Clare 1-19 Offaly 2-14
Clare were in the pot for the next round of Qualifiers this morning and that was the bottom line after this humdinger at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park.
The Bannermen bounced back from a chastening experience against Kerry, although manager Colm Collins admitted watching Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s side put Cork to the sword may have put a slightly better slant on that hammering.
His team’s progress was in doubt right to the end though, as Offaly, under interim manager Paul Rouse, were magnificent, buoyed by a vocal home support.
“We were in a battle,” Collins conceded. “We would have tremendous respect for Offaly. To our eyes in Clare, Offaly would still be one of the big football counties, they have a tremendous history and they’re a formidable opponent.
“Both teams gave their all and pushed it to the very limit. Offaly never gave up and right up until the last score was the only time I breathed a sigh of relief — when Kevin (Harnett) kicked the last point. It was a great contest.
In the sweltering heat, the strength of the benches might have been significant and Clare got four points from their subs Gearóid O’Brien, Gavin Cooney, and Kevin Harnett. Eoin Cleary kicked some tremendous scores while Jamie Malone was unmarkable at times, kicking 1-4 from play and hitting the woodwork twice when he should have goaled.
The green flag he did raise was trademark Malone, taking a pass on a loop, using his blinding pace to break free and finishing emphatically.
That was part of a run that saw Clare outscore Offaly by 1-6 to 0-1 to move four clear, having trailed by that much after Ruairi McNamee’s fourth-minute goal following a marvellous kick pass by the industrious Anton Sullivan.
Johnny Moloney was a constant threat for Offaly, while Bernard Allen kicked all his frees and the Faithful men came back with a penalty goal by Alan Mulhall to pull level by the interval (1-8 to 2-4).
The scores never stopped coming in the second half as both players delved deep into their reserves and no-one among the 3,492 could have felt shortchanged.
Sullivan was magnificent for Offaly, firing over three points from play. McNamee was desperately unlucky to drop kick over from close range when falling backwards at a time when a goal could have been crucial, while Moloney blasted over too.
They might have snatched it but given the missed chances in the first half especially, the fact they were denied a seemingly clearcut penalty and some wonderful scores by Cleary, Malone, O’Brien and Cooney in the second half, Clare deserved the win.
But you could understand why Rouse, who was unwilling to comment on whether he might like to continue, was welling with pride and railing against those from within who had criticised this charges over the years.
“It’s an honour to be associated with a group of players who sweated blood for their county from the start to the finish,” said Rouse.
“We rode (our luck) a bit in the first half and it took us a while to get to the pace of the game. In the second half, to hear the Offaly crowd, the roaring, the support that they gave our players, who were out on their feet, who were on empty, who went toe to toe with a team who were third in Division 2...
“I’m immensely proud of the players. It disgusts me to hear the way people have spoken about Offaly footballers over the last number of years. The way they have questioned their desire, questioned their love for their county, questioned their ability, questioned their mental strength, questioned everything.
“People who should know better have let themselves down with some of the things they have said about Offaly footballers. It is a pleasure to have dealt with every one of those players. It wasn’t a straightforward task to walk into that dressing room.
“It was straightforward in the sense that those players have a huge desire but the way they have been spoken about and the way they have been put down by people has left a legacy. And we have to keep shaking that legacy until we get to where we want to be.”
Scorers for Clare: J Malone 1-4; E Cleary 0-6(2fs); G O’Brien, C Malone 0-2 each; C O’Dea, P Lillis, D Tubridy, G Cooney, K Harnett 0-1
Scorers for Offaly: R McNamee 1-2; B Allen 0-5(fs); J Moloney 0-4; A Sullivan 0-3; A Mulhall 1-0 (pen).
CLARE: E Tubridy, E Collins, C Brennan, G Kelly, C O’Dea, A Fitzgerald, P Lillis, G Brennan, C O’Connor, K Sexton, C Malone, J Malone, E Cleary, D Tubridy, E Courtney.
Subs: G Cooney for Courtney (ht), R Eyres for E Turbridy inj (42), G O’Brien for Courtney (58), C Ó Hainifín for C Malone (63), J Culligan for Sexton inj (67), K Harnett for Kelly (70+2).
OFFALY: A Mulhall, B Darby, S Pender, J Lalor, D Hogan, P McConway, N Darby, M Brazil, C McNamee, C Donohue, S Nally, R McNamee, B Allen, A Sullivan, J Moloney.
Subs: J Hayes for Donohue (ht), P Cunningham for Nally (41), E Rigney for Hogan (50), C Doyle for Pender inj (52), J Evans for R McNamee (58), J O’Connor for Moloney inj (70+6).
Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon).
It is harsh on Ruairí McNamee perhaps but had he managed to bring Offaly level with a goal in the 53rd minute, instead of scooping his shot over, the outcome may have been different. Clare always found an answer when questioned but it was a big moment.
Clare are a quality team that always seems to fly under the radar. Under Colm Collins, they have made remarkable strides and possess some wonderful players. And by that measure, Offaly have the ability to raise their ranking.
They were devastated, which in itself told you something, but Paul Rouse, John Rouse, Stephen Darby and Alan McNamee have brought a very positive vibe to Offaly football and the county board should do whatever is asked to keep them in situ.
You could not single any player out for they were all heroic in the most testing conditions.
Clare lost goalie Eamon Tubridy and Keelan Sexton to injury, while Offaly had to replace Seán Pender who limped off.
One big change during the game saw Clare push up on Alan Mulhall’s kickouts. That had a significant impact as Clare came back into the game in the first half. Both sides used subs sensibly to maintain energy levels.
BEST ON SHOW
Jamie Malone is a prodigious talent, a finisher with power and pace. A contribution of 1-4 from play is fantastic from a half-forward with a work ethic. It should have been 3-4 but he was electric.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE
It wasn’t a hard game to officiate and Paddy Neilan let it flow well.
Missed a clear penalty when Clare defender Eoghan Collins had his arm tugged back just as he was about to shoot in the first half, and then gave Offaly a very soft looking one just before half time.
Clare will play in the Qualifiers next weekend. Offaly’s year is over.
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