Clare footballers were beaten but unbowed as they ended their national league campaign on a relatively low note at Cusack Park yet Colm Collins and his men can reflect positively on another season of moderate progress.
Allianz Football League Div 2 Round 7
Clare 1-13 Meath 3-19
Meath retained hopes of winning promotion to Div 1 when they arrived in Ennis on a fine sunny afternoon, they needed to win and expected divisional champions Kildare to overcome Galway. Unfortunately for them that didn’t happen as the Tribesmen won by the minimum 0-14 to 0-13.
For their part, Clare depended on other results to ensure survival as they were one of four teams in the relegation zone. Fermanagh and Derry took the drop however while Clare’s better scoring difference ensured they survived despite finishing level with Down and Derry on five points. So there was a collective sigh of relief as the Clare management team huddled over their mobile phones at the end of this game, carefully checking the other results as they came in.
This game was staged as the opener of a double header involving both the senior footballers and hurlers. Clare kept pace with the Royals in the first half with just one point separating the sides at the break with the visitors leading by 0-9 to 0-8. Clare supporters were disappointed to learn that their captain Gary Brennan was unfit to play any role and was replaced by Ciarán Russell.
From the throw-in Meath were out of the traps like greyhounds. Eamon Wallace led the way with the game’s first point after 30 seconds. Further scores from Sean Tobin, Wallace again and Donal Lenihan put the visitors four points clear without reply by the eighth minute when Eoin Cleary, Clare’s top scorer with 1-6, finally got the home side on the scoreboard. Bryan McMahon had Meath’s 5th point before Padraic Harnan had the Royals 0-6 to 0-1 in front by the 12th minute.
Cleary struck back with two frees and a point from play as Clare seemed to find their rhythm. Meath had a goal-scoring opportunity when Graham Reilly was put through by Donal Lenihan but his fisted effort went high and over the bar to put his team 0-7 to 0-4 in front. Kilrush man John Hayes narrowed the gap for Clare in the 18th minute before Reilly restored Meath’s three point lead with a well taken point.
Keelan Sexton found himself in possession in front of the Meath goal but his fisted effort sailed over the crossbar to make it 0-8 to 0-5. When Éire Óg’s Ciaran Russell pointed, Meath’s lead was cut to a single point. A Graham Reilly effort was cancelled out by Cathal O’Connor to leave the half-time score 0-9 to 0-8 for the Royals and Clare looking well placed for a good second half.
However Meath upped the intensity in the second half as they tore Clare’s defence apart in a scoring rampage that saw them massively outscore their hosts by 3-10 to 1-05. Again Meath were quick out of the traps with Reilly pointing from the throw-in followed by a Cillian O’Sullivan goal that set back all Clare’s hard work at the end of the first half. David Tubridy’s point from a 45 gave the home side some hope but Meath had switched up a gear and snatched three points from Bryan McMahon, James Toher and Graham Reilly before O’Sullivan rounded goalkeeper Joe Hayes to put the game beyond the home side with the Royal’s second goal in the 47th minute to establish as 2-13 to 0-9 lead.
Meath completed their goalscoring two minutes later when O’Sullivan set up Bryan Power to palm the ball to the net. Points from Bryan McMahon and Graham Reilly compounded Clare’s misery. Eoin Cleary’s point was matched by a James Toher free before subs Joey Wallace and James McEntee had Meath 17 points in front. Two Pauric Harnan points closed out Meath’s scoring before Eoin Cleary struck in injury time for a late consolation with Clare’s only goal of the game before finishing with a point.
When all is said and done, Clare will be satisfied to have consolidated their Division 2 status as the team seeks to improve and build on the steady progress of the last few years.