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Clare Move Closer To Super Eights After Gutsy Westmeath Win

Clare withstood a late rally from Westmeath to secure their place in the last round of All Ireland SFC Qualifiers with a 1-13 to 0-15 win.

It was level at the break at 0-8 each after an opening period filled with talking points.

The home side in Mullingar lost both their star forwards inside the first 15 minutes with John Heslin black carded for a late challege on Clare captain Gary Brennan, while Ger Egan was forced off after picking up a knee injury.

Egan had opened the scoring but Clare struck back with four unanswered in an many minutes to go 0-4 to 0-1 clear.

Conal O’hAinifein drove through the Westmeath defence before offloading to Jamie Malone to apply the finish. Cathal O’Connor was next to score as he thumped over a brilliant effort from the right flank to send Clare into the lead.

Malone got his second when he was found by Gary Brennan and the Corofin man made the space to slot the score, and he added his third after a powerful run saw him take the ball from David Tubridy to curl it over.

It would prove to be Clare’s last score for 15 minutes as Westmeath took control and rattled off four without reply to nudge back in front. Captain Kieran Martin captialised on some carelessness in the Clare defence to arrow over, and Ronan O’Toole stole through to cut the gap to one.

Westmeath were causing issues when they ran at the Clare defence and a pair of frees from Tommy McDaniel put them into the lead.

Clare needed to break the duck and they did when Jamie Malone went on one of his trademark runs before teeing up Cathal O’Connor to fire over a brilliant point. The best Clare move of the half came when Malone and Eoin Cleary combined to set up Gavin Cooney and the Eire Óg man made no mistake with a classy finish.

Kieran Martin and Cleary swapped frees while McDaniel was on the end of a well-worked Westmeath move to fist over after racing along the endline.

Clare were back in front when Gordon Kelly raced clear before finding Gary Brennan who curled over a lovely effort, but parity was restored when Martin angled over his third point in stoppage time.

It only took 15 seconds for Clare to hit back in front as Sean O’Donoghue won the throw in before setting Gary Brennan on his way for another well-taken score.

Callum McCormack levelled the game again after more patient Westmeath build up which was answered by a Cleary free.

Clare pounced for a brilliant goal soon after when Cleary intercepted a short kickout and laid off to Cooney. He in turn fed Tubridy who rolled home to send Clare 1-10 to 0-9 ahead after 46 minutes.

Westmeath recovered to hit the next two unanswered to cut the gap back to two, but a Tubridy free after a great Dean Ryan run kept Clare at arm’s length with ten minutes to play.

Cathal O’Connor picked up a black card soon after, but Westmeath were wasteful as they took their wides tally to double figures.

Another Cleary free steadied the ship to push the gap to four but Martin replied straight away to keep the game in the melting pot.

Cillian Brennan was lost to a black card as Martin cut the gap to two with a free as injury time loomed, but Tubridy replied with a free of his own.

The board from the fourth official indicated six minutes additional time, and four of those elapsed before Westmeath cut the gap to two.

The Lakesiders threw the kitchen sink at the Clare defence in the closing stages, and cut the gap to one with a well taken “45.

Gary Brennan won a brilliant mark from the kickout and it was enough to secure possession and a famous win.

Clare: Stephen Ryan (Kilrush Shamrocks); Gordon Kelly (St Joseph’s Miltown), Cillian Brennan (Clondegad), Dean Ryan (Na Fianna); Sean Collins (Cratloe), Aaron Fitzgerald (Eire Óg), Conal Ó hAiniféin (Ruan); Gary Brennan (Clondegad, c), Cathal O’Connor (Coolmeen); Sean O’Donoghue (Cooraclare), Eoin Cleary (St Joseph’s Miltown), Jamie Malone (Corofin); Gavin Cooney (Eire Óg), David Tubridy (Doonbeg), Cian O’Dea (Kilfenora).

Subs: Kieran Malone (St Joseph’s Miltown) for Cooney, Eoghan Collins (Ballyhaunis) for O’hAinifein (inj), Gearoid O’Brien (Kilrush Shamrocks) for O’Connor (black card), Einne O’Connor (Eire Óg) for C Brennan (black card), Alan Sweeney (St Breckan’s) for Collins.

Scorers: David Tubridy (1-2, 2f), Jamie Malone (0-3), Cathal O’Connor (0-2), Gary Brennan (0-2), Eoin Cleary (0-3, 3f), Gavin Cooney (0-1)

Westmeath: Eoin Carberry; Kevin Maguire, Ronan Wallace, Boidu Sayeh; Killian Daly, Kieran Martin, James Dolan; Joe Halligan, Denis Corroon; David Lynch, Ronan O’Toole, Ger Egan; Jack Smith, John Heslin, Callum McCormack.

Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan).

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