The city side blasted a swift 2-1 as they charged into life at Nowlan Park. Martin Comerford struck the first blow in the 22nd minute, intercepting a Clara clearance before sprinting in to drill the sliotar past Patrick Lyng, wiping out Clara’s two-point lead (1-4 to 0-6).
A Mark Bergin free doubled their lead before Alan Geoghegan plundered their second goal in the 25th minute. Rushing in after a dropping ball, he charged down Lyng’s clearance, sending the sliotar back into the net.
The goals were a real blow for the Rower who, after a tame start, had fought their way into the lead. Led by Darragh Joyce (0-3) they came from two points down to lead by a brace after the opening quarter. Their lead could have been bigger, as Pat Lyng’s 14th minute shot bounced towards the net, but corner-back Anthony Forristal got back to make a diving save. Those two goals stung the Rower, but they regained some composure before half-time. Michael Grace and Joyce (free) saw to that, cutting the gap to three at the interval (2-5 to 0-8). O’Loughlin’s were quick to strengthen their grip on the game in the second half, forcing their way into a six-point lead by the three-quarter stage thanks to Mark Kelly, Mark Bergin (free) and Martin Comerford (2-9 to 0-9).
However, the Rower wouldn’t give up without a fight. Three more Darragh Joyce frees, with Pat Lyng also grabbing a minor, had them back to within three points of their rivals with as many minutes left to play (2-11 to 0-14). O’Loughlin’s finished strongly, Comerford and Paddy Butler picking off points that helped push their side towards the finish line. Joyce did bring the deficit back to three but O’Loughlin’s, who had Butler sent off for a second yellow card in injury-time, held on for the win.
M. Comerford (1-3); M. Bergin (0-5, 0-3 frees); A. Geoghegan (1-0); M. Kelly (0-3); P. Butler, S. Bolger (0-1 each).
D. Joyce (0-10, 0-7 frees, 0-1 65); P. Lyng (0-3); M. Grace, C. Joyce, K. Murphy (0-1 each).
S. Murphy; A. Forristal, A. Kearns, E. Kearns; A. O’Brien, B. Hogan, P. Deegan; H. Lawlor, P. Butler; A. Geoghegan, M. Kelly, E. Grant; S. Johnson, M. Bergin, M. Comerford. Subs: D. Burke for Lawlor, S. Bolger for Geoghegan.
P. Lyng; E. Doyle, S. Cummins, J. Doyle; R. Galavan, K. Joyce, S. Ryan; C. Ryan, S. Grace; P. Lyng, D. Joyce, R. Leahy; M. Grace, T. Murphy, C. Joyce. Subs: K. Murphy for S. Grace, D. Lyng for C. Joyce.