Down 1-13 Clare 1-12
Down were forced to dig deep to see off a spirited Clare challenge in an exciting All-Ireland SFC qualifier at Cusack Park in Ennis, with Conor Laverty denying the Banner men what would have been a match-winning goal in the dying moments of the tie.
This should have been a straightforward assignment for the All-Ireland finalists but they came within a whisker of being dumped out of the 2011 Championship, Clare no doubt bitterly disappointed not to have taken a scalp that would have been right up there with their famous wins over Kerry in 1992 and Cork in ’97.
But they bowed out with their heads held high after an unfortunate bout of luck in the open draws which saw them paired with first the All-Ireland champions Cork and then the runners-up in the qualifiers.
It had all started to plan for James McCartan’s men who opened up a 1-2 to 0-0 lead after six minutes, with corner-forward Laverty finishing a good passing movement to the net.
However, Clare got on top in midfield where Gary Brennan and Ger Quinlan were superb and they clawed their way back into contention with three unanswered points before Timmy Ryan flicked a long delivery.
Down squandered a couple of goal chances in the first half but went in 1-6 to 1-5 ahead at the break, 1-3 of those Down scores coming from Laverty.
McCartan’s men took control after half-time with the wind at their backs and they hit five points without reply from Caolan Mooney, Mark Poland, McComiskey and a brace from Coulter to go 1-11 to 1-5 in front.
Down seemed to be coasting to victory when they opened up a 1-12 to 1-7 lead with 16 minutes remaining, but Clare made a mockery of their Division Four status as they came with a storming finish, hitting five points without reply to level with three minutes remaining.
The All-Ireland finalists regained the upper hand as Benny Coulter went deep to win a great ball, finished at the other end by Paul McComiskey as the game slipped into stoppage time.
Then came what could have been one of the biggest shocks since the qualifier system was introduced, as impressive Clare sub Joe Dowling lofted into a high ball which Down goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh failed to deal with under a challenge by Laurence Healy.
The ball drifted towards the net only for Laverty, who had tracked his man back, to scoop it clear of the line.
It was a close-run thing for the All-Ireland finalists, who managed just two points in the final 26 minutes of the tie, but Clare’s dogged resistance came up short in the end.
DOWN: B McVeigh; A Brannigan, D Gordon, B McArdle; K McKernan, D Rooney, K Duffin; M Clarke (0-2, 2f), K King; M Poland (0-1), L Doyle, C Mooney (0-1); P McComiskey (0-4, 2f), B Coulter (0-2), C Laverty (1-3).
Subs: P Murphy for King, 49; D O’Hagan for Duffin, 54; P Fitzpatrick for Doyle, 60; King for Murphy, 63.
CLARE: Joe Hayes; K Hartnett, B Duggan, L Healy; M McMahon, John Hayes (0-1), M Tubridy (0-1); G Brennan (0-1), G Quinlan (0-2); A Clohessy (0-1), D Tubridy (0-4, 3f), C O’Connor; R Donnelly, T Ryan (1-0), N Browne.
Subs: D Callinan for M Tubridy, 39; M O’Shea for Donnelly, 49; J Dowling (0-2) for Ryan, 52; M Foran for Browne, 63; D Russell for O’Connor, 65.
Referee: P O’Sullivan (Kerry).