Played in glorious sunshine, the visitors held their own in the opening 20 minutes but, once Clare found their feet, there was going to be only one result. The game was a triumph for corner forward Mark Flaherty. The Killanena man, who accounted for 3-8 of his side’s tally in the defeat by Galway the previous week, maintained his phenomenal scoring feat, posting 1-12.
Understandably team coach Mike McNamara was more than happy with the result, particularly as the bulk of their scores had come from play.
“Last week we gave away far too many scores from placed balls, but we spoke about that during the week and there was a big improvement in not giving away too many frees. In the first half of last week’s game, we gave away nine points from frees, and it was important that we did not repeat that out there today. Thankfully, we didn’t and, with the bulk of our scores coming from play, it was very pleasing.
“We are working towards getting a spine up the middle of the team and it looked a bit more settled today. It was Tony Carboy’s first game in a year-and-a-half and he will be a great addition to the side, while Mark Flaherty’s free taking was phenomenal, but we need to get more out of him in general play. The two points were crucial as it looks as if there is going to be a great scrap for the two places in the knock-out stages after Offaly held Galway to a draw today.”
Clare made the perfect start when Fergal Lynch pointed after just 12 seconds. They hit three wides in a row before Lynch added a second point two minutes later and it looked to all going the way of the Banner County.
However, Laois began to settle after the early Clare onslaught and, with Joe Young leading their attack, were level after seven minutes with points by Young and Willie Hyland.
There was far more potential in the Clare attack, however, and it took a superb save by Laois netminder Pat Mullaney to deny Lynch a goal before Young pointed two frees in a row to give the O’Moore County the lead for the first time.
In a game punctuated by frees, it began to develop into a shooting match between Clare’s Flaherty and Young as they matched each other point for point to be level on three occasions before Clare’s greater potential finally began to surface.
A shrewd side line move saw Paddy Vaughan come in for the out-of-sorts James McInerney and he, along with Conor Plunkett and Pat Dolan, began to exert huge influence in the half-back line.
Seasoned campaigner Colin Lynch, who was outstanding all through, and team captain Brian O’Connell gave Clare the edge at midfield, and the pressure on the Laois defence began to mount.
Pat Mullaney again came to Laois’s rescue with another superb save, this time to deny Barry Nugent the goal Clare’s outfield dominance deserved.
Given how well they had competed in the opening 20 minutes during which they matched Clare score for score, it’s difficult to explain why the visitors’ challenge faded so badly, as the hosts rattled six points without reply to hold an 0-14 to 0-7 lead at half time.
It was more of the same on the changeover, as the highly impressive Flaherty added two quick points. Young got one back for Laois, but any chance of a recovery was quickly nipped in the bud by a Clare goal that was well worth waiting for.
Impressive Colin Lynch drove a long ball over the head of the Laois corner back for Mark Flaherty to run onto and without breaking stride he billowed the net from 12 metres out to put his side 1-19 to 0-9 in front and the home side were not going to be caught from that position.
However, Joe Young, easily Laois’s best forward, gave them a glimmer of hope when he drove a 30 metre free to the Clare net, but it mattered little.
With Paddy Vaughan sparkling in defence, Clare continued to dictate, and Lynch showed his value to the team with two excellent points as the Banner county ran out the easiest of winners.
Clare: M. Flaherty 1-12 (0-8f, 0-2 65s); F. Lynch, C. Lynch, T. Carmody 0-3 each; B. Nugent 0-2; C. Lafferty, M. Ogie Murphy 0-1 each. Laois: J. Young 1-10 (1-6f, 0-2 65s); Z. Keenan 0-2 (0-1 free); W. Hyland, J. Brophy, T. Fitzgerald 0-1 each.
P. Brennan; T. Keogh, D. Clancy, F. Lohan; J. McInerney, C. Plunkett, P. Donlan; C. Lynch, B. O’Connell; J. Clancy, F. Lynch, T. Carmody; N. Gilligan, B. Nugent, M. Flaherty.
P. Vaughan for McInerney; M. Ogie Murphy for F. Lynch; C. Lafferty for Carmody. G. Arthur for Clancy.
P. Mullaney; J. Walsh, M. Whelan, J Delaney; C. Coonan, J. Phelan, C. Dunne; J. Fitzpatrick, D. McGill; W. Hyland, J. Young, Z. Keenan; J. Brophy, T. Fitzgerald, N. Holmes.
J. Dooley for McGill; S. Hanlon for Brophy; B. McEvoy for Holmes.
M. Haverty (Galway).