Cunningham nicks it for 14-man Banner

There was irony aplenty at O’Connor Park, Tullamore yesterday as Aaron Cunningham, son of Offaly coach Alan, landed the decisive 70th minute winning point as Clare maintained their 100% record in Division 1B of the Allianz NHL.

For 62-plus minutes Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare were at a numerical disadvantage after the dismissal of Fergal Lynch and he hailed the character shown by his players as they progressed to meet Limerick in the divisional final.

However, when Offaly fought back from two points down, 0-14 to 1-13 after 54 minutes, and went two ahead 0-18 to 1-13 with 61 minutes elapsed, they looked poised to fight it out again with the Banner for a semi-final spot.

Eight days earlier Offaly’s Shane Dooley rescued a draw for his side by blasting a penalty to the net against Limerick and on this occasion, after Joe Bergin was halted by Clare keeper Donal Tuohy, he opted to rifle his strike over the bar.

Dooley was later denied a goal before Clare’s Cathal Chaplin pounced on poor defending to tuck away his side’s second goal, 2-13 to 0-18. Cathal Parlon slotted over the equaliser before Cunningham’s intervention sickened the home crowd and left ‘Faithful’ boss Ollie Baker reeling.

“Coming so late, the second goal was a killer. But we missed too many chances ourselves,” rued Baker.

Breeze assisted Clare, with two accurate Colin Ryan frees and a clever Cathal McInerney point, were 0-3 to 0-1 up when full-forward Fergal Lynch was shown a red card following an off-the-ball incident that saw David Kenny receive treatment for a facial injury. With the lively Joe Bergin and dead ball specialist Dooley showing the way, Offaly twice managed to reduce the arrears to the minimum.

However, Clare, showing no ill effects of the sending-off setback, intelligent kept possession, and they reeled off the next four points in emphatic style courtesy of Liam Markham, Aaron Cunningham, Camin Morey and Patrick Kelly to lead by double scores, 0-10 to 0-5.

Cathal Chaplin, Ryan, Morey and Colm Galvin were also off target during this period of ‘Banner’ ascendancy, much to Davy Fitz’s frustration.

Offaly, with defender James Rigney being deployed in the ‘free man’ sweeping role, finished the half with a brace of successful Dooley frees leaving them three drift, 0-7 to 0-10, as they trooped off to their dressing room. Colin Egan’s 47th point pushed Offaly ahead for the first time, 0-12 to 0-11, but Bryan Donnellan’s goal six minutes later was a sucker blow to the hosts. Offaly did manage to regain the initiative but, in a fascinating finish, were unable to cling on.

Scorers for Offaly: S Dooley 0-12 (0-8 frees, 0-1 ’65 & 0-1 penalty), J Bergin 0-3, S Ryan 0-1, C Egan 0-1, D Morkan 0-1, C Parlon 0-1.

Scorers for Clare: C Ryan 0-7 (0-6 frees), B Donnellan 1-0, C Chaplin 1-0, C McInerney 0-2, A Cunningham 0-2, C Morey 0-1, L Markham 0-1, P Kelly 0-1.

OFFALY: J Dempsey; D Franks, D Kenny, C McDonald; B Harding, D Morkan, J Rigney; D Horan, B Murphy; J Bergin, C Mahon, D Mooney; S Dooley, G Healion, S Ryan.

Subs: E Murphy for Mooney (28), C Egan for Healion (half time), T Carroll for Ryan (45), C Parlon for Carroll (54).

CLARE: D Tuohy; E Glynn, J McInerney, D O’Donovan; E Barrett, P O’Connor, P Kelly; C Galvin, L Markham; C Morey, C Ryan, C Chaplin; A Cunningham, F Lynch, C McInerney.

Subs: S O’Halloran for Morey inj (half time), B Donnellan for Galvin (half time), E Hayes for C McInerney (57).

Referee: J Sexton, Cork.

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