*Jamie Malone. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
CLARE PRODUCED A LAST GASP flurry to commence their 2023 Allianz National Football League campaign with a win.
Venue: Páirc Uí Chíosóg, Inis
Even a draw looked like a very optimistic result for Clare for the majority of the second half, such thinking largely influenced by their ten wides in this period.
However, the battling qualities of Colm Collins’ side has long been evident for their loyal supporters and this once again came to the surface with a rousing finish to see them collect an invaluable two points in Division 2.
They kicked the final four points of the contest to snatch the victory from Louth who had been the far more impressive side over the course of the game.
Jamie Malone kicked the winning score on seventy six minutes, the amount of stoppage time played has been criticised by Wee County supporters. Not for the first time and hopefully not the last occurrence either, the Corofin man produced the goods when the need was greatest to collect two points on home soil. He memorably kicked the winning score in Clare’s qualifier win over Roscommon in Croke Park last summer.
Indeed it was Malone that put Clare in front for the first time with sixty five minutes played but Louth immediately responded with Ciaran Downey sticking the ball in the back of David Sexton’s net.
Sam Mulroy who was the chief scorer for the visitors added a white flag soon after and the joy of Malone’s score and resulting hope of a Banner win appeared to be fading.
Slowly but surely Clare began to form a response, Emmet McMahon kicked his third point of the day and first from play to reduce the deficit to two points, then debutant Sexton made a vital save from substitute Ryan Burns, a goal here would have sealed the win for last year’s Division 3 champions.
Gavin Cooney who made quite the contribution from the bench, swung one over off his left book to reduce the deficit to a single score. The equaliser came from Daniel Walsh, his goal chance sailed over the cross bar and even at this stage a draw would have pleased the Clare support base.
They had reason to smile even more when Malone was fed by Darragh Bohannon and his fine effort ensured Clare started with a win in what is a very competitive Division.
Introspections can sometimes be clouded in the aftermath of dramatic wins but Colm Collins and his management will know repeat performances will not suffice if they are to have aspirations of climbing to the top tier.
Louth’s speed of transition from defence to attack caught Clare for large parts and this has been an area in which the Banner have struggled over the past three seasons. With the aid of the wind in the second half, the amount of possession in Clare’s favour increased dramatically but so did the wastefulness and the hitting of ten wides in the second half alone will be punished by sides more seasoned than Louth.
It took Clare twenty four minutes to register a score by which Louth had clocked up an answered tally of 0-04 and were in complete control. A black card for Liam Jackson allowed Clare to settle and within thirty seconds of Cleary getting them out of the traps, they added another via Keelan Sexton.
Sexton who had been an injury doubt prior to the game reduced the deficit to a single score on thirty three minutes and this was his last contribution as he departed the field with what is proving to be a problematic hamstring injury.
Sam Mulroy ended an eleven minute scoring drought for the visitors with a free and then added another score from play to see them hold a deserved 0-06 0-03 advantage at the interval.
A mix of Clare’s self-belief and Louth’s inexperience in seeing out games came to the surface in the second half when a game that Mickey Harte’s men should have put out of sight was taken from their grasp as the hosts finally found their rhythm when it came to the scoring stakes.
Ordinarily it is the scorers that will take all the plaudits and in this regard Eoin Cleary has had many pats on the back in his career but on this occasion the captain’s workrate and tenacity was his greatest attribute as he set the ideal example for his teammates. Ronan Lanigan and David Sexton were both solid in their NFL debuts, Gavin Cooney made an immediate impact from the bench with Pearse Lillis also impressing for the winners.
Meath who are on a high after recording an away win over Cork await Clare in Navan for the second round, Collins’ men make the journey in a much healthier mindset than could have been predicted given the manner in which they recorded the opening round win.
A very difficult assignment against Derry is next up for Louth who must regroup immediately to begin picking up points.
Scorers Clare: Emmet McMahon (0-03 2f), Eoin Cleary (0-02 2f), Keelan Sexton (0-02), Gavin Cooney (0-02 1M), Jamie Malone (0-02), Mark McInerney (0-01 1’45)
Scorers Louth: Sam Mulroy (0-05 3f), Ciaran Downey (1-00), Conor Early (0-02), Daire McCannon (0-01), Dermot Campbell (0-01)
1: David Sexton (Kilmurry Ibrickane)
2: Manus Doherty (Éire Óg)
3: Cillian Brennan (Clondegad)
4: Ronan Lanigan (Éire Óg)
10: Jamie Malone (Corofin)
5: Cian O’Dea (Kilfenora)
7: Alan Sweeney (St Breckans)
8: Cathal O’Connor (Coolmeen)
9: Darren O’Neill (Éire Óg)
11: Eoin Cleary (St Joseph’s Miltown)
6: Pearse Lillis (Cooraclare)
12: Dermot Coughlin (Kilmurry Ibrickane)
15: Keelan Sexton (Kilmurry Ibrickane)
14: Emmett McMahon (Kildysart)
13: Pádraic Collins (Cratloe)
22: Mark McInerney (Éire Óg) for Sexton (33) (inj)
19: Ciarán Downes (Kilmihil) for Coughlan (47)
17: Darragh Bohannon (Shannon Gaels) for O’Connor (50)
26: Daniel Walsh (Kilmurry Ibrickane) for Sweeney (54)
18: Gavin Cooney (Éire Óg) for Collins (62)
1: Declan Byrne (Naomh Mochta)
2: Dan Corcoran (Na Gearaltaigh)
6: Ciaran Murphy (Naomh Padraig)
18: Dermot Campbell (Dreadnots Ceann Clochair)
5: Leonard Grey (Naomh Padraig)
4: Donal McKenny (Naomh Mhuire Áth Fhirdia)
7: Conall McKeever (Clan na Gael)
8: Conor Early (Oilibhear Pluincead)
9: Ciaran Byrne (Naomh Mochta)
27: Liam Jackson (Naomh Mhuire Áth Fhirdia)
14: Conor Grimes (Emmití An Ghleanna)
24: Ciaran Downey (Newtown Blues)
3: Peter Lynch (Emmití De Róiste)
11: Sam Mulroy (Naomh Mairtin)
13: Daire McConnon (Naomh Mhuire Áth Fhirdia)
19: Tommy Durnin (Naomh Mhuire Áth Fhirdia) for Byrne (12) (inj)
17: Niall Sharkey (Raonaire Gluide) for Lynch (38)
21: Alan Connor (Gormaithe Baile Nua) for McKenny (45)
15: Tom Jackson (Naomh Mhuire Áth Fhirdia) for McKeever (46)
26: Craig Lennon (Naomh Mochta) for Jackson (47)
25: Ryan Burns (Ragnaire Baile Fiach) for Durnin (67) (inj)
Referee: Sean Lonergan (Tipperary)