A summer that promised so much for the Clare footballers is over prematurely, to the dismay of their manager Colm Collins.
Victory was theirs for the taking in Cusack Park on Saturday evening, especially when Longford were reduced to 14 men with 12 minutes remaining. The Banner looked set to kick on to victory after the impressive Dean Ryan punched them level a minute later, but their forward progress inexplicably stalled thereafter.
Instead it was Longford that summoned the effort and belief required for the win with three points from Brian Kavanagh extending Longford’s summer by another week at least.
Certainly injuries to key players Podge Collins and Cathal McInerney cost Clare dearly, but manager Collins was annoyed that his side failed to take their chance in front of their home fans.
“Well that’s the way it goes,” said the Clare manager. “We were fully expecting to win today but I think the most disappointing thing is that we didn’t perform. We certainly are better than that but on the day it didn’t work for us. So we’re out and that’s that. We just seemed to be flat. Longford were very hungry, they attacked everything. I don’t think we can have too many complaints.” The possession stats would make for interesting viewing, especially in the second-half. It looked as if Clare lorded the ball for long periods, but found scores extremely hard to come by. While Ryan fisted one score, they only kicked one point from play in the second-half.
The Banner men will be dismayed with their return in attack – nine first-half wides didn’t help their cause – but at the other end the Longford forwards always seemed to have the beating of their men.
Liam Connerton and Dessie Reynolds – who swept around midfield – brought the energy of youth to a revived Longford, but it was Kavanagh, one of the old guard, who saw them home.
“We’re thrilled,” said Sheedy. “The lads dug very deep. You couldn’t ask any more of them.
“I think we deserved our win. I think we were good value for it even though the pacemaker’s not working so well at the moment!” said the former Dublin midfielder.
Sheedy is correct, they did deserve to be in this morning’s Round 3A draw. They looked the classier outfit throughout. In Michael Quinn they had the game’s stand-out performer and in Kavanagh they had a reliable source of scores. Quinn was handed the duty of silencing Clare’s best player Gary Brennan, and he never left his side. But once Longford gained possession, Quinn came to life. It was his ball into Connerton that drew the foul from Ciaran Russell for the early penalty, but he continually picked out clever, intricate passes, while manning his midfield zone.
Kavanagh’s fourth minute penalty for that foul on Russell was expertly dispatched to the roof of the net to give Longford a comfortable early advantage, but the impressive Ryan ghosted in for a well-taken goal to put Clare ahead, a lead they carried into the interval, 1-7 to 1-6.
But a couple of turnovers cost Clare dearly at the start of the second-half. Firstly Rory Connor drew Longford level, before Dessie Reynolds shot for a point looped in over the head of Joe Hayes for a Longford goal.
After that Clare managed to draw level and then saw Longford reduced to 14 men when Diarmuid Masterson picked up a second yellow in three minutes. But Kavanagh pushed his side ahead with a stunning 50-metre free from the right, doubled that lead with a second placed ball, before a sublime score in added-time gave his side a deserved win.
“Brian was excellent and he’s been excellent all through the season. He’s a super leader. He led from the front but there’s a lot of leaders out there today,” the Longford boss said.
“What a performance. We did really, really well. That’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for fellas to stand up and be counted and that’s what they did today and we’ll just try and keep doing that.”
This game carried a common theme from the start: Clare dominance. After 13 minutes they led by just four points, but the Banner men went on to fire five of the next six scores in as many minutes to take control.
Would Galvin get his start? After three months away from the Clare panel, Colm Galvin got the call to return for Clare’s qualifier campaign. Davy Fitzgerald played it smartly and only introduced his man seven minutes from time with the game well won.
James Dempsey’s save to deny Shane O’Donnell in the 22nd minute. O’Donnell’s snapshot appeared to be destined for the inetnches just below the crossbar, but the Kinnity stopper somehow got a hurl to it.
Once again, Tony Kelly was head and shoulders the standout player. His creativity, hard work and ability stood out. Magic work to set up O’Donnell’s goal.
One yellow card between the teams told the tale from a tepid affair. He was largely invisible so must have done well.
Offaly start preparations for next year’s Leinster round robin and second tier hurling, while Clare await confirmation of their Round 2 opponents in this morning’s draw.
B Kavanagh 1-5 (1-0 pen, 4f), D Reynolds 1-1, L Connerton, R Connor 0-2, M Quinn, D Masterson 0-1.
S Doyle for Gill (48), R McNerney for McEntire (61), P Foy for Connor (66).
D Tubridy 0-5 (3f), D Ryan 1-1, E Cleary 0-2 (1f), G Brennan 0-2 (1f), P Burke, S Collins 0-1.
S McGrath for O’Connor (19), E Coughlan for Cleary (54), Stephen Collins for Kelly (60).
Anthony Nolan (Wicklow)