Gilligan stars as ruthless Bannermen punish lacklustre Laois

Clare 3-18 Laois 1-11

Laois manager Paudie Butler's blunt statement was an accurate reflection of what had happened earlier on the field, though he was being a little kind to his own side.

The failure of Laois extended to more than three or four. Only the spine of his side from keeper John Lyons through full-back Patrick Cuddy, Paul Cuddy in the centre, James Young in midfield, David Cuddy on the 40 and Liam Tynan on the edge of the square looked up to standard.

Everywhere else, on the flanks, Laois were exposed by an impressive new Clare side. However, for about 25 minutes of this game, Laois proved a handful for the home side.

"The seven or eight minutes before half-time killed us," Butler said. "The wind was strong but we were coping, going well enough, looked alright. Seven or eight points (behind) would have been reasonable at half-time but the goal and the three or four points just before the break put us under too much pressure.

"We had to get goals then in the second half. If we had only to get points, we'd have been fine. Even as it was, we should have scored more points."

The new Laois manager's disappointment was aggravated by the fact this result didn't reflect recent form, which included a Walsh Cup win over Wexford, a late loss to Dublin who went on to beat a near full-strength Kilkenny, a high-scoring challenge game performance against Kilkenny.

On Saturday, once the on-song Niall Gilligan rounded Tom Phelan to blast home his goal just before the break, Laois were never again at the races, many of them appearing to throw in the towel.

"That's what happens when the score opens," Butler said. "This is another level of hurling. We haven't been up there before. We haven't been there to hang on in the bad patches. We conceded the scores, a few lads dropped the head, and at this level, if even one lad drops the head, that's enough for the game to open up.

"The likes of Tony Griffin, Tony Carmody, Daithi O'Connell in the corner, they're going to crucify you if they get that advantage. And Gilligan, it was his goal before half-time that really opened the door. These lads have been to All-Irelands. They have a different pace on the ball: tighter, cuter.

"We have learning to do yet, but we think we're on the way. These days will happen to us, but by the time division One is over, we should be a smarter outfit".

Mention of Griffin and Gilligan was pertinent, because both were hugely influential in the Clare takeover of this game after a sluggish start. Griffin was much more effective at centre-forward than the powerful Carmody, while Gilligan, with 1-6 to his credit by the break, including a couple of very difficult frees, did most to help Clare to a commanding 1-12 to 0-3 half-time lead.

O'Connell, however, is a different kettle of fish. One of a plethora of new faces on this Clare side, the Wolfe Tones youngster was hugely impressive on his competitive debut. Pacy and brave, he ended with 2-2 from play. It could easily have been a hat trick, denied only by a goal-line save from his hapless marker Cyril Cuddy.

"Maybe it was just as well," manager Cyril Lyons grinned. "But he is a good player, great pace, and as the ground gets firmer, he'll be of even more use to us. He did okay today, not afraid to get stuck in, a hardy lad for a light lad."

Also impressive for Clare were the newcomers in defence, especially the half-back line of Conor Plunkett, Diarmuid McMahon (first cousin of the master) and Gerry O'Grady, though Lyons, a school principal, wasn't for handing out top marks just yet.

"Good, but we'd still expect more off them. Some of those lads will be challenging for jerseys this year. We have high expectations of them, and they have high expectations of themselves. I feel they played okay but they can do a lot better."

Lyons is right. Just one game, early days, but still, good start, and encouraging for Clare that there is such young talent coming through.

Scorers for Clare: N. Gilligan 1-8 (0-5 frees); D. O'Connell 2-2; C. Plunkett 0-3 (0 2 65's, 0 1 free); T. Griffin 0-2; J. Reddan, B. Murphy, A. Quinn, 0-1 each.

Laois: D. Cuddy 0-6 (0 3 frees); T. Fitzgerald 1-0; F. O'Sullivan, C. Coonan, J. Young, D. Rooney, E. Maher, 0-1 each.

CLARE: G. O'Connell; D. Hoey, R. O'Looney, C. Harrison; C. Plunkett, D. McMahon, G. O'Grady; J. Reddan, D. Scanlan; T. Griffin, T. Carmody, A. Markham; N. Gilligan, B. Murphy, D. O'Connell.

Subs: C. Earlie (Scanlan inj. 15); E. Taaffe (Carmody inj. 53); S. McNamara (N. Gilligan 56); A. Quinn (McNamara inj. 59); D. Kennedy (Murphy 68).

LAOIS: J. Lyons; J. Fitzpatrick, P. Cuddy, T. Phelan; C. Cuddy, P. Cuddy, D. Rooney; J. Young, P. Mahon; J. Phelan, D. Cuddy, C. Coonan; D. Culleton, L. Tynan, F. O'Sullivan.

Subs: M. Rooney (Fitzpatrick 31); D. Walsh (Phelan 47); E. Maher (Mahon 51); N. Daly (Coonan 51); T. Fitzgerald (O'Sullivan 65).

Referee: S. Roche (Tipperary)

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