Clare’s good start in the National Football League ground to a halt on Sunday when they suffered their first defeat of this year’s campaign to Galway on their home turf.

National Football League Div 2 by Michael O’Connor

Clare’s good start in the National Football League ground to a halt on Sunday when they suffered their first defeat of this year’s campaign to Galway on their home turf. Up to that point Clare had acquitted themselves well in the new division with a well deserved point away to Derry and a solid home victory over a struggling Down team.

Awful weather conditions confronted both teams on their arrival at Pearse Stadium to do battle in their first league contest in 22 years. Clare fell behind badly playing against the strong wind in the first half and were 2-8 to 0-5 adrift by the interval thanks to goals from Eamon Brannigan and Shane Walsh. After the break Johnny Heaney and Barry McHugh stretched the Tribesmen’s lead before the Banner were thrown a life-line ten minutes into the second half when Keelan Sexton broke through for their only goal.

Points from Jamie Malone and David Tubridy narrowed the gap to two goals with the game entering the final quarter but Galway broke Clare hearts when Gareth Bradshaw got on the end of Johnny Heaney’s rebounded shot to tap the ball to the net for their third goal.

Galway: Rory Lavelle; Declan Kyne, David Walsh, Luke Burke; Gary O’Donnell, Gareth Bradshaw, Johnny Heaney; Paul Conroy, Fiontan O Curraoin; Thomas Flynn, Michael Daly, Eamon Brannigan; Shane Walsh, Barry McHugh, Michael Lundy. Subs: G Sice for Flynn, L Silke for Heaney, S Armstrong for Brannigan, C Sweeney for Daly.
Clare: Joe Hayes; Martin McMahon, Kevin Hartnett, John Hayes; Liam Markham, Gordan Kelly, Dean Ryan; Cathal O’Connor, Ciaran Russell; Cian O’Dea, Keelan Sexton, Shane Brennan; Eoin Cleary, David Tubridy, Jamie Malone. Subs: S Malone for Brennan, D Egan for O’Dea, E Collins for Markham, G O’Brien for Russell, K Malone for Ryan.
Referee Fergal Kelly (Longford).

Playing at home to Down for the first time since 1999, Clare were expected to come away with a good result as things have not been going well for the Mourne men who suffered their ninth league defeat on the trot. Bitterly cold conditions and a strong wind greeted the 1,749 attendance to Cusack Park.

The game opened with a flurry of action in the Down goal area, David Tubridy’s well struck shot was saved by Marc Reid after twenty seconds as Clare stamped their authority on proceedings. A second Tubridy effort one minute later resulted in a goalmouth scramble that ended with Shane Brennan scrambling the ball over the line. Keelan Sexton added Clare’s first point when he profited from terrible Down defending.

David Tubridy was Clare's top scorer with 1-3.

David Tubridy was Clare’s top scorer against Down with 1-3.

The northerners finally got on the scoreboard when Jamie Malone spilled the ball out to Aidan Carr who made no  mistake from 25 yards. David Tubridy raised a white flag with a point after 11 minutes before Eoin Cleary spurned a golden goal chance after John Hayes wonderful 50 metre pass. Jamie Malone added a wonderful score from play as Clare stretched their lead, 1-3 to 0-1 after 19 minutes. Shay Millar responded for Down with a left-footed effort from a narrow angle after 21  minutes of action in Cusack Park.

You had to be a Clare supporter to appreciate the quality of fare on offer and when Jamie Malone’s under pressure  kick sailed over the bar to restore his side’s five point lead it was time for Clare to finish the half with a succession of scores to put the result beyond the visitors. Tubridy sent a free wide from an eminently scoreable position with 8 minutes remaining of normal time.

As the game entered the final five minutes of the half, Clare had notched up seven wides, at least three should have been tallied as scores. Tubridy’s shooting accuracy returned as he curled over a great left footed point. Pat Havern hit back in the 33rd minute and for all their superiority Clare were only five clear but Down still hadn’t left of the traps.

Sean Collins settled Down nerves as the game entered first half injury time with a hard earned point.  Gordon  Kelly set up David Tubridy with a goal abegging but somehow he contrived to loft the ball over the bar when the empty net awaited. Clare’s match winning second goal was indeed finished by Tubridy to the net in the final seconds of injury time after inept Down defending allowed Sexton to set up the Doonbeg man. At half time the score was Clare 2-7 Down 0-3.

Half time huddle for the Clare management team.

Half time huddle for the Clare management team.

Clare were in dreamland for the opening minutes of the second half as they kicked three points in as many minutes from Eoin Cleary, Jamie Malone and Cleary  once again as Down were now officially a beaten squad and ten in arrears. The Mourne men only began to have some possession after Colm Collins began resting some key players but they could not threaten Joe Hayes in the Clare goal.

A point from play by Darren O’Hagan was the first Down score while Barry O’Hagan added a free by the 43rd minute. By this stage Gary Brennan had been retired from the fray as Clare were 11 clear with 23 minutes left to play before Eoin Cleary added  a pointed free. With the game entering the final 14 minutes, it was simply a matter of how much Clare would win by given that scoring average could be important it was imperative to keep Down at bay on the scoreboard or at  least add five more points to the Clare tally.

As Clare emptied their bench, they lost a bit of their shape as Down struck over a point to leaving them 2-11 to 0-8 adrift with seven minutes remaining. The game’s final effort fell to Eoin Cleary from a free after Keelan Sexton was fouled but he was well wide for Clare’s 11th of the game. The loudest groan of the day came with the announcement of four added minutes of injury time as the cold wind bellowed through headquarters before Clare recorded their first league win of the season. They will now travel to Galway for their next outing.

CLARE:  Joe Hayes, Martin McMahon, Kevin Hartnett, John Hayes, Liam Markham, Gordon Kelly, Dean Ryan, Gary Brennan, Ciaran Russell, Jamie Malone (0-3), Keelan Sexton (0-1), Shane Brennan (1-0), Eoin Cleary (0-3), David Tubridy (1-3), Sean Collins (0-1). Subs: Cathal O’Connor for G. Brennan (43), Darren Nagle for Hayes (48), Cian O’Dea for Tubridy (53), Pearse Lillis for Ryan (59), David Egan for Malone (64), Gearoid O’Brien for Collins (67)
DOWN: Marc Reid, Ryan McAleenan, Gerard  McGovern, Darren O Hagan (0-1), Conaill McGovern, Niall Donnelly, Caolan Mooney, Aidan Carr (0-1), Jonathan Flynn, Joe Murphy, Cathal Magee (0-3), Shay Millar (0-1), Alan Davidson, Pat Havern (0-1), Barry O Hagan (0-2). Subs: Darragh O’Hanlon for C. McGovern (35), Conor Maginn for Davidson (35), Kevin McKernan for Havern (43), Ryan Johnston (0-02) for G. McGovern (53), Jerome Johnston for B. O’Hagan (61), Peter Turley for Flynn (63). Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan).