For 15 minutes of their league opener at Cusack Park yesterday, the home outfit clicked, could do no wrong.
For the remainder of the contest, though, they spluttered and stuttered with a short-passing game that contributed handsomely to their wides tally of 15 and possibly double that figure in turnovers in the opposition half of the field. Many was the occasion when instead of striking at goal, the Clare player in possession opted to dwell on the sliotar and seek to find another saffron and blue shirt in close proximity.
This being the second weekend in February, mind, they’ll take that 15-minute spell; draw confidence from it and build upon it.
Trailing by 0-6 to 0-5 after 22 minutes, and having hit five wides inside the opening 10 minutes, a fine David Reidy point lit the fuse on a 1-9 scoring burst during which time their opponents managed only a solitary point in response.
Three from the stick of Colin Ryan (two frees) and a John Conlon effort following good work from Reidy and Shane O’Donnell stretched Clare into a 0-9 to 0-6 lead.
A foul on Offaly sub Joey O’Connor, after the visitors had cut open the Clare defence for the first time, enabled Shane Dooley end a 13-minute barren spell. From the ensuing puck-out, however, possession was worked to Peter Duggan who slipped in from the right corner, negotiated two defenders in the process, and scrambled home the opening goal. 1-9 to 0-7. Daylight.
Clare’s half-back line — in which David McInerney was a free agent owing to Offaly’s decision to play a two-man full-forward line and deploy Shane Kinsella as a sweeper — along with the midfield pairing of David Reidy and Colm Galvin were, by this juncture, exerting considerable influence in the middle third. And with a healthy supply line feeding the attack, scores flowed; Conlon, McInerney and two more Ryan placed balls put nine between the teams at half-time (1-13 to 0-7).
Conlon struck his fourth within 50 seconds of the restart in what would prove his last involvement before being substituted through injury. Shane Dooley and Ryan traded frees thereafter, with Aaron Cunningham then fluffing a goal chance in a perfect microcosm of Clare’s less than clinical endeavours.
Another set of Ryan and Dooley frees preceded the sending-offs of Peter Duggan and Conor Doughan on 50 minutes. Both players became entangled on the ground in an off the ball incident and while Duggan’s helmet came loose in the altercation, it was hard to distinguish what merited two red cards.
Offaly, to compound a disappointing first league outing under Eamonn Kelly, would finish with 13 men as corner-back Paddy Rigney was dismissed on a second yellow when pulling down Shane O’Donnell. O’Donnell’s point on 64 minutes was the first score from a member of the Clare full-forward line. The visitors had long since thrown in the towel, Shane Kinsella’s saved penalty three minutes earlier ending their challenge.
Sub Aaron Shanagher tore through for a second Clare goal on 68 minutes to round out this 12-point win.
Next up is a trip to Wexford Park where the promotion bid will undergo more intense scrutiny. “Wexford are going to come out all guns blazing,” said Fitzgerald. “ That is a massive game for us.”
Colin Ryan (0-8, 0-7f); J Conlon (0-4); A Shanagher, P Duggan (1-0 each); B Duggan (0-1f), D McInerney (0-2 each); C Cleary, C Dillon, D Reidy, C Galvin, S O’Donnell (0-1 each).
S Dooley (0-8, 0-6f, 0-1 ‘65); S Kinsella, P Camon, P Murphy (0-2 each); C Doughan (0-1, 0-1f).
P Kelly; D McInerney, C Dillon, P O’Connor; C Cleary, P Flanagan, Conor Ryan; D Reidy, C Galvin; J Conlon, Colin Ryan, P Duggan; C McGrath, D Honan, S O’Donnell.
A Cunningham for Honan (35 mins, inj), A Shanagher for Conlon (38, inj), B Duggan for Colin Ryan (51), D Fitzgerald for McGrath (57), J Browne for Colin Ryan (64)
J Dempsey; P Rigney, C McDonald, N Wynne; P Camon, C Doughan, S Gardiner; P Guinan, S Kinsella; P Murphy, S Dooley, J Bergin; J Mulrooney, C Egan, J Sampson.
J O’Connor for Guinan (32 mins), S Quirke for Sampson (35), S Cleary for Mulrooney (63), B Murphy for Bergin (65).
S Cleere (Kilkenny).