*Colm Collins. Photograph: Martin Connolly
No official attendance figure was given in Cusack Park, Mullingar on Saturday as Clare knocked Westmeath out of the All-Ireland SFC, of the estimated 5,000 plus crowd the visitors certainly matched the hosts in the stands.
This presence of the sixteenth man did not go unnoticed by Colm Collins, his panel of players, management and backroom team in what the Kilmihil native described as “a special evening” with the Banner County getting past the third round qualifiers for the first time since 2016 having lost to Mayo and Armagh at this juncture over the past two years.
“It was lovely to see so many Clare people up here this evening, their support was invaluable and we’re delighted for them. Delighted to win the match, it was a real battle, credit to Westmeath, they put in some effort and at the end were just one point short. There was so many Clare people here I couldn’t believe it, it’s fantastic for them that we got a win and we’re coming home in the draw for the next round”.
Level seven times throughout the game, David Tubridy’s forty sixth minute goal gave Clare a lead they would hold on to for the remainder of the contest. Though they were trailing from there, Westmeath looked like they were going to force extra-time, fortunately for Collins, his captain Gary Brennan stood tallest when needed fielding possession at vital stages.
“It was nip and tuck up till the final whistle. When they began to press on our kick out at the end we were relying on Gary and God did he pull through with the most amazing catches that’s when we won the game no question”.
Colm felt the role of Kilrush Shamrocks’ Stephen Ryan not alone in keeping a clean sheet but also pinpointing his kickouts were priceless for Clare, the success in this sector he thanked two-time All-Ireland SFC with Kerry, Declan O’Keeffe who has been their goalkeeper coach this year. “Credit to Stephen he is a young fella and is doing really well, he has a brilliant goalkeeping coach with him this year in Declan O’Keeffe who has done so well. Stephen put it on a plate for Gary and he did the business, that was absolutely crucial in winning the game”.
Reflecting on the final ten minutes of the game where David Tubridy’s converted free was their only score, Collins said. “I’ve always thought the best form of defence is attack that’s all very well but we just weren’t getting up the field, it’s on a knife edge and Westmeath made a battle of it every last one of them worked their socks off and it was some battle, it might not have been the most attractive but there were a couple of things they missed a couple of frees where David Tubridy and Eoin Cleary were excellent”.
Westmeath’s cause was not aided by the first half departures of Ger Egan, John Heslin and Ronan O’Toole the latter duo to black cards with Egan forced off with injury. When put to him by The Clare Echo that they should have been further than one point ahead of the Midlands counterparts at the final whistle, Colm stated, “I felt we gave them some light in the first half and we should have taken our scores that fell to us then. It ended up being a battle which we didn’t want but still it’s great from our point of view to see our lads winning a battle, that’s what you want”.
Saturday’s success brought back glimpses of their 2016 run which included qualifier wins over Laois, Sligo and Roscommon. A buzz follows the Banner once they hit their stride in the All-Ireland campaign which has been absent in the provincial championship. “The dominance of Kerry has continued in Munster for so long and with this there’s fierce excitement, every day you play a qualifier you’re sure that the next day the level is going to go up that’s the guarantee so we knew today was going to be a harder test than last Sunday and next weekend is going to be harder again but we’re delighted to be in the pot”.
In Leitrim last weekend, Collins stressed he would not talk about the Super 8s until Clare were in them. He was reminded about his comments moments after the final whistle in Mullingar and replied, “Yeah they are seventy minutes away and hopefully next Saturday we’ll have a chat about them”.