It was the one facet of play missing from the Clare book, and, ultimately, the reason why instead of looking forward to a fourth round qualifier this morning the post-mortems are in full flow in the Banner county.
“I have been in a lot of dressing rooms and that is as bad as I have seen. The players are absolutely devastated,” said selector Ger Keane.
And for good reason too.
Ahead by 0-12 to 0-6 after 45 minutes, Clare failed to add to their tally in the remaining 25 minutes of play, coughing up seven unanswered points, and, in the end, their championship status.
To say Clare self-destructed on the home stretch would be both a lazy and inaccurate analysis, there is no doubt, however, Colm Collins’ charges stiffened up with the finish line coming into view. They wanted to win it, but simply didn’t know how. A ruthless edge they did not have.
As Keane alluded to afterwards, one point during the Kildare onslaught is all they required.
On 57 minutes they came closest. Possession was worked to the unmarked Enda Coughlan on the Kildare 20m line, the centre-forward engaging the right boot to split the posts. Out of nowhere came the right hand of Kildare’s Fergal Conway, deflecting the ball out over the end-line. David Tubridy kicked wide from the resulting 45. Fine margins.
“I jumped and hoped and it clipped my fingertips,” said Conway. “That was a do or die moment. I pushed out and I shouldn’t have left my man in there. He could have been in for a goal if they had seen him earlier. Thank God they didn’t get that score.”
In the ensuing passage of play, Paddy Brophy registered arguably the score of the evening, the deficit now reduced to the minimum, 0-12 to 0-11.
Conway was again central in ending a sweeping Clare break, a superb tackle dispossessing Jamie Malone. On 63 minutes Kildare were back on level footing. Séan Hurley and Pádraig O’Neill teed up Eamonn Callaghan and the corner-forward slotted his second. Sub Eoghan O’Flaherty kicked his third point in the subsequent action to complete the overtaking movement — 0-13 to 0-12 they led.
Clare, to be fair, never relented. Two minutes into time added on they were awarded a free just outside the 45m line, Tubridy charged with responsibility. Alas, the ball flew to the left and wide.
Conway said: “It didn’t look good at 0-12 to 0-6, backs were to the wall. That is when you have to react. This place is a cauldron, the crowd got on their side. One thing we said we didn’t want to happen was for the crowd to really get behind them. We pegged it back and kept going. We are just delighted to still be in the championship.”
The sight of heartbroken Clare footballers sprawled across the Cusack Park turf came against the backdrop of a first-half display where the underdogs played with a confidence and swagger to which Kildare had no answer.
Rory Donnelly, Podge Collins and Enda Coughlan set out the terms of war with three early scores, Martin McMahon’s effort with the outside of the left boot on 22 minutes drawing a rousing cheer from the Clare fans in the 7,445 crowd. Jason Ryan’s charges went 25 minutes without finding the target and were fortunate to trail by 0-7 to 0-4 at the interval.
Two excellent Gary Brennan points, added to three David Turbridy dead-ball efforts moved Clare 0-12 to 0-6 clear on 45 minutes. The home outfit dared to dream.
In the end, it was a dream punctured by the one trait Clare sorely lacked.
A Smith 0-6 (1f), E O’Flaherty 0-3, E Callaghan 0-2, P Brophy, P O’Neill 0-1 each.
D Tubridy 0-4 (3f, 1 45), G Brennan, S McGrath 0-2 each, P Collins, R Donnelly, M McMahon, E Coughlan 0-1 each.
M Donnellan; C Fitzpatrick, O Lyons, E Bolton; M O’Grady, F Conway, K Cribbin; T Moolick, G White; C McNally, N Kelly, P O’Neill; P Fogarty, A Smith, E Callaghan Subs for Kildare: T O’Connor for Fogarty (30), E O’Flaherty for White (43), P Brophy for Kelly (49), E Doyle for M O’Grady (51), S Hurley for Moolick (58), D Hyland for Conway (70).
J Hayes; S Hickey, K Hartnett, M McMahon; J Malone, G Kelly, C Russell; G Brennan, S McGrath; S Collins, E Coughlan, S Brennan; P Collins, D Tubridy, R Donnelly. Subs for Clare: D Ryan for S Collins (56), E Cleary for Donnelly (56), M O’Leary for Coughlan (58), S McNelis for Hickey (63), P McMahon for S Brennan (65), L Healy for Russell (70).
J McQuillan (Cavan).