Clare 2-15 Offaly 1-9
ANTHONY DALY agrees that it’s "the big imponderable" — whether or not the Clare hurlers are at the same stage in the Guinness Hurling Championship as they were this time last year and able to make as strong a bid for the Liam McCarthy Cup.
Home supporters going out into the pouring rain in Ennis on Saturday night after a third consecutive win in the qualifier series might not be so sure either. But, like Daly, they would have taken a lot of satisfaction from some individual performances, most notably from Clarecastle team- mates Jonathan Clancy and Derek Quinn.
For subdued Offaly manager John McIntyre, it was more a case of looking back, making a point of stressing that Brian Whelahan had not been dropped. And, criticising the media ‘spin’ on the issue, he said it had "reflected poorly" on the management.
The truth was that Whelahan "hurled himself to a standstill" the previous week against Limerick and he suggested that some other player could be tried out!
"We would have picked Brian,’’ he stated. "He has been a marvellous servant to Offaly hurling and he deserved a better send-off than he got out there tonight,’’ he commented.
Whelahan, introduced late in the game at wing-forward, did not make any announcement about retiring.
McIntyre admitted that the Leinster defeat to Wexford had been a shattering blow and that morale- wise they were left with too much ground to make up.
As for the game itself, the fact that Clare missed three clear goal chances in the opening 10 minutes and that — in very difficult conditions — they ran up 25 wides over the two halves, meant that it remained reasonably competitive all through.
Eventually they got the ball in the net in the 24th minute through Tony Carmody and two minutes later a second followed, courtesy of Derek Quinn. At the break it was 2-7 to 0-5 and even after Joe Bergin got a lucky goal for Offaly six minutes after the resumption, there was never going to be a surprise outcome.
Lining out at right corner-forward — where he seems likely to keep Tony Nugent out for the quarter-final — Derek Quinn was to finish top scorer with 1-7. Four came from frees, after he took over the duty from Niall Gilligan, who looked off-colour by comparison. Both in his first touch and his striking, Quinn’s excellence pleased the Clare manager, but didn’t surprise him.
"We worked very hard with Derek all year.’’ he said of his clubmate. "He has had the potential, I believe, to play at this level for a while. He really dug in this year and gave it an unmerciful commitment. Tonight was his first start and when he got the chance he seized it. You’d have to be happy with him.’’
Jonathan Clancy, a late substitute against Cork, was another star at midfield. Daly feels he has "added a bit of zip and pace" to boost the work of Colin Lynch — whom he feels is coming back to match fitness after missing most of the league.
Expressing the hope that their quarter-final will not be moved to a provincial venue, Daly commented: "We’re dying to go back to Croke Park. It’s a long trip for supporters, but we seem to play well there. We usually perform. Hopefully we can do it on the day.’’
Not unduly concerned by their wides total — blaming it on the conditions — he regarded the display as the best of the three games in terms of "coming to the ball; showing signs of hunger".
His only criticism was that there was a tendency to overplay the ball outfield.
Co-selector Fr Harry Bohan also agrees there is room for further improvement. "We have done a lot of hurling since the Cork game and we would feel we have picked it up big time. The scene is good, there is a good determination, the players know themselves they’ll have to pick it up," he said.
"There’s the Clare way of hurling — and that’s to work, work, work. We have to go up another few notches to arrive where we were last year against Cork.’’
Scorers for Clare: D Quinn 1-7 (0-4 frees, 0-1 ‘65); T Carmody 1-2; T Griffin and N Gilligan 0-2 each; C Lynch and S McMahon (free), 0-1 each.
Offaly: J Bergin 1-3 (0-2 frees); B Carroll 0-3; J Brady, D Hayden and P Cleary 0-1 each.
CLARE: D Fitzgerald; G O’Grady, B Lohan, F Lohan; B O’Connell, S McMahon (capt.), G Quinn; J Clancy, C Lynch; D McMahon, T Carmody, N Gilligan; D Quinn, A Markham, T Griffin.
Subs: B Nugent for D McMahon and D O’Rourke for Clancy (46th minute); C Plunkett for O’Connell (55th); C Harrison for F Lohan (59th); D O’Connell for Griffin (63rd).
OFFALY: S O’Connor; K Brady, P Cleary, B O’Meara; D Tanner, R Hanniffy, G Oakley; M Cordial, D Hoctor; D Hayden, G Hanniffy, M O’Hara; J Bergin, J Brady, B Murphy (capt.)
Subs: B Carroll for O’Hara, (bs 20th, stayed on); P Molloy for Oakley (29th); B Teehan for O’Meara (34th); Brian Whelahan for Murphy (45th); A Egan for Cordial (48th); E Bevans for Bergin (63rd).
Referee: Johnny Ryan (Tipperary).