They’d beaten Cork in the NFL Division 2 clash and were a happy bunch, as were the small group of supporters who’d come down from Clare. They waited by the pitch entrance to salute their players, making light of the arctic conditions. The cold never bothered them anyway.
Clare were well worth their win. Inside the opening 10 minutes they had carved Cork open twice for goal chances, both of which they missed, and they overturned a two-point deficit at half-time to surge ahead. Though it wasn’t a game where either team established a commanding lead, it was the visitors who had the wherewithal — and critically, the patience — to hold the ball until a chance presented itself, and late on they hit the vital points that got them over the line.
“We held out at the end and we have plenty of things to tidy up on,” said Clare boss Colm Collins.
“We spurned a couple of good chances and we dropped a lot of ball short, which I wouldn’t be happy with, but the spirit and honesty of these fellas is massive. When you’ve a team like that you just enjoy being part of it.
“It was very important to get two points because we blew any chance we had (of promotion) against Roscommon but at least now we’re going into the last game in a relatively good position.
“I’m delighted, the number of Clare teams who’ve come down here and won you could count on one hand.”
No-one epitomised that spirit and honesty more than Gary Brennan, the man who got the final score of the evening — the midfielder has been a talisman for the Banner for years, and his work-rate and intelligence set the tone for his side.
Cork worked hard as well but the fact that Clare had three players who hit three points each, as well as one who hit four, is a fair indication of the better balance they showed in their line-up.
It was a game which saw the teams swap the lead all through the first half, though Cork were able to take a two-point lead into half-time thanks largely to Mark Collins and Colm O’Neill.
Clare were dominating around the middle, though, led by Brennan, and with Eoin Cleary coming into the game — and contributing on the scoreboard— they levelled matters as the half wore on. Another key man was wing-back Jamie Malone, whose driving runs from the back were crucial to Clare’s performance.
A patiently worked point from Keelan Sexton put them two up in the closing stages, and though sub Stephen Sherlock and O’Neill levelled matters, Malone and Brennan, fittingly, hit the late points that secured the win for Clare.
“We were seven-five up at half-time and I felt we were well set up,” said Cork manager Ronan McCarthy.
“We like playing against the wind and running the ball, but when they have 13, 14 behind the ball you have to work hard to break them down and work it through, and we couldn’t find the final pass to do that.
“We had a bit of momentum, but nothing to say we were well on top. When we ran the ball through them with support we opened them up, no question, but they were lively up front too. They’re a good side and they cause teams trouble.”
Clare now have six points and though they must travel to Louth for their final game they have their destiny in their own hands is as much as they could have asked for.
Cork, meanwhile, will reintegrate the Nemo Rangers players once they’ve gotten that All-Ireland club final loss out of their systems and will also be hoping the likes of Sean Powter and Aidan Walsh will soon be fit.
However, their chances of getting back up to Division 1 seem over for this season at least, and McCarthy pointed out after the game that they may not even be safe in Division 2.
C. O’Neill (0-4, 1 free); M. Collins (0-3, 2 frees); J. O’Rourke (0-2); I. Maguire, C. Dorgan, S. Sherlock (0-1 each).
D. Tubridy (frees), E. Cleary (2 frees), G. Brennan, J. Malone (0-3 each); K. Sexton (0-1).
M. White, S. Ryan, J. O’Sullivan, K. Crowley, M. Taylor, K. Flahive, T. Clancy, I. Maguire (c), C. O’Hanlon, C. Dorgan, M. Collins, P. Kelleher, J. O’Rourke, C. O’Neill, M. Hurley.
S Sherlock for Kelleher and D. O’Connor for Dorgan (both 53); C. Kiely for Taylor (59); S. Wilson for Kiely (black card, 60); D. O’Callaghan for Hurley (67); M. McSweeney for Clancy (black card, 71).
E. Tubridy, C. O’Dea, C. Brennan, E. Collins, J. Malone, A. Fitzgerald, P. Lillis, G. Brennan (c), C. O’Connor, K. Malone, E. Cleary, S. Collins, S. O’Donoghue, K. Sexton D. Tubridy.
C. Finucane for S. Collins (66); S. Malone for E. Collins (70); E. Courtney for D. Tubridy (73).
P. O’Sullivan (Kerry)