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Easy start to Clare’s league campaign

Down’s Ciarán Coulter tackles Clare’s Brian O’Connell during their Division 2 National League game at Cusack Park. Photograph by John KellyClare 2-10   Down  0-6

Clare opened their campaign to get back to the top division in the Allianz Hurling League with, as expected, a comfortable win over Down at Cusack Park on Sunday.

While the result was never in doubt, there were some worrying aspects from a Clare viewpoint and there will have to be an improvement in a number of areas ahead of this Sunday’s game with Laois in round two.
The home side should have had a few more goals but a combination of excellent goalkeeping by Graham Clarke, allied to some poor finishing, meant that a number of chances were wasted and against stronger opposition this could prove costly.
There will be concern in the Clare camp at the fact that Down recorded 20 wides, 11 coming in the second half.
“The scoreboard looks bad but we had a lot of wides. Fellas worked hard and never dropped the heads and they responded in the right way. They worked very, very hard and we will learn from this,” Down mentor, Gerard Monan said after the game.
A contribution of 2-10 from full-forward Mark Flaherty played a huge part in Clare’s win and while the Killanena man will be pleased with his tally, there must be some concern at the failure of a number of others to get on the scoresheet.
With five of last year’s All-Ireland U-21 winning team making their debut at this level of competition, Clare went into the game with a very new-look side. In addition to league debutants Cian Dillon, Domhnaill O’Donovan, Nicky O’Connell, Seán Collins and Darach Honan, the Clare starting line-up also included Alan Brigdale, Martin ‘Ogie’ Murphy and Fergal Lynch, who have only made a small number of appearances in the league prior to this.
Clare made the early running and Flaherty converted frees in the first and sixth minutes to give them a lead they would hold throughout. They should have had two goals inside the first 10 minutes.
The first chance saw Flaherty pass to Ogie Murphy when the Killanena man was in a better position, while the hard working Seán Collins should have scored when he broke through in the eighth minute but his effort was straight at Clarke, who saved well. Seven minutes later, Clarke again saved from Collins.
Jonathon Clancy’s point a minute later could have ended up in the net but Clarke deflected the ball over his crossbar. It was 0-8 to 0-0 in Clare’s favour after 20 minutes.
Down opened their account two minutes later but three Flaherty efforts followed before the next Down score.
The Down defence gave away a lot of frees in this period of the game and Flaherty punished every indiscretion. Four minutes from the break, he struck for Clare’s first goal and this helped the winners to a half-time lead of 12 points, 1-13 to 0-4.
The teams exchanged points in the opening five minutes of the second half but after this the play became rather scrappy. The next 15 minutes produced just two points and these were for the home side, with Seán Collins and Jonathon Clancy on target, leaving the score at 1-16 to 0-5 entering the final quarter.
Paul Braniff saw his effort for a Down goal from a 25m free rebound off the crossbar with the Clare defence beaten.
In the final couple of minutes Clare added 1-2, with the goal coming from Flaherty in between points from Diarmuid McMahon and Ogie Murphy.
Both sides availed of the opportunity to bring on substitutes in the final quarter, when each made four changes in personnel.
Cian Dillon, James McInerney, Seán Collins and John Conlon, when introduced, gave most support to the game’s top scorer Mark Flaherty. Down’s best were goalkeeper Graham Clarke, who certainly saved his side from a much heavier drubbing, Conor Woods and Paul Braniff.

Clare: Philip Brennan; Brendan Bugler, Cian Dillon, Alan Brigdale; Domhnaill O’Donovan, James McInerney, Pat Donnellan; Brian O’Connell, capt, Nicky O’Connell; Seán Collins, Fergal Lynch, Jonathon Clancy; Darach Honan; Mark Flaherty, Martin ‘Ogie’ Murphy.
Subs: John Conlon for Clancy, Colin Ryan for Nicky O’Connell, Diarmuid McMahon for Lynch and David Barrett for Collins.
Scorers: Mark Flaherty (2-10, 0-9 frees), Jonathon Clancy (0-3), Seán Collins and Martin ‘Ogie’ Murphy (0-2 each), Pat Donnellan, Brian O’Connell and Diarmuid McMahon (0-1 each).
Frees: 16. Wides: 9.
Bookings: Darach Honan (25 minutes) and Seán Collins (41 minutes).
Down: Graham Clarke; Liam Clarke, Fintan Conway, Seán Ennis; Matthew Teague, Conor Woods, Ciarán Coulter; Kevin McGarry, Conor O’Prey; Paul Keith, Brendan Ennis, Paul Braniff; James Coyle, Gareth Johnston, Eoin Clarke.
Subs: Johnny McCusker for Coyle, Padraig Flynn for Teague, Eoin McGuinness for Keith and Michael Hughes for L Clarke.
Scorers: Paul Braniff (0-4, 2 frees), Conor Woods (free), James Coyle (0-1 each).
Frees: 19. Wides: 20.
Bookings: Ciaran Coulter (22 minutes).
Referee: Michael Haverty (Galway).

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