Late Nugent point earns Clare a draw as Offaly ‘up the ante’

WITH home advantage and the concession of an equalising point almost three minutes into injury time, Offaly had more reason to be disappointed with the outcome in Birr yesterday.

Nevertheless, a draw was a fair result from a cracking Allianz NHL tie that was of considerable importance to both sides and ended with Barry Nugent emerging as the Clare hero.

After a poor display in Wexford Park, Offaly’s form delighted manager John McIntyre, who joked it was the first time he wouldn’t go into a Clare dressing room to congratulate them.

“We put the gun to the players’ heads on Friday, we demanded that they would up the ante,’’ he commented. “And in fairness, they gave us the performance we were looking for. We were desperately unlucky not to win. At different stages in the second half, it looked like Clare were in big trouble.’’

His thoughts were echoed by Tony Considine.

“In fairness, John McIntyre will be more disappointed. I thought we had the game lost three or four times,’’ said the Clare manager. “Sometimes you find out what a team is made of and on a day like today we found out that this Clare team has a lot of character.’’

With three changes in personnel and several positional alterations, Offaly’s more determined start saw them force the pace for much of the opening quarter. They were ahead 0-5 to 0-2 after 21 minutes, but that was only after full-back Paul Cleary made a vital interception when Clare left corner-forward Bernard Gaffney was about to line up a shot at goal.

In time, Gaffney would make a major contribution, both from play and placed balls (eventually finishing with 1-8), but until he got their goal in the 23rd minute, the visitors had been frustrated by bad finishing. And, that included several misses from Niall Gilligan.

Interestingly, however, Clare gained the initiative after Gilligan’s second move, from centre-forward to full-forward. And Fergal Lynch benefited from his move to the centre.

To give Offaly credit, however, they stepped up their effort when the pressure mounted, with Ger Oakley one of their more consistent performers at left half-back, Brendan Murphy and Barry Teehan doing well at midfield and Rory Hanniffy, Brian Carroll and Joe Bergin promising in attack.

Still, Clare were efficient in defence, with team captain Frank Lohan quick to make an impact, Alan Markham highly motivated outside him and the forwards generally more threatening following the re-arrangement. Nugent was an exception, however, because while he was involved in the play, he wasn’t contributing on the scoreboard.

Clare led for the first time when Lynch pointed in the 26th minute and, while Joe Bergin was starting to struggle against Brian O’Connell at one end, Gilligan was bettering Paul Cleary who had begun the game very well.

Indeed, the Sixmilebridge man almost got through for a goal nearing half time until he was hooked and a second attempt came back off goalkeeper Shane O’Connor’s chest.

At the break it was 1-8 to 0-7.

The second half was even more competitive, with Offaly narrowing the margin to a single point within seven minutes before eventually drawing level in the 47th minute.

Eight minutes later Offaly were two points clear, after further improved play all round. The Clare management, meanwhile, surprisingly took Gilligan out of full-forward (where substitute Daithi O’Connell played for a while before Lynch returned there) but Bernard Gaffney was to excel in winning possession. And, Philip Brennan showed his class in making a fine save from Molloy in the 56th minute.

The remaining 15 minutes were fought out with championship-like fervour, with Gaffney and Brian Carroll swapping scores and Lynch reducing the margin to a point before Offaly full-back Paul Cleary scored again from a long-range free.

But, that was as good as it got for the home side, with Lynch and Gaffney (from a 40-yard free) bringing Clare level at the end of normal time. Each side lost a chance before Rory Hanniffy regained the lead for Offaly and it looked like they would hang on for victory until Nugent popped over the equaliser.

*Pat O’Connor’s refereeing was generally very good, but he made a few surprise calls.

Scorers: Offaly: J Bergin 0-5 (0-4 frees); D Molloy 1-1; B Carroll and R Hanniffy 0-3 each; P Cleary 0-2(frees); B Murphy and B Teehan 0-1 each. Clare: B Gaffney 1-8 (0-4 frees, 0-1 ‘65); F Lynch 0-4; N Gilligan 0-2 (0-1 free); T Carmody and B Nugent 0-1 each.

OFFALY: S O’Connor; D Franks, P Cleary, M Verney; G Oakley, C Horan, K Brady; B Teehan, B Murphy; G Hanniffy, R Hanniffy (capt), D Molloy; B Carroll, J Bergin, A Egan.

Sub: C Parlon for Egan (61).

CLARE: P Brennan; G O’Grady, B O’Connell, F Lohan (capt.); C Forde, C Plunkett, A Markham, B Bugler, K Dilleen; N Gilligan, T Carmody, J Clancy; B Nugent, F Lynch, B Gaffney.

Subs: D O’Rourke for Dilleen (injured, 20th mins); D O’Connell for O’Rourke (39); T Kearse for Carmody (60); J McInerney for Bugler (68).

Referee: P O’Connor (Limerick).

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