CLARE footballers came within a whisker of causing a major shock in the first round in the championship qualifiers when they came up against Offaly at O’Connor Park in Tullamore on Saturday afternoon.
In the end, a lack of experience and failure to match the fitness of the midlanders cost the Claremen in the tie, which required extra time to produce a result.
Rank outsiders Clare made the running for much of this tie and looked to be on their way to a shock win when they led by seven points with 14 minutes remaining. They were still four clear with six minutes to go but Offaly managed to level and force the game into extra time.
A strong opening period in extra time decided the issue, as Offaly opened a six-point gap and while Clare fought back superbly in the second period, they had left themselves with too much to do.
Clare were well on top in the opening half and were full value for their five-point interval lead when the score was 0-6 to 0-1. Offaly were guilty of some woeful shooting but credit must go to the visitors for the manner in which they put the favourites under pressure. Clare also deserve credit for ensuring that Offaly danger man Niall McNamee got few opportunities in the opening period.
David Tubridy, the game’s top scorer, kicked five of his side’s first-half points while the other came from the boot of Desi Mollohan. A leg injury with just under half an hour played ended Mollohan’s involvement in the game. The decision to replace David Russell after the first half was surprising.
Offaly were clearly in a more determined mood when the second half got underway, helped by three changes in personnel.
Ten minutes in they had the margin down to the minimum thanks to a goal from David Egan, whose effort took a deflection off Clare full-back Barry Duggan on its way to the net.
The manner in which the Faithful outfit had cut the lead in the space of 10 minutes suggested that they might take control but Clare had other ideas and their response was very impressive.
Clare hit back with 1-3 without reply, the goal coming from substitute Kevin Cahill after a strong run through the middle by Gary Brennan. They were now seven points clear (1-12 to 1-5) and everything pointed to the first big shock of the qualifiers.
With veteran Ciaran McManus, together with forward Niall McNamee becoming more influential, Offaly responded with four unanswered points, the last of which came when the referee penalised goalkeeper Joe Hayes for delaying the kick-out. He threw the ball up on the 20m line, Offaly won possession and John Reynolds pointed. A Graham Kelly effort for the visitors left Clare four clear with six minutes left.
Clare were tiring and Offaly capitalised. When Niall McNamee’s effort on goal rebounded off the crossbar with two minutes remaining, Ken Casey was in quickly to shoot into the net. In the final minute Offaly won a free just outside the 45. McManus’ effort found substitute Graham Guilfoyle and he tapped over the equaliser. The midlanders had a chance to snatch victory in the second minute of injury time but Ken Casey was wide from a 35m free kick from a difficult angle.
Clare started extra time with Brian Clancy (Kilkee) and Barry Toner in their line-up in place of Declan Callinan and Alan Clohessy.
Offaly dominated the opening period of extra time, outscoring Clare 0-7 to 0-1,with McNamee now causing a lot of problems for the visitors as he landed three points in this period.
It was 2-17 to 1-14 at the mid-point in extra time and Clare’s race looked to have been run. To their credit, however, they came storming back in the second period and points from Toner and David Tubridy (2) had the margin down to three with five minutes to play.
Midway through this period, captain Gordon Kelly made a great run through the heart of the Offaly defence before passing to his brother Graham, whose effort for goal hit the side netting. Three minutes from the end Clare were down to 14 men after Graham Kelly picked up a second yellow card.
Clare continued to pile on the pressure and cut the margin to two with a minute remaining when Tubridy had his 12th of the afternoon. Time ran out, however, for the visitors and Offaly had the final say when Anton Sullivan pointed just after they were reduced to 14 when Brian Darby picked up his second yellow card.
Barry Duggan and Gordon Kelly were outstanding in the heart of the Clare defence. Gary Brennan won some great possession for Clare and his high fielding must have impressed former Kerry star Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston, a member of the Irish Compromise Rules selection committee, who attended the game. Ger Quinlan and Peter O’Dwyer got through some great work on a day when David Tubridy kicked some marvellous scores.
Offaly: Alan Mulhall; Karol Slattery, Scott Brady, Brian Darby; Pádraig Sullivan, Ross Brady, Niall Darby; Brian Geraghty, Ciaran McManus; John Reynolds, Brian Connor, Ritchie Dalton; Anton Sullivan, Ken Casey, Niall McNamee.
Subs: Sean Pender for P Sullivan; David Egan for N Darby; Graham Guilfoyle for Dalton; Paul McConway for Geraghty; Stephen Lonergan for Slattery; Alan McNamee for Egan and Nigel Dunne for A Sullivan
Scorers: Ken Casey (1-4, 0-4f); Niall McNamee (0-5); David Egan (1-1); Ciaran McManus (0-3 1f, 1 45); John Reynolds, Karol Slattery, Brian Geraghty, Anton Sullivan, Graham Guilfoyle (0-1).
Frees: 37; Wides : 15; 45s: 1
Bookings: Brian Connor (28 minutes); Ritchie Dalton (31 minutes); Brian Darby (55 minutes and 89 minutes); Ken Casey (65 minutes) and Stephen Lonergan (86 minutes).
Sent off: Brian Darby (89 minutes).
Clare: Joe Hayes; Mark Tubridy, Barry Duggan, Brian Carigg; Martin McMahon, Gordon Kelly, Declan Callinan; Ger Quinlan, Gary Brennan; Diarmuid Daly, Peter O’Dwyer, Alan Clohessy; Desi Mollohan, David Russell, David Tubridy.
Subs: Kevin Cahill for Mollohan (inj 28 minutes); John Hayes for Russell (half-time); Laurence Healy for Carigg (51 minutes); Graham Kelly for Daly (59 minutes); Brian Clancy for Callinan (for extra time); Barry Toner for Clohessy (for extra time); Chris Dunning for Clancy (75 minutes); Shane McNeilis for Duggan (80 minutes).
Scorers: David Tubridy (0-12, 8f); Kevin Cahill (1-1); Gary Brennan, Alan Clohessy, Desi Mollohan (45), Graham Kelly and Barry Toner (0-1) each.
Frees: 29; Wides: 9; 45s: 3
Bookings: Brian Carigg (5 minutes); Declan Callinan (31 minutes); Diarmuid Daly (57 minutes), Graham Kelly (80 minutes and 87 minutes) and Kevin Cahill (89 minutes).
Sent off: Graham Kelly (89 minutes).
Referee: Martin Higgins, Fermanagh.
McHale looks to the future after disappointment
TEAM coach Liam McHale was “very disappointed” with the game. “It’s a young team and they have to learn from their mistakes. We played a very decent Offaly team today and when we let them off the hook their confidence grew and ours faded a little bit and that was the reason we lost,” he said.
“We had a couple of opportunities to put them away and we didn’t. Going into the second period of overtime, they had scored 13 points to our one.
“Graham was unfortunate to miss a goal and we had one or two opportunities that could have went our way,” he added.
That said, McHale had words of praise for the Clare players. “Anyone from Clare who was at the game will be proud of their effort. They really did give a good performance. It’s a learning curve for a lot of them. There has been an improvement. We have won six games and lost four now. I know everybody will be disappointed we didn’t win a championship match but they gave it their best shot today. Unforced errors were our Achilles heel again,” he said.
The Ballina Stephenites clubman concluded, “The target must be to come back next year and be a better team and do well in the league. I think the lads enjoyed the year. They were exposed to a different type of training, all ball work. I think the performance and the effort would have shown that. The team has a nice morale, they get on well together and they are young. If we are back next year we will be looking at trying to get promoted and that will be a step in the right direction,” he concluded.
Manager looks set to stay on
All the indications are that Micheál McDermott will continue as Clare senior football manager next season.
Appointed for just one year, at his own request, he stated after last Saturday’s heartbreaking defeat, “If the county board ask Micheál McDermott at the end of the year to consider another year, who knows? It would be hard to say no.
“I am not ruling out anything. I have a love of football. It’s part and parcel of my life and I would probably be lost without it. It was a tremendous honour to be asked to manage Clare this year.
“It’s a case of sit down at the end of the year with the county board. I really enjoyed working with the players and so has Liam (McHale) and James (Foran) and they have put so much work into it. They are a tremendous bunch, who put so much into it and that’s all you can ask for,” he said.
“I hate losing but today I feel so gutted for the players that they didn’t get a result because over the last six weeks they have really bought into preparing for this game and they gave everything as regards effort in their preparation. They just came up short and sport can be cruel and that’s the way it turned out today.
“When you look at Division 4 it’s so important that Clare come out of it. Look at Offaly. They had a very competitive Division 3 this year and of the four games they lost, three were by a point. Sligo moved from Division 4 to Division 2; Tipperary did it. There is nothing between Division 4 and 3 but Clare need a break and those breaks haven’t been going their way in the last number of years. If they get those breaks, who knows what this team is capable of,” the Clare boss said.
“People say they lack belief and the ruthless edge but they had belief there today but things just didn’t go our way and that’s the disappointing thing about it. I am glad that the players went out today and showed pride and that’s what football is all about.
“When you get 100% out of lads, when you get players on a real hot summer day playing 100 minutes of football, when you get players showing honesty and putting up their hands and saying ‘I can give no more’, it’s a tremendous feeling, even when you lose. That happened today, players gave every ounce of energy for Clare football and you have to be proud of the performance, even though we lost.