A ruthless second-half performance saw Clare safely through to the third round of the All-Ireland qualifiers on Saturday afternoon, at the expense of Laois.
Colm Collins’ men were very impressive as they dismantled Laois in the second half, led by the trusty left boot of Eoin Cleary which wreaked havoc on a disjointed Laois defence throughout.
A win over Laois doesn’t quite carry the same cachet as it did five or six years ago, but in this instance it is a good reference point for Clare’s footballers.
These teams met at this stage last year in Ennis, with Clare just about scraping a one-point win thanks to a run of five points without reply in the closing minutes.
Fast-forward 12 months and it was altogether a more mundane affair. Once Jamie Malone had fired in a goal in the 48th minute, Clare were out of sight and heading for the next round of the qualifiers.
“I think this team can go as far as they want to go,” said Colm Collins afterwards. “On their day, when they are playing well, they are a match for anyone in the country.
“Last year’s run and some of the results this year have given them an extra bit of self-belief, and that’s very important as well. We won’t be looking any further than the next round, we’ll have a really good opponent and the aim will be to get the best we can out of our lads on the day and see what happens.”
Clare can undoubtedly look forward with hope, but for Laois this is another demoralising defeat at a time when they have racked up their fair share of them.
Relegated to Division 4 earlier this year and hammered by neighbours Kildare in Leinster, it has been a disastrous debut season for manager Peter Creedon.
His initial one-year term as manager is up, but he admitted after the game he was keen to stay on and rebuild an aging Laois team. “I’ve never yet left a team in a position where they haven’t improved or weren’t in a better position (than when I took over), and that would be my thinking on that.
“We have to rebuild. It’s probably a bigger job than people might think and that needs to be done. Inter-county football has gotten seriously difficult and seriously hard, and I’ve never yet walked away from a challenge, and I won’t be starting now.”
Whether he is given the chance to lead the rebuilding efforts remain to be seen, but whoever finds himself wearing the bainisteoir bib in Laois next year has a massive task on his hands.
Their challenge here unravelled early in the second half, as the game turned on John O’Loughlin’s dismissal with a little over 40 minutes played.
Just three points separated the teams at half-time, 0-11 to 0-8 in favour of Clare, with Eoin Cleary the star of the show. He and Keelan Sexton had put Clare into an early lead, before Jamie Malone had a goal chalked off for taking too many steps in the build up.
Laois managed to keep on Clare’s coattails for most of the first half, the free-taking of Donie Kingston and accuracy of Stephen Attride keeping them in it.
Clare never trailed in the half, however, and the only goal chance for Laois came just before the break, Gary Walsh seeing his shot hit the post.
When John O’Loughlin was shown a second yellow just after half-time, Laois crumbled. Cleary (free) and Cathal O’Connor kicked points for Clare before Cleary set Jamie Malone through on goal, and he applied the finish to put Clare six ahead, 1-13 to 0-10.
Laois never looked like they had a comeback in them, and the remaining minutes were hard viewing for the Laois supporters. Keelan Sexton got Clare’s second goal with 10 minutes to go, and at that stage it was only a matter of how much Clare would win by.
They march on to Round 3, but for Laois, it seems a long way off before they grace that stage of an All-Ireland championship once again.
Scorers for Laois:
D Kingston (0-8, 7 frees); S Attride (0-3); G Walsh (f), C Begley, D Conway (0-1 each).
Scorers for Clare:
E Cleary (0-9, 3 frees, 3 45s); K Sexton (1-2, 0-1 free); G Brennan, C O’Connor, P Lillis (0-2 each), J Malone (0-1).
1. G Brody; D Strong, M Timmons, T Collins; E Buggie, P McMahon, C Begley; B Quigley, J O’Loughlin; A Farrell, D Conway, D O’Connor; S Attride, D Kingston, G Walsh.
N Donoher for O’Connor (ht), J Kelly for Buggie (47), P Kingston for Conway (50), R Munnelly for Walsh (50), J Finn for Quigley (55), B Daly for Attride (60)
1. J Hayes; D Ryan; K Harnett, M McMahon; C O’Dea, G Kelly, C Russell; G Brennan, 9. C O’Connor; J Malone; S Collins; P Lillis; E Cleary, D Tubridy, K Sexton
J Hayes for Russell (56), G O’Brien for Tubridy (56), S Malone for Sexton (61), D Nagle for O’Dea (61), E Collins for Harnett (64, blood sub), K Malone for S Collins (68), D Bohannon for Lillis (68)
J Henry (Mayo)
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