Clare’s hurlers have been left shocked following the long trip to Belfast to kick off their Allianz National Hurling League campaign.
Venue: Corrigan Park, Belfast
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It was the first time that a game was played at Corrigan Park with the presence of their new stand but served as a rare occasion that Antrim got the upper hand against Clare.
In what was a most disappointing result for Clare, efforts will now be intensified to bounce back when Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford travel to Ennis next weekend.
Encounters between the counties played in Northern Ireland are noted for how little separates the sides. The most recent instance in 2011 saw a late Nicky O’Connell free save Clare’s blushes. There was no O’Connell to save the today for this clash in what was always likely to be a close encounter.
With the backing of a strong breeze in the opening half, Clare didn’t have one goal scoring opportunity while when they had the elements in their favour Antrim’s attack seemed to have more of a potent threat about them.
Rustiness and the dusting off of cobwebs was expected in what was the first competitive match for both counties this year and this must be taken into consideration before placing too much emphasis on the result.
Collective training has only returned in recent weeks but Clare’s first two scores had the hallmarks of fine link-up play. The Éire Óg pairing of David Reidy and Shane O’Donnell combined for the first score after Colin Guilfoyle won possession in the middle third.
Reidy manoeuvred well to turn over play and set up Kelly for Clare’s second score on two minutes. Regrettably from the Banner’s viewpoint they remained among the highlights.
Conal Cunning opened Antrim’s account on four minutes but Clare would remain in the driving seat for the opening quarter, a brace of scores from Shane O’Donnell, Aron Shanagher, Kelly and Guilfoyle creating a six point gap.
As would be the case throughout, Antrim kept plugging away and never allowed their opponents get too far out of sight.
Poor defending from Clare was punished on twenty eight minutes when Ciaran Clarke tapped the sliotar past Eibhear Quilligan for the game’s only goal.
Clare resounded with four of the next six scores to lead 0-16 1-11 at half-time. Crucially the fact that the gap was a single score despite the visitors playing with the elements would become telling at the final whistle.
Management introduced Rory Hayes and Liam Corry at the interval with Aidan McCarthy moving to attack.
Darren Gleeson’s Antrim dominated proceedings in the second half and were on level terms in the opening minutes via two Ciaran Clarke scores. Kelly got Clare off the mark six minutes in but it was cancelled out but a long range effort from Eoghan Campbell before Keelan Molloy put the Ulster side in front for the first time on forty five minutes.
Significantly, Antrim never went behind after taking the lead. Tetchy exchanges grew as the game progressed but Clare’s fluency and standard of play did not.
Although it was only the first round of the league, Antrim were determined not to lose and the screams of delight from their panel and management at the final whistle underlined this. For them, midfield duo Keelan Molloy and Neil McManus, Ciaran Clarke and Damon McMullan did best as they out worked and outfought Clare.
Simply put, losing to Antrim is not acceptable for any Clare hurling team. Over-analysis of the contest is not required as the onus falls to Brian Lohan’s management and players to ensure that the county’s first outing of the year stays as their most forgettable game. A failure to improve matters on the field will see this set-up come under a serious level of scrutiny.
But to keep analysis to a basic level, defensive concerns still persist in the Clare ranks while up front the reliance on Tony Kelly for scores remains with an inability to hold up possession for a sufficient period of time to create chance also evident in the middle third and upwards. David Reidy, Shane O’Donnell and Tony Kelly were sharpest for Clare.
Scorers for Antrim: Ciaran Clarke 1-11 (9fs, 1 65), Keelan Molloy 0-3, Neil McManus 0-3 (2fs), Conal Cunning 0-2, Conor McCann 0-1, Eoghan Campbell 0-1.
Scorers for Clare: Tony Kelly 0-11 (7fs, 1 65), David Reidy 0-3, Shane O’Donnell 0-2, Diarmuid Ryan 0-2, Cathal Malone 0-1, Colin Guilfoyle 0-1, Ryan Taylor 0-1, Aidan McCarthy 0-1.
1: Ryan Elliott
2: Damon McMullan
3: Gerard Walsh
4: Stephen Rooney
5: Eoghan Campbell
6: Paddy Burke
7: Joe Mosley
8: Keelan Molloy
9: Neil McManus
12: Michael Bradley
11: James McNaughton
10: Niall McKenna
15: Ciaran Clarke
14: Conor McCann
13: Conal Cunning
22: Eoin O’Neill for McNaughton (46)
26: Domhnall Nugent for McCann (56)
23: Conor Johnston for Bradley (62)
24: Daniel McCloskey for Cunning (62)
1: Eibhear Quilligan (Feakle)
2: Paul Flanagan (Ballyea)
3: Conor Cleary (St Joseph’s Miltown)
4: Paddy Donnellan (Broadford)
5: Diarmuid Ryan (Cratloe)
6: John Conlon (Clonlara)
7: Aidan McCarthy (Inagh/Kilnamona)
8: Cian Galvin (Clarecastle)
9: Tony Kelly (Ballyea)
10: Cathal Malone (Sixmilebridge)
11: David Reidy (Éire Óg)
12: Colin Guilfoyle (Newmarket-on-Fergus)
13: Aron Shanagher (Wolfe Tones)
14: Ryan Taylor (Clooney/Quin)
15: Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg)
17: Liam Corry (Éire Óg) for Taylor (HT)
23: Rory Hayes (Wolfe Tones) for Flanagan (HT) (Inj)
20: David Fitzgerald (Inagh/Kilnamona) for Galvin (49)
21: Shane Golden (Sixmilebridge) for Guilfoyle (49)
18: Jack Browne (Ballyea) for Donnellan (68
Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway)