The some times invisible line between the summit and the basement of affairs in Division 2 was summed up at the end of this entertaining tussle of many twists before Laois finally turned for home with two precious points in their safe-keeping.
Mike Quirke’s side were hanging on at the end after enjoying a lead that was once as wide as eight points, but before 893 spectators escaped thanks to the peerless contribution of the evergreen Ross Munnelly.
The 37-year-old, in his 18th season of inter-county football, came up trumps down the stretch with two crucial points, while another, via a 45 from goalkeeper Niall Corbett, was equally important as they survived a late Clare onslaught kickstarted when David Tubridy thumped home a 65th minute penalty.
“Ultimately it was always going to be a battle,” reflected Quirke, “because Division 2 is an awful battle in every single game and to come down and get the two points is a great achievement for our fellas”.
The win has Laois sitting pretty with any relegation fears on the back burner for now as they eye a promotion push, but for Clare trying times lie ahead as a third defeat in four outings has them rooted to bottom of the table.
“We’ve three games and that’s six points to fight for and that’s it,” reflected disappointed manager Colm Collins: “It’s to get stuck in and try and get something from our visit to Cavan next weekend.”
The damage was done here in the first half when Clare’s defence was exposed by a Laois outfit that laid the foundations by combining direct ball into Evan O’Carroll with some intricate inter-play.
O’Carroll set them on their way with a brace of early points, while he also played a key part in the defining score of the game on 20 minutes, after his initial goal effort rebounded into the path of Cormac Murphy who rolled to the empty net.
The goal bookended Laois’s dominant opening, which was added to with points by Eoin Lowry and Munnelly as they moved 1-8 to 0-3 clear, before the home side rallied with points by Tubridy and Eoin Cleary to trail by six at the break.
Clare were much improved on the turnover as Tubridy and Cleary led their charge and they quickly halved their deficit, while restricting Laois to just a solitary point from Lowry in the first 25 minutes of proceedings.
Laois could have killed the game at the three-quarter stage only for Sean Byrne’s piledriver to hit the underside of the crossbar, a lifeline that Clare eventually seized upon with Tubridy’s penalty after a foot-block on Cleary.
It was back to a one-point game, which made Munnelly’s brace just minutes earlier all the more important as he briefly gave his side a five-point cushion.
After the penalty came Corbett’s crucial 45 before Clare rallied once more with a Cleary point. That it wasn’t enough can be attributed the home side’s 13 wides, the last two coming from Tubridy and Cleary from long-range frees deep in injury time.
Scorers for Laois: C Murphy (1-2), R Munnelly (0-4, 2f), E O’Carroll (0-3, 2f), E Lowry (0-2), N Corbett (0-1f).
Scorers for Clare: D Tubridy (1-4, 3f, 1-0 pen, 1 ’45), E Cleary (0-4, 1f, 1 ’45), G O’Brien (0-1), P Lillis (0-1), C O’Connor (0-1).
LAOIS: N Corbett; C Healy, M Timmons, G Hanrahan; T Collins, R Pigott, P O’Sullivan; J O’Loughlin, K Lillis, D O’Connor, E Lowry, S Byrne; R Munnelly, C Murphy, E O’Carroll.
Subs: B Byrne for Pigott (10-20, blood), B Byrne for Healy (26), M Keogh for O’Connor (49), M Barry for Murphy (64).
CLARE: S Ryan; K Harnett, C Brennan, G Kelly; P Lillis, S Collins; D Masterson, C O’Connor; C O’Dea, K Sexton, D Coughlan; E Cleary, D Tubridy, G O’Brien.
Subs: E Tubridy for Ryan (23), C Murray for O’Brien (Half-Time), E McMahon for Masterson (Half-Time), B Carroll for Byrne (51), J McGann for Sexton (56), E Collins for Harnett (63).
Referee: L Devanney (Sligo)