Russell helps Clare through

Denis Russell helped Clare through to the second round of the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers at Casement Park.

All-Ireland SFC first round qualifier:

Antrim 2-09 Clare 1-13, Casement Park

Wing forward Denis Russell scored two late points as Clare edged out Antrim in the sides' first ever championship clash, winning by 1-13 to 2-09 at Casement Park today.

The St Senan's clubman squeezed over a 68th-minute free and made use of a direct ball in by Ger Quinlan to point Clare into the second round draw of the Bank of Ireland All-Ireland SFC qualifiers.

In front of a dismal crowd, Antrim got off to a flying start. Full forward Kevin Niblock had the ball in the back of the Banner net after only 37 seconds. A neat ball in by playmaker Kevin McGourty allowed Niblock enough time to beat Clare keeper Dermot O'Brien with a measured finish.

But two minutes later, the visitors were back level when Stephen Hickey earned himself a penalty and duly dispatched the spot kick to Antrim stopper John Finucane's right.

The sides went point for point for a good 20-minute spell as Paddy Cunningham (0-02), Micheal Magill and Niblock raised white flags for the Saffrons, and Niall Considine, Michael O'Dwyer, Russell and Peter O'Dwyer replied for Clare.

O'Brien had to be alert on the Clare goal line to twice deny the Antrim attackers – he first got down well to block away a Colm Brady shot on 16 minutes, saving with his heel, and then he thwarted the onrushing Mark Dougan who looked odds-on to net in the 21st-minute.

Cunningham squared the game up at 1-04 apiece on 31 minutes. However a concerted spell of pressure from the visitors just before the break had their joint-managers Donie Buckley and Michael Brennan brimming with confidence for the second half.

Clare went in at the interval armed with a 1-07 to 1-04 buffer thanks to late scores from Hickey, Peter O'Dwyer and Quinlan.

Antrim goal scorer Niblock sat out the second half due to injury with Joseph Quinn coming on. The Saffrons quickly got into their stride on the restart. A Russell free pushed Clare four points clear but a punched McGourty point and a curling effort from Dougan signalled Antrim's intent.

They missed out on a goal, five minutes in, when Magill forgot his rules when fisting to the Clare net. Although the left corner forward got a deserved goal for the mountain of work he got through on 44 minutes when a miss-hit Russell free allowed Antrim midfielder Aidan Gallagher burst forward and he found Magill who rocketed a shot past O'Brien.

The Saffrons extended their newly found lead to 2-08 to 1-08 by the 52nd-minute with overs from midfielder Michael McCann and substitute Ciaran Close. But showing some of the heart that was missing from their Munster SFC first round defeat by Limerick last month, Clare proved the fitter and stronger in the closing stages.

The final quarter hour saw them out-point their hosts by five to one with the ever-reliable Russell getting three of those scores. Hickey added a free, which bounced over off the crossbar, and Quinlan crept over a 57th-minute. Close tagged on a free for the Saffrons who really wilted under the pressure.

Scorers: Antrim: K Niblock, M Magill (1-01 each), C Close, P Cunningham (1f), M McCann (0-02 each), M Dougan (0-01 (1f))

Clare: Denis Russell (0-06 (4f)), S Hickey (1-01 (1f)), G Quinlan, P O'Dwyer (0-02 each), N Considine, M O'Dwyer (0-01 each)

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