Down left to rue missed chances as cool Clare take the points
Allianz National Football League Division Two: Down 1-10 Clare 1-12
“SURE you’d nearly walk home” joked one of a handful of smiling Clare supporters as the Banner players and management made their way to the dressing rooms after a job well done in Newry yesterday.
It may be a long, long way from Clare to here – roughly three-and-a-half hours with the wind – but that bus journey was made a whole lot easier after they recorded a first win of the campaign and left Down in the dumps for the second year in-a-row.
“You’d be happy any time you come away from home and put on a performance like that,” said selector Declan Downes.
“People would’ve said about us missing a few players but this is about a squad effort and you saw that again today. It was very positive result all round.”
A six point win in Ennis 12 months ago set alarm bells ringing in the Mourne County as a winless streak running to almost two years showed no signs of abating.
With four Division Two points already in the bag nobody was reaching for the panic button yesterday, but there was huge frustration at a stop-start Down performance pock-marked by wide after wide.
By the end of 70-plus minutes, they had missed the uprights 15 times compared to just two wides for Colm Collins’s men – and even then one of those was a misplaced pass than ran tamely out of play.
The Banner men came flying out of the blocks, leading by 1-1 to 0-0 with two minutes gone after a superb goal from Sean O’Donoghue – bursting through and rifling to the root of the net 35 seconds in - and the first of a free-taking masterclass from Eoin Cleary (more on him later).
But they only managed three points in the whole of the second half – 17 minutes of which was played with 14 men when Ciaran Russell saw red.
Yet Down just couldn’t get a run on the scoreboard, and you could feel the confidence ebbing away with every shot that drifted out.
This was no smash and grab though – Clare battled like dogs and deserved their win. When they had chances, they took them, sometimes spectacularly, with Cleary’s sideline kick in the 25th minute as good as you will see.
Standing midway between the corner of the field and the 13 metre line, scoring looked like a geometrical impossibility. Yet, having already converted two left-footed frees from the right hand side, Cleary confidently stepped up and sent a dipping, arcing effort between the posts and over the bar to gasps of disbelief from the Pairc Esler faithful.
That came just as Down looked to be getting a foothold in the game. Six minutes earlier Caolan Mooney picked up the ball around halfway before turning on the afterburners and leaving three Clare defenders grasping at shadows.
Once he made it to the corner of the square, the Rostrevor ace unselfishly fisted to Donal O’Hare who side-stepped Killian Roche in the Clare goal before slotting home – 1-4 each. Game on.
The momentum was with Down but they couldn’t capitalise, and would end up finishing the game having never got their noses in front.
An excellent 45 metre free from Anthony Doherty levelled again after a Keelan Sexton score, before three scores from Cleary (two frees and that sideline) and a well-worked Kieran Malone effort gave Clare a 1-9 to 1-5 lead at the break.
Down were handed a potential lifeline when they were awarded a penalty three minutes into the second half, Russell catching David McKibbin high as he burst into the square. But when the normally reliable Darragh O’Hanlon sent the ball over the bar instead of into the net, you got the feeling it wasn’t going to be their day.
The Mournemen pushed up high on the Clare kick-outs and dominated much of the game, yet they just couldn’t make it count.
O’Hare and Doherty kicked some poor frees wide and short as the game ebbed away.
Two points was the difference heading towards added time but you never got the sense Down were going to play their get-out-of-jail card, with Cleary’s 73rd minute free all but sealing the deal as the Banner boarded the bus home happy.
Down: M Reid; C Flanagan, B McArdle, A Doherty (0-2, frees); D O’Hagan, N McParland, C Mooney (0-1); D McKibbin, N Donnelly; D O’Hanlon (0-1), C Maginn, S Millar (0-1); B O’Hagan, D O’Hare (1-4, 0-3 frees), R Johnston. Subs: C Poland for Maginn (51), A Morgan (0-1) for R Johnston (51), R Wells for D O’Hanlon (63), S Dornan for B O’Hagan (69)
Black card: D McKibbin (51, replaced by K McKernan)
Yellow cards: C Flanagan (45), B O’Hagan (60), B McArdle (70+2)
Clare: K Roche; C O’Dea (0-1), C Brennan, E Collins (0-1); C Russell, A Fitzgerald, P Lillis; G Brennan, C O’Connor; K Malone (0-1), E Cleary (0-7, 0-6 frees), G O’Brien; S O’Donoghue (1-0), K Sexton (0-1), D Tubridy (0-1). Subs: A Sweeney for O’Brien (46), C Finucane for Sweeney (67), D Bohannon for K Malone (70+3), E Courtney for K Sexton (70+4)
Black card: C Russell (53)
Yellow cards: C Russell (38), E Collins (64)
Red card: C Russell (53)
Referee: J Molloy (Galway)