Clare make it five for five

Offaly 0-19 Clare 2-14

Offaly 0-19 Clare 2-14

Table toppers Clare completed a five-match winning run in Division 1B by ending Offaly’s promotion hopes in Tullamore.

Aaron Cunningham’s late point proved decisive for Davy Fitzgerald’s men, who had second half goals from Brian Donnellan and Cathal Chaplin.

Having had captain Fergal Lynch dismissed early on, Clare did well to take a 0-10 to 0-7 interval lead.

Shane Dooley, with 0-12, led the Offaly charge but his decision not to go for goal from a penalty will haunt him as the Banner outfit produced a winning finish.

This final round game saw former Clare team-mates Fitzgerald and Ollie Baker take each other as inter-county managers, with Fitzgerald fielding an understrength team with top spot already in their grasp.

There were 11 changes in all to the Clare side that beat Wexford last time out - Conor McGrath, Nicky O'Connell, Cian Dillon and Brendan Bugler were among the players rested.

Rory Hanniffy (broken thumb) was the most notable absentee from the Offaly line-up. His place went to his Birr clubmate Barry Harding, although Hanniffy did make a second half appearance.

Ger Healion, Sean Ryan and Dermot Mooney were added to the Faithfuls' attack as they looked to earn a win which would most probably see them qualify for the Division 1B decider - especially as they had a superior scoring difference to Limerick's.

Although they did not need the result, a number of the Clare players were eager to impress with the Championship on the horizon. Cathal McInerney got them off the mark and Colin Ryan converted two long range frees for a 0-3 to 0-1 lead, with Joe Bergin pointing for the hosts in the seventh minute.

Just moments later, a high and dangerous swing by Lynch on Offaly skipper David Kenny led to referee John Sexton consulting with his umpires and he produced a red card.

Despite the sending off, Offaly were unable to use the extra man David Franks to their advantage. He could not exert much influence due to the accuracy of the deliveries played in towards the Offaly full-back line, and Clare won a number of breaking balls thanks to the hard work of Enda Barrett and Liam Markham.

Fitzgerald's side looked sharper and had the better touch. Offaly remained largely reliant on free-taker Dooley for scores. He had converted four scoring chances by the break, with Sean Ryan and Joe Bergin (0-2) also finding their range.

McInerney, Markham, Patrick Kelly and Cunningham added to Ryan's 0-4 haul from placed balls, keeping Clare on course to maintain their winning streak in the league. Although goalkeeper Donal Tuohy had to be on his toes to sniff out a couple of goal-scoring chances for Offaly.

Baker's side enjoyed a purple patch at the start of the second half. They squared things up at 0-11 apiece following a Derek Morkan score and a quick hat-trick from Dooley, in response to a single effort from Colin Ryan.

The tide seemed to be turning when Colin Egan pointed Offaly ahead for the first time and Ryan and Dooley swapped scores. But in the 53rd minute, a very good catch and pass from Barrett led to Donnellan registering Clare's opening goal which moved them 1-12 to 0-13 ahead.

Free-taker Ryan kept the margin at two points (1-13 to 0-14), but his Offaly counterpart Dooley was beginning to wield more influence again. He popped over two more scores before a Bergin point opened up a 0-17 to 1-13 advantage for Offaly.

Bergin was hauled down by Tuohy shortly afterwards to give Dooley a penalty chance. It was a crucial juncture in the game, a goal then and Clare might have faded. However, Dooley popped the ball over the bar to improve his own tally to 0-12.

Back came Clare immediately, Chaplin rocketing a shot to the back of the net and as the intensity increased Tuohy did well to stop a drilled effort from Dooley at the other end. The drama continued when substitute Hanniffy helped bring Offaly level again.

But Clare corner forward Cunningham, whose father Alan coaches Offaly, took on the mantle of match winner with a tremendous score two minutes from time. It gives them a winning lead-in to next weekend's divisional final against Limerick where the winners will gain promotion and a shot at Kilkenny in the top flight semi-finals.

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