Tony Kelly hits 13 points as 'relieved' Clare survive late Laois storm

14-man Banner squeeze into second round of qualifiers
Tony Kelly hits 13 points as 'relieved' Clare survive late Laois storm

Clare's Shane O'Donnell is tackled by Colm Stapleton of Laois. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

All-Ireland SHC qualifier: Clare 0-27 Laois 3-17 

He wasn't quite gone in 60 seconds but Brian Lohan's post match interview at Nowlan Park didn't last a whole pile longer than that.

The Clare manager's frustration after his team's unlikely near miss was evident and after two questions he was already angling towards an exit.

Truth be told, there was plenty to ask but if Lohan wasn't in the mood for post mortems after almost coming a cropper on this qualifier banana skin he could hardly be blamed.

Already missing John Conlon, Peter Duggan, Podge Collins and Colm Galvin for various reasons, Clare then lost captain David McInerney to a red card just before half-time and almost paid the ultimate price.

Referee Thomas Walsh was booking Laois defender Sean Downey at the far side of the pitch when his attention was drawn to an incident between McInerney and Mark Kavanagh elsewhere.

After consulting with a linesman, Walsh booked Kavanagh and displayed a straight red to McInerney, robbing Clare of their skipper for next Saturday's Round 2 qualifier.

"I don't know," said an agitated Lohan on the dismissal, "he barely blew the whistle for the first 25 minutes and then he sends David McInerney off, so I don't know."

McInerney's absence next weekend wasn't initially high on Lohan's mind, just getting beyond Laois was enough of a challenge.

Leading by seven points in the 56th minute, Clare were left hanging on to a one-point win, Tony Kelly's 0-13 haul significant and Rory Hayes 69th minute point ultimately separating the teams.

Willie Dunphy of Laois dejected at the end of the game. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Willie Dunphy of Laois dejected at the end of the game. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

"I'm very relieved, it was a tough struggle all day, a tough game, particularly having to play 50 minutes with only 14 men against that kind of game and that sort of intensity that Laois bring," offered Lohan.

Was confidence perhaps an issue for Clare after previously leaking 0-36 to Limerick and crashing out of the Munster championship?

"No, I don't think so, I think we played reasonably well but we conceded three goals and any time you concede three goals against opposition like that you're going to be under pressure. We conceded three poor goals, that's something to work on."

Take Laois' goals from Ross King, James Keyes and Aaron Dunphy out of it and you could argue that full-back Conor Cleary generally marshalled the defence well. Anything to cling onto there, asked a local reporter?

"Yeah, yeah, look, we're delighted with our lads, working real hard in difficult circumstances against 15 men, being a man down," said Lohan. And that was that.

If we'd had another few minutes we would have asked about Tony Kelly and his latest high scoring feat.

After his 0-17 haul against Limerick, Kelly added 10 first-half points, three from play, as he duelled with Padraig Delaney.

In the second-half, following McInerney's exit, Kelly reverted to midfield and while he added 0-3, he spent the closing minutes chasing after Delaney who scored a point and set up another as Laois rallied, outscoring Clare 1-6 to 0-3.

We might have even asked Lohan about his former manager Ger Loughnane's criticism of the team and whether it was warranted.

Writing in his newspaper column after the Limerick game, Loughnane said he fears Clare are on a decline 'that eventually leads to the Joe McDonagh Cup'. Loughnane said the current Clare team 'bar Kelly, are just above Joe McDonagh level'.

Beating the reigning McDonagh Cup champions by a single point did little to disprove Loughnane's theory.

The positives are that they put up a big score and both Ryan Taylor and Shane O'Donnell would have scored goals but for Enda Rowland's excellence for Laois.

Mind you, Paddy Purcell had the ball in the Clare net in the 53rd minute only for referee Walsh to call play back and award a free, after initially awarding a penalty. If he'd played advantage we could be talking about a Championship shock even greater than Laois' defeat of Dublin in 2019.

Game in 60 seconds

IT MATTERED: Even with 14 men, Clare looked like wrapping this one up much earlier. Rory Hayes' 69th minute point from distance ultimately separated the teams.

CAN'T IGNORE: This was one of those games where fans were badly missed. Nowlan Park would have been rocking as Laois turned up the heat late on.

GOOD DAY: Eddie Brennan's management stock remains high despite the defeat which will go down as a moral victory. This may even have been a useful audition for the Kilkenny job down the line.

BAD DAY: David McInerney will be frustrated with his indiscipline. The Clare captain will miss the Banner's biggest game of the year next weekend due to his red card.

PHYSIO ROOM: Ross King limped off early on with hamstring trouble for Laois, robbing them of a key performer.

SIDELINE SMARTS: Laois deployed Jack Kelly as their sweeper initially, then Lee Cleere. Added to this they brought a manic intensity and succeeded in denying Clare goals.

BEST ON SHOW: Enda Rowland had a strong game in goals for Laois, pulling off two great saves and keeping a clean sheet. But Tony Kelly will go down as the gamebreaker again, his 0-13 haul proving decisive. He starred in the first-half with 0-10 and then dropped out to shore up midfield after David McInerney's dismissal.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Thomas Walsh endured a baptism of fire on his first senior championship assignment. He relied upon the advice of his linesman to dismiss McInerney. Eddie Brennan was fuming that Walsh didn't dismiss two other Clare players for 'blatant head hits'. He ruled out a 53rd minute Paddy Purcell goal to initially award a penalty before deciding it was a free.

NEXT UP? Clare will be in Monday morning's draw for Round 2 of the All-Ireland qualifiers, along with Wexford, Tipperary and Cork. Laois are out of the Championship.

Clare scorers: Tony Kelly 0-13 (0-9f), Aron Shanagher 0-3, David McInerney 0-2, Ryan Taylor 0-2, Cathal Malone 0-2, Seadna Morey 0-2, Aidan McCarthy 0-1 (0-1f), Colin Guilfoyle 0-1, Rory Hayes 0-1.

Laois scorers: Mark Kavanagh 0-6 (0-3f, 0-1 s/l), Ross King 1-2 (0-2f), James Keyes 1-1, Aaron Dunphy 1-1, Paddy Purcell 0-2, Willie Dunphy 0-2, Ciaran McEvoy 0-1, Padraig Delaney 0-1, Jack Kelly 0-1.

CLARE: Eibhear Quilligan; Rory Hayes, Conor Cleary; Paul Flanagan; Stephen O'Halloran, Seanda Morey, Aidan McCarthy; David McInerney, David Reidy; Cathal Malone, Tony Kelly, Colin Guilfoyle; Aron Shanagher, Shane O'Donnell, Ryan Taylor.

Subs: Shane Golden for Reidy 53, Diarmuid Ryan for Guilfoyle 56, Gary Cooney for Taylor 62, Aaron Cunningham for Shanagher 67.

LAOIS: Enda Rowland; Lee Cleere, Donnchadh Hartnett, Sean Downey; Jack Kelly; Ryan Mullaney, Padraig Delaney, Eric Killeen; Fiachra C Fennell, James Keyes; Aaron Dunphy, Mark Kavanagh, Colm Stapleton; Ross King, Willie Dunphy.

Subs: Patrick Purcell for King 23, Stephen Maher for Kelly h/t, Ciaran McEvoy for Killeen 49, Conor Phelan for Downey 66, Mark Hennessy for Maher 70.

Referee: Thomas Walsh (Waterford).

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