*Roisin Considine. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
Uncharacteristic errors proved costly for Clare as a late seven point turnaround saw Kildare snatch the whip hand in Group 4 of the All-Ireland Intermediate Ladies Football Championship on Sunday afternoon.
Venue: St Rynagh’s Park, Banagher
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Banner who appeared in complete control at 1-8 to 0-6 by the two-thirds mark. Indeed, the result should have been put beyond any doubt by that stage but four goal opportunities were somehow repelled, two of which were saved by returning goalkeeper Mary Hulgraine who had also been instrumental in breaking Clare’s hearts in the 2016 All-Ireland Intermediate decider.
Those stops were magnified when Kildare capitalised on two defensive errors in quick succession to raid for lifeline goals through substitute Ellen Dowling and Neasa Dooley in the space of four minutes to dramatically edge two in front by the turn of the final quarter.
A stunned Clare did regroup at the water break to respond with three unanswered points to nudge back in front at 1-12 to 2-08.
However, with the bit between their teeth, a determined Kildare would produce a final flourish, mainly through Roisin Byrne to kick the last three points and cement the crucial opening points.
Indeed, Clare’s frustrations were epitomised by a last gasp Caoimhe Harvey flick from a Niamh O’Dea free that managed to beat Hulgraine, only to be stopped on the line by full-back Lara Gilbert.
With only one team to emerge from the group, an opening defeat means that Clare’s fate is essentially out of their own hands as James Murrihy’s side must win their final two matches in the next fortnight and hope that either Sligo or Laois can halt Kildare’s charge.
Clare simply shouldn’t be in this position though, having dictated matters for long periods. However, their inability to obtain a second goal allied to those defensive lapses provided a glimmer of hope that Kildare ruthlessly exploited when needed most.
The Leinster side’s lively inside trio of Neasa Dooley, Roisin Byrne and captain Grace Clifford accounted for 1-8 of their tally while goalkeeper Hulgraine used all her experience to keep a baying Banner at bay.
Despite facing into the conditions, Clare set the early pace but failed to display that superiority on the scoreboard as Hulgraine stopped a Fidelma Marrinan effort before Cliodhna Blake struck wide from close range soon afterwards.
Clare finally found the net in fortunate circumstances in the 12th minute when a defensive handpass went astray and Chloe Moloney expertly lobbed the onrushing Hulgraine to push her side 1-2 to 0-2 clear.
Undaunted, Kildare would kick the next four points, two from the clinical Roisin Byrne, before Fidelma Marrinan levelled up the tie for the fourth time by the 20th minute mark at 1-3 to 0-6.
With the pace of the game intensifying, it was Clare who upped the ante until the break as further unanswered points from Moloney (2), Blake and Roisin Considine sandwiched another glorious goal opportunity that saw a Grainne Nolan shot canon off the post at 1-7 to 0-6.
With the wind to come, Clare were in a very healthy position, particularly as the injured Nolan was replaced by the talismanic Niamh O’Dea for the second period.
However, their relentless pursuit of a clinching goal remained elusive as Hulgraine inspirationally tipped an Eimear O’Connor bullet over the bar following a flowing five player move.
Clare even managed to deny Kildare a backlash when goalkeeper Micaela Glynn brilliantly kept out a Lara Curran shot to maintain their five point cushion by the 38th minute.
Within a minute, Kildare would remarkably regain full parity as rapid points from Dooley and Byrne were bolstered by a goal for Ellen Dowling who couldn’t believe her luck to fire to an empty net after confusion in Clare’s last line at 1-8 to 1-8.
Clare refused to reach for the panic button as Niamh O’Dea teed up Chloe Moloney to inch back in front, only to be sucker-punched at the other end once more in the 43rd minute. It seemed from a poor clearance that coughed up possession for Dowling to feed Dooley to roof to the net from an acute angle at 2-8 to 1-9.
With time on their side, a patient Clare got themselves back on level terms thanks to a brace of O’Dea points before subsequently setting up Moloney to move 1-12 to 2-08 in front by the 56th minute.
However, they just couldn’t hold out as Roisin Byrne twice inflicted telling blows before a Curran free provided a two point advantage by the 59th minute.
There would be five additional minutes to come but a winning goal would be denied at the death as Gilbert came to Kildare’s rescue to catch a Caoimhe Harvey flick on the line.
Clare have little time to pick through the pieces as Laois, fresh from a 16 point victory over Sligo, await in Clonmel next Sunday (1pm). It’s a test of character that the Banner must pass if they are to keep their hopes of of an All-Ireland Semi-Final place alive.
Scorers for Kildare: Roisin Byrne (0-5); Neasa Dooley (1-2); Lara Curran (0-3, 2f); Ellen Dowling (1-0); Grace Clifford (0-1)
Scorers for Clare: Chloe Moloney (1-4); Fidelma Marrinan (1f), Niamh O’Dea (0-2 each); Grainne Nolan, Cliodhna Blake, Roisin Considine, Eimear O’Connor (0-1 each)
1: Mary Hulgraine (Moorefield)
4: Shauna Kendrick (Sarsfields)
3: Lara Gilbert (Milltown)
2: Rachel Cribbin (Ballyna)
5: Sarah Munnelly (Confey)
6: Grainne Kenneally (Eadestown)
7: Lauren Murtagh (Milltown)
8: Siobhan O’Sullivan (Eadestown)
9: Erica Burke (Thomas Davis)
12: Aoife Rattigan (Cappagh)
11: Lara Curran (Milltown)
10: Niamh Sinnott (Monasterevan)
14: Neasa Dooley (Castledermot)
15: Roisin Byrne (Sarsfields)
13: Grace Clifford (Eadestown)
19: Ellen Dowling (Suncroft) for Sinnott (37)
26: Claire Sullivan (Carbury) for Cribbin (38)
25: Louise Scully (Ellistown) for Murtagh (51-52, Blood Sub)
1: Micaela Glynn (Kilmihil)
2: Siofra Ní Chonaill (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield)
3: Ellie O’Gorman (Kilmihil) (Captain)
4: Grainne Harvey (West Clare Gaels)
5: Roisin Considine (Liscannor)
6: Orla Devitt (Éire Óg)
7: Aine Keane (St Joseph’s Miltown)
9: Caoimhe Harvey (West Clare Gaels)
10: Eimear O’Connor (Cúil Gaels)
8: Laura Egan (Kilmihil)
11: Fidelma Marrinan (West Clare Gaels)
12: Ciara Hickey (Kilmurry Ibrickane)
15: Cliodhna Blake (Doonbeg)
23: Chloe Moloney (Kilmurry Ibrickane)
14: Grainne Nolan (Banner Ladies)
13: Niamh O’Dea (Banner Ladies) for Nolan (HT, inj)
18: Tara Kelly (Cúil Gaels) for Marrinan (47)
21: Louise Woods (Banner Ladies) for O’Connor (47)
17: Roisin Looney (Cooraclare) for G. Harvey (52)
22: Amy Sexton (Kilmurry Ibrickane) for Blake (58)
Referee: Seamus Mulvihill (Kerry)