Clare doze in first-half and Offaly take full advantage

IT'S a long way from Clare to Tullamore, and an even longer road home yesterday for senior football manager John Kennedy and his charges following another inconsistent National Football League display.

Offaly 1-11 Clare 0-10

In what was, overall, a poor display of football by both sides, the visitors dozed through the last 20 minutes of the first-half at the end of which they trailed 1-6 to 0-3. And ultimately that period of slumber cost them a game they could well have won.

"It's a problem we've had in a lot of games, we've been starting badly", said a clearly frustrated Kennedy.

The second period was dominated by a resurgent Clare, but it was the old story of too little, too late. In that pivotal first-half the McNamee brothers Niall and Alan had combined for the early Offaly goal, a subtle little pass from youngster Niall setting up wing-forward Alan for the score that would go on to prove the major difference between the sides, while midfielder and team captain CiaranMcManus chimed in with two trademark long-range bombs.

The problem for Clare, however, was that despite a decent share of midfield possession through the efforts of the outstanding Donal O'Sullivan, their forward sextet struggled to make any impact against a tight-marking Offaly defence. International star Odran O'Dwyer was well marshalled all through by Conor Evans, team captain David Russell got no change from Barry Mooney, and even Denis Russell, who did end the game with three points from play, was most erratic in that opening half with three wides from four shots.

In the first 20 minutes of the second-half, however, Clare finally started to make an impression. With O'Sullivan continuing to supply the ammunition from midfield, Denis Russell began to find his range and he was joined in the scoring stakes by forward subs Michael O'Dwyer and Ger Quinlan, each of whom pointed with almost their first touch of the ball, so that just 16 minutes after the restart the deficit was down to two points, 1-7 to 0-8.

It could have been the signal for a ding-dong final quarter but, instead, thanks in part to a number of close calls from referee Duffy from Sligo that all went the way of Offaly (Clare penalty claim by sub Quinlan denied, free out given for over-holding instead, soft free awarded to Offaly in good position), the home side managed to stem the tide, and held that four-point lead to the finish.

"You have to give Clare credit", said Offaly manager Gerry Fahy: "I saw them play Offaly last year in the championship, in the qualifiers, they're a good team and when they get their spell they can do a lot of damage. They were always going to raise their game at some stage today but thankfully we were able to contain their pressure. We had enough in the bank, came on strong ourselves in the finish. It's nice to have this one in the bag".

The two points won sees Offaly level on points now in second place in Division 2A with Roscommon, a fact that pleases Fahy. "Westmeath? Who are they?", he laughs, asked about their Leinster championship opponents. "That's still a long way ahead for us, we're just concentrating on these matches, we're very intent on promotion, so this is our focus for the moment. Regardless of results elsewhere, we have to keep winning, for our own sake. Leitrim next, and we'll try and take them now".

For Kennedy and Clare however, a different priority. "We had a very good second half, but it's still disappointing. Good second-halves are no good when you're losing games, we need to be a lot more consistent over 70 minutes. It's disappointing, but you have to keep working on it. The longer it goes without getting it right, the tougher it gets, but the commitment is there from the lads, we're going to keep the heads down, work twice as hard. It will turn, but we need a few results to start going our way".

Scorers: Offaly: A. McNamee 1-1; N. McNamee 0-2 (0-1 free); C. Quinn 0-2 (frees); C. McManus 0-2 (frees); N. Coughlan, R. Malone, J. Reynolds, J. O'Neill, 0-1 each. Clare: Denis Russell 0-3; O. O'Dwyer 0-2 (frees); M. O'Dwyer 0-2 (frees); K. Considine, DavidRussell, G. Quinlan, 0-1 each.

OFFALY: C. McNamara; S. O'Sullivan, C. Evans, S. Brady; B. Mooney, M. Mitchell, K. Slattery; C. McManus, M. Daly; N. Coughlan, R. Malone, A. McNamee; C. Quinn, N. McNamee, J. Reynolds. Subs: C. Daly (Mitchell 45); J. O'Neill (M. Daly 50); C. Farrell (Reynolds 61); A. Mulhall (Malone 69).

CLARE: D. O'Brien; P. Gallagher, C. Whelan, C. Kirwan; P. Smyth, B. Considine, R. Slattery;D. O'Sullivan, J. Moody; M. O'Shea, E. Coughlan, David Russell (c); Denis Russell, O. O'Dwyer,K. Considine. Subs: K. Dilleen (Gallagher inj. 21); N. Griffin (Smyth 28); M. O'Dwyer (Coughlan 35); G. Quinlan (O'Shea 50); C. Mullen (David Russell 61).

Referee: M. Duffy (Sligo) as inconsistent as both teams.

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