Clare attack strike rich vein and Laois have no answer

EVER since Anthony Daly ascended to the throne in Clare, observers have been waiting for the Banner to break from the blocks.

Clare 3-15 Laois 1-11

If yesterday's victory in Portlaoise is a barometer of their worth, Clare may indeed be shaping up for a season of note.

A 10-point win? It could have been 20. Three minutes after Joe Kelly threw the ball in, Clare were three points to the good, two of them coming from the hugely impressive David Forde who is back on board after a season's absence.

Clare's forwards were absolutely clinical all day, with 2-15 of their tally arriving from open play. A measure of how potent an offence they were is the fact that their first wide from a shot didn't arrive until the end of the third quarter, and was followed by only one more.

Laois' chief tormentor was Niall Gilligan with 1-4, but most eyes were on Frank Lohan in his first start at number 14. One of the best corner-backs in the country for the past decade, Lohan's redeployment to the full-forward slot has been held up as the most glaring example of Clare's alleged achilles heel up front, but the Wolfe Tones' man did enough to ensure that the experiment won't be a one-day wonder.

His two goals were simple enough affairs that owed as much to the lack of any Laois marker and his colleagues' ability to work the ball into the edge of the box than to anything Lohan engineered.

What impressed more was his clever link play further out the field and an exquisite point in the 61st minute over his right shoulder from underneath the main stand.

Conor Plunkett also traded in his defender's union card for the centre-forward's jersey, but despite the fact that he plays there for his club Clarecastle, Plunkett failed to make the impression Lohan did and was called ashore before the end. Still, Daly has one more potential forward to play with than he did before the trip to Portlaoise and that's a veritable windfall in Clare.

Further encouragement for Daly came from young Brian O'Connor who was a late replacement for Brian Lohan at full-back. O'Connor's job was to shackle Laois' prime danger David Cuddy and he kept the Castletown veteran scoreless from play.

That was something Laois simply couldn't afford and the extent of their forwards' starvation rations was illustrated by the fact that it took them 21 minutes to register their first point from play through midfielder James Young.

By then, Clare already had 2-8 picked off as they took full advantage of the bitterly cold wind at their backs in the first half. Gilligan from a penalty and Frank Lohan were the goalscorers and Laois could only be thankful that goalkeeper Keith Galvin had made two fine stops in that opening half or it would have been even worse.

As it was, a goal from Liam Tynan bang on the stroke of the interval left the hosts trailing by 2-10 to 1-5 and with some hope for the second half an illusion soon put to bed when Clare rattled over three points in a row inside 180 seconds after the turnover.

Laois never managed to get enough steam going to threaten after that and, after improving their basic skills level under Paudie Butler last year, it now seems like they are back to step one after an afternoon of fumbling, poor marking and few ideas. Certainly, Clare won't meet a poorer team between now and the end of their season, whenever that may be.

Too soon to say yet, maybe, but the early signs would suggest that won't be as early as last year.

Scorers: Clare: N Gilligan 1-4, F Lohan 2-1, D Forde 0-5, T Griffin 0-2, A Markham 0-2, C Lynch 0-1. Laois: D Cuddy 0-5 frees, L Tynan 1-0, J Young 0-2 (1 free), S Dwyer 0-1, C Coonan 0-1, J Fitzpatrick 0-1, C Cuddy 0-1.

CLARE: D. Fitzgerald; R. O'Looney, C. Harrison, B. O'Connell; C. Forde, J. Reddan , G.Quinn; O. Baker, C. Lynch, A. Markham, C. Plunkett, T. Griffin; N. Gilligan, F. Lohan, D. Forde. Subs: B. McPhillips for C. Forde 43, G. O'Grady for G. Quinn 48, A. Quinn for A. Markham 50, J. O'Connor for Baker 56, A. O'Brien for C.Plunkett 63.

LAOIS: K. Galvin; L. Mahon, Pakie Cuddy, C. Cuddy; J. Fitzpatrick, P. Mahon, M. McEvoy; J. Young, J. Walsh; C. Coonan, L. Tynan, S. Dwyer; T. Fitzgerald, D. Cuddy, D. Culleton. Subs: J. Dunne for D. Culleton 52, C. Brophy for S. Dwyer 54, D. Walsh for L. Mhaon 61.

Referee: J Kelly (Wexford).

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