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Emmet McMahon, Alan Sweeney, Keelan Sexton and Gavin Cooney of Clare celebrate on the final whistle following their All-Ireland SFC qualifier defeat of Roscommon. They now face Derry in the All-Ireland quarter final. Photograph by John Kelly

FOOTBALL: Magical Malone sends Clare marching into All-Ireland Quarter-Finals

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All-Ireland Football Qualifier Round 3
Clare 2-15 Roscommon 1-16

HISTORY repeats itself. Roscommon once more the vanquished. Those who bemoaned travelling to Croke Park were not those who were present to see history being witnessed as one of the greatest successes in Clare football was secured and a place in the All-Ireland Quarter-Finals in two weeks’ time, writes Michael O’Connor.

Memories of a glorious Saturday in Pearse Stadium and an emphatic six-point win all of six years ago were rekindled as Clare once more took on Roscommon in a qualifier with a place in the All-Ireland Quarter-Finals at stake. Six starters from the Salthill encounter started this latest instalment at GAA headquarters.

The opening score went to Cathal O’Connor after a five man move ended with the Coolmeen man pointing. Roscommon rallied with Eddie Nolan going close with a goal chance before Cathal O’Connor with Clare’s second effort was off target after being set up by Podge Collins as Clare enacted a full 15 behind the ball once in a defensive mode.

Clare were on the backfoot within a minute as high speculative lob by Conor Cox into the Clare square was punched to the net by late Roscommon replacement Diarmuid Murtagh to send Clare down by two before Keelan Sexton cut that deficit to the minimum with his first touch, a free in the 8th minute. Another high ball into the Clare square caused consternation as Clare were struggling a little with short ball into the Roscommon final third of the field. Emmet McMahon with an astute handpass found the inrushing Cillian Rouine who levelled this end-to-end game after 12 minutes.

Cox won a free that was debated by the Clare rearguard as he made no mistake to restore a one-point lead for the Connacht finalists as seconds later Diarmuid Murtagh sent over a free from the Cusack Stand side and now Anthony Cunningham’s men led by two after 14 minutes.

UL student Emmet McMahon, who was showing up well for the Banner men on the wing, fisted the ball over the bar. Both sides were running the ball down the wide margins of Croke Park and it worked a treat for Clare in the 19th minute when a raiding Ciaran Russell sent across the Roscommon square a ball into the hands of the well placed Sexton who beat off two challenges from Conor Daly and Colm Lavin as the ball trickled over the line to the delight of the travelling Clare support.

Within three minutes this game that now increasing dramatically in quality saw five more scores with Ciaran Murtagh (2) and a wonderful effort from Conor Keon on target for Roscommon as Keelan Sexton and Eoin Cleary responding for Clare. Clare were ahead 1-6 to 1-5 and went ahead by as Podge Collins, a survivor from 2016, drew a great cheer and a great cheer for veteran O’Connor with a superb raid that ended with a powerful score and now Clare were three clear. Cox bemoaned a great chance for a point that went to the right and wide seconds later.

Tristan O’Callaghan did well to deflect another high bombing effort as it was clear that Roscommon were targeting a perceived weakness in this respect. The intensity of the game dropped as Roscommon kicked two wides in three minutes as Clare maintained a 1-8 to 1-5 lead entering the final five minutes of the first-half. Clare appeared to hold more potential in their attack when breaking on the counterattack. Cathal O’Connor took a ferocious hit to win a free that was sent over by Sexton in the 33rd minute as the Roscommon supporters were raising their voice in an attempt to rally their side and it worked with Ciaran Murtagh tagging on another score only to see Keelan Sexton match this seconds later to maintain a four-point lead. A huge setback for Clare saw Roscommon with the final two attacks in injury-time claw back two points as Diarmuid Murtagh and Niall Kilroy after a wayward kick-out left Clare after so much good work only 1-10 to 1-8 ahead at the interval.

Eoin Cleary won a free seconds into the new half as Keelan Sexton continued his rich vein of form kicking into the Hill as Colm Collins calmly walked around the back of the goal. Tristan O’Callaghan was alert to deny a goal chance straight from the kick-out as Clare were once again three clear. Diarmuid Murtagh spurned a point chance from a free and it was a major let off for Clare and setback for Roscommon.

Conor Hussey was forced off the Roscommon team with a shoulder issue after a on the ball clash with Cathal O’Connor and he was replaced by Richard Hughes. Roscommon began to press higher on the Clare kick-out and drew dividends when Ciaran Murtagh with his fourth of the day gave them hope after 45 minutes.

Clare struck back immediately, but an effort by Aaron Griffin went inches wide and from the restart Conor Daly on a raid upfield found the target as now a buoyant Connacht side appeared more in tune with the game than in the first half. Heretofore intricate Clare attacks that were successful were now breaking down at the Roscommon half-back line as Clare were being pinned down in their own half which was not happening. Roscommon drew level and went ahead all in a minute with scores from Donie Smith and Richard Hughes.

The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Clare football appeared as the heretofore superb efforts for 45 minutes was now replaced by a retreating Clare. Roscommon went 1-14 to 1-11 ahead by the 55th minute with scores from Donie Smith and raiding wing back Ronan Daly. Clare went five minutes plus without an attack until Keelan Sexton pointed a much needed free as the game entered the 60th minute.

Roscommon substitute Keith Doyle kept up the theme of their subs doing well with a snap point after his introduction as Gavin Cooney replaced Podge Collins. Clare now required a period of play and at worst curtail the Roscommon onslaught to keep the game meaningful entering the final minutes. Doyle won a free sent over by Donie Smith and now Clare needed a goal to stay in the game.

The end appeared nigh for Clare when Roscommon went five clear following another Murtagh score as Eoin Cleary with only Clare’s third score of the half reduced the lead to four. Yet, seconds later Gavin Cooney was dragged down in the square and up stepped Keelan Sexton, sent the goalie the wrong way and now Clare were behind by the minimum with five minutes of additional time to be played.

Clare, Clare, Clare, began to be chanted from the bowels of Croke Park as Keelan Sexton amazingly had the sides level in the 71st minute. One more play, one more move and up stepped Jamie Malone with a score for Clare football never to forget.


Clare Scorers:
Keelan Sexton (2-6), Emmet McMahon, Eoin Cleary, Cathal O’Connor (0-2 each), Cillian Rouine, Jamie Malone, Padraic Collins (0-1 each).

Roscommon Scorers: Diarmuid Murtagh (1-2), Ciaran Murtagh (0-5), Ronan Daly, Donie Smith (0-2), Keith Doyle, Richard Hughes, Conor Daly, Conor Cox, Keith Doyle (0-1 each).

Clare: Tristan O’Callaghan; Cian O’Dea, Manus Doherty, Cillian Rouine; Jamie Malone, Ciarán Russell, Alan Sweeney; Darren O’Neill, Cathal O’Connor; Pearse Lillis, Eoin Cleary, Emmet McMahon; Pádraic Collins, Aaron Griffin, Keelan Sexton.

Roscommon:
Colm Lavin, David Murray, Brian Stack, Conor Daly, Conor Hussey, Niall Daly, Ronan Daly, Ultan Harney, Eddie Nolan, Ciaran Murtagh, Enda Smith, Diarmuid Murtagh, Cian McKeon, Niall Kilroy, Conor Cox. Subs: Richard Hughes for Hussey, Donie Smith for Cox, Keith Doyle for Kilroy, Andrew Glennon for Murray, Eoin McCormack for McKeon

Referee: Niall Cullen (Fermanagh)

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