Clare 2-12 Roscommon 1-9: The system may be broken, but the sights and sounds that spilled across the pitch after the final whistle in Sathill on Saturday were another reminder of the extra colour that the back door route can add to the championship.
Hundreds of Clare supporters had stood perched on the sidelines before their side secured a first All-Ireland quarter-final berth via this Round 4A qualifier.
And they lingered for an age afterwards, sunning themselves under the unfamiliar glare of real championship success.
Some players initially made their way back to the relative calm of the dressing room but then found themselves pulled inexorably back out to the hubbub. Gary Brennan wasn’t one of them: the Clondegad midfielder never made it as far as the sheds.
The leading light on this Clare team for close to a decade, Brennan spent most of the hour after the game giving interviews and granting photo requests after a first-half performance of astonishing proportions and a second half that delivered a far more prosaic verdict.
There was a reason for that.
“I had a virus coming into it but, listen, I won’t make any excuses. I think I blew the gasket in the first half. Guys stepped up when they needed to. We had brilliant energy there in places when we needed it in the second half. The defensive effort was outstanding.”
That is the crux of Clare this season right there.
Brennan is undeniably the alpha-male, and talk of an All-Star has started to gather pace, but Clare proved their worth as a collective on Saturday during that first period and, more obviously, as his energy levels emptied after the break.
They led 2-6 to 0-7 at the interval against a stiff wind and a Roscommon side that was scrambling for energy and momentum of their own after that Connacht final replay loss to Galway six days earlier and Brennan had been integral to it.
His paws were all over five of the points up to then but the two goals, from David Tubridy after seven minutes and Jamie Malone after 24, were engineered without much or anything in the way of input from their main man.
The second strike, in particular, was a thing of absolute beauty: a silky smooth team move that sashayed through various pairs of hands before Malone provided the final touch and it was one of many times Clare sliced through Roscommon at ease.
The Connacht side pushed up on Joe Hayes’ kick-outs, and had some success with that, but a side that was castigated for its defensive approach over 140 minutes against Galway after a league campaign built on some enterprising football fell between those two stools on the day.
Management had made a raft of changes to the team overrun by Galway and, all in all, Roscommon simply looked like a side still searching for its DNA. That’s rarely a profitable exercise in high summer, even if it had kept Clare guessing their intentions.
“It was hard to know,” said Brennan. “We probably thought that they would fall somewhere in between what they had been trying to do before. We knew they would be well organised and we had to start the game at pace. We started slowly the last couple of weeks. We knew we had to change the pace of the game in the first half for ourselves and thankfully we did that. They were coming off playing in a defeat six days (earlier) so we were going to try and put the pressure on them as early as we could, and thankfully we did that.”
Clare were certainly central to Roscommon’s difficulties. Some of their football was exceptional in the opening period. The second half was memorable mostly for the number of cards shown, particularly the harsh straight red for Clare’s Cathal O’Connor on 37 minutes and the subsequent dismissals of Roscommon’s Sen Mullooly and David Murray.
The winners managed just the one point in the first 25 minutes of the half. Roscommon were on target only once themselves but theirs was an Enda Smith goal that brought them back to within another raised green flag before Clare reeled off five of the last seven points.
There were lessons embedded in that spell for Colm Collins’s side ahead of the weekend’s return meeting with Kerry: the defensive error that gifted Roscommon their goal and the litany of poor decisions in the third quarter that saw them spurn a succession of chances.
Clare ended the game with 13 failed attempts on goal and that’s not counting the times again when a wrong option cost them a shot on the sticks. And yet they still accounted for a Division One side with six points to spare. Onwards and upwards they go.
Scorers for Clare:
E Cleary (0-6, 2 frees); D Tubridy (1-2, 0-1 free); J Malone (1-0); D Ryan, G Brennan, S McGrath and S Malone (all 0-1).
Scorers for Roscommon:
E Smith (1-1); C Murtagh (0-3 frees); S Mullooly and C Devaney (both 0-1); N Kilroy, D Shine and D Murtagh (all 0-1 frees).
J Hayes; M McMahon, K Harnett, S Hickey; D Ryan, G Kelly, C O’Dea; G Brennan, C O’Connor; J Malone, K Sexton, S Collins; P Lillis, D Tubridy, E Cleary.
P Collins for Tubridy (48); S McGrath for Lillis (52); E Coughlan for Sexton (61); S Malone for Cleary (74); P Burke for S Collins (75); D Burke for Malone (76).
D O’Malley; S McDermott, S Mullooly, N McInerney; J McManus, N Daly, D Murray; D Keenan, C Compton; U Harney, N Kilroy, E Smith; C Cregg, D Shine, C Murtagh.
T Corcoran for Compton (32); C Connolly for Murtagh and K Higgins for Harney (both HT); D Murtagh for Cregg (42); F Cregg for Shine (68).
P Hughes (Armagh).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved