Clare only led once in this qualifier, but they hit the front when it mattered most, landing a winner as the game slipped into stoppage time to crown a great weekend for the Banner County.
Conditions were difficult in Ennis with heavy rain and wind throughout but Colm Collins’ men revelled in the challenge and were worthy winners.
“It’s a great weekend for Clare GAA, we had a really good win last night in Thurles. It’s nice to follow that up with a win. It’s nice to be very interested in the draw on Monday morning,” said Collins, whose son Podge played a key role in both games.
“There was nothing between the two teams. Momentum went our way towards the end and we tacked on a good few scores and went ahead and held onto it.”
Laois led by 1-7 to 0-7 at half-time, having struck for a great goal five minutes from the interval.
They had beaten Clare in all three previous qualifier meetings and enjoyed a good start in difficult conditions at Cusack Park as John O’Loughlin kicked them in front inside the first minute and Donie Kingston gave them a 0-2 to 0-0 lead.
But Clare eventually scored through an Eoin Cleary free and Cathal O’Connor tied the game up in the 11th minute.
Kingston and Jamie Malone swapped scores and then Laois went clear with points from Conor Meredith, David Conway and Darren Strong.
But then Clare hit back with three unanswered scores. Cleary doubled his tally, Malone did likewise before Keelan Sexton, a Leaving Cert student last month, levelled proceedings in the 28th minute.
Then came the goal — Stephen Attride made a great run forward, and when Kingston collected the ball after work by Meredith and Colm Begley, he gave it to the on-rushing wing-back and Attride found the net. Cleary got his third on the resumption, but Clare needed more and even with Darren Strong getting a black card, Laois looked comfortable.
O’Loughlin scored his third point in the 43rd minute, but David Tubridy replied before he was replaced by dual-star Collins, who had started for the hurlers in the win over Limerick.
Kingston looked to have given Laois an unassailable lead when he hit the target after 51 minutes to put them four in front but, remarkably, they failed to score after that and Clare came storming back. Captain Gary Brennan kicked a free in the 56th minute to begin the onslaught.
Cleary scored another, before Shane Hickey brought it back to the minimum and substitute Sean Malone tied the game up for the fourth time.
The game ticked into injury-time as another substitute Shane McGrath landed the winner from the left to seal a great win and leave Laois manager Mick Lillis, a native of Cooraclare, the only disappointed Clare man at the weekend.
“It’s a big weekend for Clare, no doubt about that. We didn’t score for the final quarter and that’s a damning statistic in itself.
“It’s very hard to win games if you don’t come strong at the end. Clare came strong. We had opportunities, it wasn’t as if we didn’t have opportunities,” said Lillis.
Scorers for Clare:
E Cleary (0-4, 4 frees); J Malone (0-3); G Brennan (free), C O’Connor, K Sexton, D Tubridy (free), S Hickey, S Malone, S McGrath (0-1 each)
Scorers for Laois:
J O’Loughlin (0-3); D Kingston (0-3, 2 frees); S Attride (1-0); C Meredith, D Conway, D Strong, P Cahillane (free) (0-1 each).
J Hayes; S Hickey, K Hartnett, M McMahon; S Collins, G Kelly, C O’Dea; G Brennan, C O’Connor; J Malone, K Sexton, P Lillis; E Cleary, D Tubridy, P Burke.
D Ryan for Burke (35), P Collins for Tubridy (48), E Coughlan for Sexton (55), S McGrath for O’Connor (56), S Malone for Lillis (65), Tubridy for J Malone (74, black card).
G Brody; D O’Connor, M Timmons, G Hanrahan; S Attride, K Lillis, D Strong; B Quigley, J O’Loughlin; K Meaney, C Begley, P Cahillane; C Meredith, D Kingston, D Conway.
A Farrell for Strong (42, black card), M Campion for Begley (45), G Walsh for Conway (49), R Munnelly for Cahillane (51), J Farrell for Meaney (62).
Marty Duffy (Sligo).
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