The All-Ireland champions were far from their best but like Limerick the previous week, much of the credit for that should go to Laois and the system of play they have adopted under Seamus Plunkett.
Certainly, Fitzgerald was very happy to give them the plaudits, revealing that he had seen plenty of the Laois men. His initial feeling was that his players might have underestimated them, despite his warnings, and that they were lucky not to have paid for that error.
“I don’t think people have given Laois enough credit in the last year,” said Fitzgerald.
“I thought they’ve done great work. I knew it was going to be a battle.
“Were our lads a little complacent today? Probably were. My honest opinion is I think Laois were better than us today. I think we were lucky to get out of there.”
“So you have to give Laois more credit than [they’re getting]. I watched their games in Division 1B with interest because I know what they’re trying to do and I think they’ve been very unlucky in a few of them.”
Tom Delaney received his marching orders in the 22nd minute, at which stage there was just a point between the sides. It was for an off-the-ball incident involving John Conlon and though Delaney seemed very aggrieved and Plunkett described the decision as “harsh”, Alan Kelly had no doubt.
Fitzgerald reckoned it gave Laois a boost.
“I think it actually helped them to tell the truth. They rose their game way more. I’d have preferred it was 15 against 15, it would have suited us better without a shadow of a doubt. I thought they rose completely.”
For his part, Plunkett was already looking ahead: “Today gave us a platform to build on and certainly our performances in the league have given us that,” said Plunkett.
“We’re very satisfied looking forward in the sense of where we can go with this time. What enthuses me most is we know there are areas in our game we can improve on.”
A seventh-minute goal from Neil Foyle after tremendous work by Tommy Fitzgerald gave Laois the perfect start but they were conceding too many frees and with Colin Ryan helping himself to six points, trailed by 0-9 to 1-3 by the 19th minute.
Laois had plenty of possession, however, and only poor shooting — they had 11 wides by half-time — prevented them from being ahead.
The brilliant Paddy Purcell and Matthew Whelan (free) kept them in touch though, before Delaney was sent packing.
Stephen Maher was retained in the sweeper role despite the numerical disadvantage and Laois showed their resolve by hitting the front via a monster point from Charlie Dwyer and a Whelan 65.
Conlon and Conor McGrath made it a two-point game once more but back came Laois with a 60m point from corner-back Brian Stapleton and the score of the day from Purcell.
McGrath had Clare in front entering injury-time when Patrick Kelly made a good save from Fitzgerald. Seconds later, O’Donnell had the ball in the Laois net, after receiving a pass from McGrath, and it was 1-12 to 1-9 at half-time.
When O’Donnell converted another opportunity created by McGrath in the 45th minute the margin was seven. Ryan made it eight. But this time, it was Clare conceding frees and Maher punished them. Willie Hyland had an inspirational score before Purcell set up substitute Brendan Reddin to goal in the 69th minute and leave just two points between the sides.
Clare’s experience shone through though, and a fantastic point by Tony Kelly from wide on the left, followed by Colin Ryan’s 10th point of the game, set up a semi-final clash with Tipperary.
Scorers for Clare: Colin Ryan 0-10 (8f); S O’Donnell 2-0; C McGrath 0-4; Tony Kelly 0-3; A Cunningham 0-2; P O’Connor, B Duggan, C McInerney, J Conlon 0-1 each.
Scorers for Laois: S Maher 0-6 (6f); B Reddin 1-1; T Fitzgerald, P Purcell 0-3 each; N Foyle 1-0; M Whelan (1f, 1 65), W Hyland 0-2 each; C Dwyer, B Stapleton 0-1 each
CLARE: P Kelly, D McInerney, C Dillon, C Cooney, B Bugler, Conor Ryan, P O’Connor, P Donnellan, T Kelly, P Duggan, Colin Ryan, J Conlon, B Duggan, S O’Donnell, C McGrath LAOIS: E Reilly, JA Delaney, B Campion, B Stapleton, J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, T Delaney, D Palmer, P Purcell, C Dwyer, J Purcell, W Hyland, S Maher, N Foyle, T Fitzgerald. . Subs for Clare: A Cunningham for Donnellan (46); C McInerney for B Duggan (52), J Browne for Dillon (58); PJ Scully for Fitzgerald (68); D Reidy for Conlon (70)
Subs for Laois: R King for Foyle (h-t), P Whelan for J Purcell (42), B Reddin for Dwyer (54).
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway).