to be played a few weeks back but heavy fog led to its cancellation on that occasion.
Clare manager Ger O’Loughlin expressed satisfaction with the result. “I know that they have a lot of work done and they have been playing top-quality sides which was reflected in the standard of their play,” he said before adding that he expects them to be in the shake up for the title.
Meanwhile, Laois boss Niall Rigney was clearly disappointed with the outcome. “We definitely left the two points behind us and it was our own fault. Our first-half performance, particularly from out forward line wasn’t acceptable. We had to make a lot of changes. We made four changes in the forward line in the second half and it worked. A lot of our lads will be very disappointed that we left the game behind us,” he said.
“Our forward line was leaderless in the first half. They have to accept that and you can be sure that they will be told that but a lot of positives came out of the game. We faced into a serious wind in the second half. They battled well and we got back level and the game was there in the last couple of minutes. I am just very disappointed that we didn’t get the result,” he said.