Clare 1-19 Offaly 2-14
By Daragh Ó Conchúir
Clare needed every one of their 20 scores to edge out a valiant Offaly side that refused to give in, in front of 3,492 supporters at a sweltering O’Connor Park.
Four points from their subs and some magnificent clutch kicking by Eoin Cleary, allied with a goal and four points from play by the at times unmarkable Jame Malone, edged it for the Bannermen.
Offaly were unrecognisable from the outfit that limped out of the Leinster Championship against Wicklow.
Paul Rouse was brought in to replace Stephen Wallace as manager and they were full of vigour when accounting for Antrim.
This was a completely different challenge against an established Division 2 outfit but they had heroic contributions from the likes of Johnny Moloney, Anton Sullivan, Ruairi McNamee and Mick Brazil but fell just short.
The first half was full of ebb and flow. Offaly began with a real composure, looking assured in everything they were doing and putting Clare under pressure.
Ruairi McNamee had a goal in the fourth minute, finishing very well after a perfectly-weighted kick pass from Anton Sullivan.
Moloney and Bernard Allen followed with points and it was a dream start for Rouse’s men.
A distinct nervousness seemed to creep in though after they had established an early four-point lead, and that wasn’t helped when Colm Collins got his men to push up on Alan Mulhall’s kickouts, a tactic that increased the visitors’ possession stats significantly.
That led to them outscoring their hosts by 1-6 to 0-1 in a period that saw Malone score a trademark goal, as he took possession coming on a loop around the shoulder, put on the after-burners and finished emphatically.
He should have had two more goals though, hitting the crossbar and post when through one-on-one with Mulhall.
The game should have been done and dusted but then, Paddy Neilan surprised everyone in the ground when awarding Offaly a penalty as Shane Nally fell dramatically under the challenge of Pearse Lillis.
It was certainly less of a penalty then the one he denied Eoghan Collins at the other end, when the defender had his arm dragged back in the square just as he was about to shoot.
Mulhall ambled up the field and drilled a powerful shot to the roof of the net and the teams were level at the break, 1-8 to 2-5.
The second half turned into a rousing scorefest. Clare kicked the first two points but Offaly came back with three, Sullivan providing the lead score.
The next flurry was Clare’s, four including two from Malone putting three between them.
But Offaly would not go away. McNamee had a glorious opportunity to goal from five metres out but leaning back and drop-kicking, he launched the ball over the bar. Moloney blasted over from close range too as Clare lived on their nerves.
But Cleary chipped in with some typical soaring points from distance to keep the Munster team’s noses in front. Subs Gavin Cooney, Gearóid O’Brien and Kevin Harnett did likewise and that was significant in the end.
Scorers for Clare: J Malone 1-4; E Cleary 0-6(2fs); G O’Brien, C Malone 0-2 each; C O’Dea, P Lillis, D Tubridy, G Cooney, K Harnett 0-1
Scorers for Offaly: R McNamee 1-2; B Allen 0-5(fs); J Moloney 0-4; A Sullivan 0-3; A Mulhall 1-0 (pen)
Clare: E Tubridy, E Collins, C Brennan, G Kelly, C O’Dea, A Fitzgerald, P Lillis, G Brennan, C O’Connor, K Sexton, C Malone, J Malone, E Cleary, D Tubridy, E Courtney. Subs: G Cooney for Courtney (ht), R Eyres for E Turbridy inj (42), G O’Brien for Courtney (58), C Ó Hainifín for C Malone (63), J Culligan for Sexton inj (67), K Harnett for Kelly (70+2)
Offaly: A Mulhall, B Darby, S Pender, J Lalor, D Hogan, P McConway, N Darby, M Brazil, C McNamee, C Donohue, S Nally, R McNamee, B Allen, A Sullivan, J Moloney. Subs: J Hayes for Donohue (ht), P Cunningham for Nally (41), E Rigney for Hogan (50), C Doyle for Pender inj (52), J Evans for R McNamee (58), J O’Connor for Moloney inj (70+6)
Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon)