*Clare’s Roisin Looney. Photograph: Burren Eye Photography
Clare’s business end hoodoo continued on Sunday as an experienced Westmeath clung on for a second successive All-Ireland Semi-Final spot in Tuam Stadium, Galway this afternoon.
Venue: Tuam Stadium
Without a knockout stage victory since 2016, Evan Talty’s side just couldn’t turn their late dominance into scores, having admirably slashed an eight point deficit to just one entering the final ten minutes.
Only the minimum separated the sides for 12 minutes of the final quarter but the Banner kicked four wides as the elusive equaliser simply wouldn’t come. Seizing upon that vacuum, Westmeath duly punished on the counter-attack with a brace of injury-time points at the death.
The concession of three goals in the space of nine minutes midway through the opening period again proved defining as it gave Clare an unnecessarily steep mountain to climb. The return of Laurie Ryan to the fold did provide a major boost throughout but to leak a third penalty in two games and ten goals overall in their three championship matches was unsustainable for a concerted All-Ireland run.
Clare had two glorious opportunities themselves early on but Grainne Nolan dragged her effort wide of the left post while Fidelma Marrinan’s effort would be repelled as instead, Chloe Moloney (2), Ciara McCarthy (2) and Niamh O’Dea settled their side into the ascendancy at 0-5 to 0-3.
However, against the run of play, Westmeath would launch a considerable sucker-punch in the last action of the quarter when Fiona Coyle was awarded a contentious penalty that Leona Archibold duly converted at 1-3 to 0-5.
If that wasn’t hurtful enough, Westmeath would pour even more misery on their stunned opponents on the resumption as Anna Jones and Ciara Blundell added quick fire goals to stretch their newfound advantage to eight at 3-4 to 0-5.
To their credit, Clare did bounce back off the ropes before the break as a superb solo goal from Niamh O’Dea was accentuated by a brace of Grainne Nolan points to lower the arrears to just three at 3-4 to 1-7.
That seesaw pattern would be maintained on the restart as Westmeath wrestled back control to kick four of the first five points while also seeing a Jones goal attempt stopped by goalkeeper Micaela Glynn at 3-8 to 1-8 by the two-thirds mark.
At this stage, chief threat Niamh O’Dea was being double-marked but that extra attention did open the door for others as a brilliant Aisling Reidy back-to-front run moved through Chloe Moloney and Grainne Nolan before substitute Chloe Towey grabbed a crucial goal to add to an O’Dea point at 3-8 to 2-9 by the final water break.
With the bit between their teeth, O’Dea centred for Aisling Reidy to make it a one point game by the 51st minute but subsequent attempts were wayward as instead Anna Jones converted a 58th minute free.
O’Dea would cancel it out in the next passage of play following good work from Caoimhe Harvey and substitute Cliodhna Blake but again, they simply couldn’t get level as two more rushed shots drifted agonisingly wide.
Instead, Jones and replacement Aoife Connolly countered with a brace of frees but while there was still time for one last Banner rally, there would be no way through a Westmeath wall as last year’s All-Ireland finalists teed up a semi-final showdown with Kildare next Sunday.
Scorers for Westmeath: Anna Jones (1-3, 2f); Leona Archibold (1-0 Pen), Lucy McCartan (1-1 each); Sarah Dillon (0-3); Ciara Blundell, Vicky Carr, Aoife Connolly (f) (0-1 each)
Scorers for Clare: Niamh O’Dea (1-3); Chloe Towey (1-0); Ciara McCarthy, Chloe Moloney, Grainne Nolan (1f), Aisling Reidy (0-2 each);
1: Lauren McCormack (Mullingar Shamrocks)
4: Tara Fagan ((Mullingar Shamrocks)
3: Lorraine Duncan (Garrycastle)
2: Niamh Spellman (Mullingar Shamrocks)
7: Rachel Dillon (Milltown)
6: Lucy Power (The Downs)
5: Fiona Coyle (St Mary’s Rochfordbridge)
8: Vicky Carr (St Loman’s)
9: Tracey Dillon (Milltown)
10: Fiona Claffey (Foxrock Cabinteely, Dublin)
11: Leona Archibold (St Loman’s)
12: Anna Jones (Mullingar Shamrocks)
15: Sarah Dillon (Milltown)
14: Lucy McCartan (St Loman’s)
13: Ciara Blundell (St Loman’s)
19: Aoife Brady (St Mary’s Rochfordbridge) for R. Dillon (42, inj)
18: Annie Dolan (Clann Gaels) for Blundell (50)
26: Johanna Maher (Tyrellspass) for Dillon (56)
20: Aoife Connolly (Garrycastle) for Carr (58)
1: Micaela Glynn (Kilmihil)
17: Aine Keane (Miltown Malbay)
5: Orla Devitt (Éire Óg)
2: Ellie O’Gorman (Kilmihil)
3: Siofra Ní Chonaill (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield)
15: Caoimhe Harvey (West Clare Gaels)
9: Roisin Looney (Cooraclare)
6: Tara Kelly (Cúil Gaels)
11: Aisling Reidy (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield)
12: Fidelma Marrinan (West Clare Gaels)
10: Ciara McCarthy (Kilmurry Ibrickane)
29: Laurie Ryan (Banner Ladies)
30: Niamh O’Dea (Banner Ladies)
8: Chloe Moloney (Kilmurry Ibrickane)
28: Grainne Nolan (Banner Ladies)
24: Chloe Towey (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield) for Marrinan (HT)
21: Lauren Griffin (Fergus Rovers) for Keane (35)
7: Roisin Considine (Liscannor) for Ní Chonaill (41)
14: Catriona Callinan (Kilmihil) for McCarthy (49)
25: Cliodhna Blake (Doonbeg) for Kelly (54)
Referee: Garryowen McMahon (Mayo)