“We’d have to give credit to Offaly, over the course of the 70 minutes they edged it,” conceded Clare manager Colm Collins afterwards, though his side must have fancied their chances after the St Joseph’s corner-forward slammed the ball to the roof of the net with one minute of normal time still to play.
Seven minutes of injury-time were added by referee Brendan Cawley due to a lengthy stoppage for a head injury to Offaly’s Bernard Allen. But while supporters on both sides were hugely relieved to see Allen make his way off the field with assistance after he lay motionless for over four minutes, the enforced break turned out to be hugely helpful to the Clare cause.
Up to that point, Offaly were the dominant side and fully worthy of their five-point lead. They led by three at the interval having failed to convert a couple of clear-cut goalscoring opportunities, while they kicked on again in the third quarter as Graham Guilfoyle, Michael Brazil and Nigel Dunne all added superb points from play.
Clare rallied with three scores in a row and while Offaly again steadied the ship with scores from substitutes Joe Maher and Anton Sullivan, the match was blown wide open when Cleary found the net at the third attempt, having twice been blocked by goalkeeper Alan Mulhall only to collect the rebound in each instance.
A fine run and score from centre-forward Michael Brazil pushed the Faithful County back in front however and while Eoin Carroll received a second yellow card in added time, Pat Flanagan’s side kept their composure to record a third home win in this campaign, with all three victories secured by very narrow margins.
“We’re the most tested team in the country at this stage when it comes to character,” said the Clara native afterwards, before going on to further praise his players for keeping their promotion dream alive.
“Another team would have downed tools after conceding a score like that but this team doesn’t down tools any more. To be fair to our lads and the work they’ve been putting in, they deserve to be on six points, possibly a little bit more. But it’s still in our hands to get to ten points and if we can do that, who knows?”
B Allen 0-4 (0-2f), N Dunne 0-3, G Guilfoyle & M Brazil 0-2 each, J O’Connor, C McNamee, J Maher (f) & A Sullivan 0-1 each.
D Tubridy 0-4 (0-3f), E Cleary 1-1, J Malone 0-2, G Brennan, S Collins, E Coughlan, P Burke 0-1 each.
A Mulhall; E Rigney, S Pender, B Darby; N Darby, J Moloney, J O’Connor; E Carroll, J Gethings; C McNamee, N Dunne, M Brazil; N McNamee, B Allen, G Guilfoyle.
J Maher for Allen (46), A Sullivan for Guilfoyle (56), S Doyle for C McNamee (70), R McNamee for N McNamee (70+6)
J Hayes; S Malone, K Hartnett, M McMahon; J Malone, G Kelly, C O’Dea; G Brennan, C O’Connor; S Collins, S McGrath, P Lillis; E Cleary, D Tubridy, E Coughlan.
D Ryan for Lillis (29), K Sexton for McGrath (HT), P Burke for Collins (38 – bc), G Kelly for Coughlan (60), S Haugh for J Malone (70+6)
B Cawley (Kildare)