All Ireland SFC Qualifier: Clare triumph in Tullamore
All Ireland SFC Round Two Qualifier
CLARE 1-19 OFFALY 2-14
By Kevin Egan at Bord Na Mona O’Connor Park
Like most of the fancied sides in this weekend’s senior football championship qualifiers, Clare had their credentials tested to the full by a lively underdog, but ultimately the class of Eoin Cleary and Jamie Malone, allied to a strong contribution from their bench, was enough to see off a hugely competitive Offaly side at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park in Tullamore.
Colm Collins will be delighted to see his side put their Munster semi-final defeat to Kerry behind them and secure their place in what should be a fascinating set of round three qualifiers, but he’ll look with concern at the way that the physical power of John Moloney and the lively running angles of Anton Sullivan caused his side problems at various stages of this game in advance of their next test this coming weekend.
However when it came to attacking football, Clare looked hugely impressive. This was particularly the case in the first half when the searing pace and goalscoring instinct of Jamie Malone came to the fore.
The Corofin speedster fired in one goal and hit both the crossbar and the post with two other opportunities, while Ciarán Malone and Eoin Cleary picked off some fine points from distance while shooting from range. Yet Offaly hung in there and drew level at half time thanks to a goal from an Alan Mulhall penalty, awarded for a foul on Shane Nally in the last attack of the first half.
The home side were more than a little fortunate to be level at that stage, though they started well with points from John Moloney and Bernard Allen, before striking a crafty close-range goal through Rúairí McNamee.
Clare were utterly dominant for most of the first half, however, their control of the game stemming from the aerial supremacy of Cathal O’Connor, who won a plethora of kickouts and forced Offaly to try difficult placed restarts out to the touchline, often to no avail.
Mulhall’s penalty made it 1-8 to 2-5 at half time, and when Pearse Lillis and Eoin Cleary pointed to start the second half, it looked as if Clare would pull away and win well.
Instead Offaly responded brilliantly, led by a superb performance from captain Anton Sullivan. He shot three points from play after the interval, while Moloney was a constant threat on the edge of the square as a robust target man.
Rúairí McNamee and Moloney both fired over points from close range when a goal looked to be on, but even as these crucial chances went askew, Offaly kept battling right to the end, trading points with their visitors.
In the end, however, Clare’s greater strength in depth proved crucial as Gearóid O’Brien (2), Gavin Cooney and Kevin Harnett picked off the key points that kept Offaly at arm’s length and ultimately wrapped up the win.
Scorers for Clare: Jamie Malone 1-4, Eoin Cleary 0-6 (2fs), Ciarán Malone and Gearóid O’Brien 0-2 each, Cian O’Dea, David Tubridy, Pearse Lillis, Gavin Cooney, Kevin Harnett 0-1 each.
Scorers for Offaly: Rúairí McNamee 1-2, Bernard Allen 0-5 (5fs), Johnny Moloney 0-4, Alan Mulhall 1-0 (pen), Anton Sullivan 0-3.
CLARE: Eamon Tubridy; Eoghan Collins, Cillian Brennan, Gordon Kelly; Cian O’Dea, Aaron Fitzgerald, Pearse Lillis; Gary Brennan, Cathal O’Connor; Keelan Sexton, Ciarán Malone, Jamie Malone; Eoin Cleary, David Tubridy, Éimhín Courtney.
Subs: Gavin Cooney for Courtney (HT), Robert Eyres (Kildysert) for E Tubridy (43), Gearóid O’Brien for D Tubridy (57), Cónal Ó’hÁiniféin for C Malone, Jonah Culligan for Sexton (67), Kevin Harnett for Collins (70+1).
OFFALY: Alan Mulhall; Brian Darby, Seán Pender, James Lalor; Declan Hogan, Paul McConway, Niall Darby; Michael Brazil, Conor McNamee; Cian Donoghue, Shane Nally, Ruairí McNamee; Bernard Allen, Anton Sullivan, Johnny Moloney
Subs: Jordan Hayes for Donoghue (HT), Peter Cunningham for Nally (41), Eoin Rigney for Hogan (50), Colm Doyle for Pender (51), Jamie Evans for R McNamee (57), Joseph O’Connor for Moloney (70+5).
REFEREE: Paddy Neilan (Roscommon).