In front of a crowd of 4,370, two teams in desperate need of the two points on offer made stronger arguments to lose this Division 1A fixture than win it. Not that the end result guaranteed Clare’s top-flight status or condemned Dublin to a relegation play-off next month, mind.
Ger Cunningham’s young side can still make the quarter-finals should they overcome Kilkenny and Clare are by no means safe despite the table showing them in second place.
The home outfit were marginally the better side here, but made much harder work of the win than they needed to. They turned this into a grind. And it didn’t need to be a grind. The Banner had the wind at their back changing ends and while three points on the hop shortly after the re-start chiselled Dublin’s advantage from five to two, 65 minutes had elapsed before the visitors were reeled in.
The Clare half-back line of Brendan Bugler, Conor Cleary, and David Fitzgerald had long since shut down Dublin’s attacking threat, but these three, among others, were guilty of contributing to a second-half wides tally that ran to nine. There was also a goal chance, gift-wrapped by Dublin, that wasn’t capitalised upon as Aaron Shanagher’s strike bounced off the post.
“They got three excellent points early in the second-half. We had the momentum at that stage after getting the first three points of the half, but they managed to break that,” said O’Connor.
“One of the biggest challenges for us is that we just couldn’t get the ball to stick in the full-forward line. With the wind, the intention is to deliver ball from your half-back line. A few times, those balls drifted wide. Ultimately, we stuck at it and we toughed it out.
“There was an awful lot of missed pick-ups, missed tackles, dropped ball, wrong decision-making. It was just one of those games where pure heart, pure character, and pure spirit would get you across the line.”
Exhibiting those qualities was David Reidy whose fifth and sixth frees reduced the gap to two points, 1-13 to 0-14, with 15 minutes left. Cathal McInerney, at the fourth time of asking, pared the gap to one. Seadna Morey galloped upfield in the subsequent action and Clare were level.
A Chris Bennett free was Dublin’s first score in 14 minutes but the tide was against them. Their two-man full-forward line was starved. Eamon Dillon, Niall McMorrow, and Ben Quinn were driving forces for the visitors in the opening half, but the decision to drop each one back a line to allow Liam Rushe take up the sweeper role in the second period didn’t have the desired effect.
Jason McCarthy tied proceedings once more and Reidy’s seventh free shoved Clare in front for the first time since the 17th minute. They wouldn’t be stopped. And although Bennett threw over a second free, a massive Aaron Cunningham point and Ian Galvin’s third saw Clare fall over the line.
The second-half read 0-12 to 0-5 in their favour, with Dublin’s last score from play arriving in the 44th minute.
“There were a huge amount of different options that we had to try to get across the line,” said O’Connor. “The players showed tremendous coverage and bravery in that last 10 minutes.
“The intention all along was to perform at home. It’ll be no different against Waterford here in a fortnight. I don’t think four points will be enough to keep you out of trouble.”
For the visitors, their five-point interval advantage, 1-10 to 0-8, wasn’t enough of a buffer when the squeeze came. Ryan O’Dwyer provided the goal after a mix-up between Clare goalkeeper Patrick Kelly and full-back Cian Dillon.
The score moved Dublin 1-4 to 0-5 in front and while Podge Collins posted a quick response, the subsequent two points were struck by men wearing blue. Ger Cunningham’s side should have gone further clear. Rian McBride and Liam Rushe both shot wide having been gifted opportunities. Donal Burke was withdrawn not long after missing a run-of-the-mill free, while Fiontán McGibb saw his goal strike blocked.
“Looking back on it, we probably had chances in the first half that we needed to take to be a bit more ahead, with the strong wind we were facing in the second half,” said Ger Cunningham.
“We’re disappointed to be where we are, we’ve two points, but we’ve got to face Kilkenny next and that’s a challenge we look forward to.”
D Reidy (0-8, 0-7 frees); I Galvin (0-3); S Morey, J Shanahan (0-2 each); J McCarthy, P Collins, D Fitzgerald, A Cunningham, C McInerney (0-1 each).
R O’Dwyer (1-0); C Bennett (0-2 frees, 0-1 ’65), N McMorrow (0-3 each); D Burke (0-2 frees), B Quinn, E Dillon (0-2 each); L Rushe, C Crummey, F McGibb (0-1 each).
P Kelly; D McInerney, C Dillon, S Morey; B Bugler, C Cleary, D Fitzgerald; J Shanahan, D Reidy; C Malone, P Collins, J Conlon; A Shanagher, P Duggan, I Galvin.
C McInerney for Galvin (25 mins); J McCarthy for Shanahan (50); A Cunningham for Duggan (55); I Galvin for Collins (61).
C Dooley; J Madden, S Barrett, E O’Donnell; C Crummey, L Rushe, C Mac Gabhann; D Fox, B Quinn; F MaGibb, N McMorrow, R McBride; E Dillon, R O’Dwyer, D Burke.
C Bennett for Burke (31 mins); C Conway for McBride (40); C O’Sullivan for McGibb (50); C Boland for O’Sullivan (64); F Ó Riain Broin for Madden (67 inj).
A Kelly (Galway).