Clare 4-26 Carlow 2-13
If there was a value bet to be had in Gaelic games this summer, it was that the Clare footballers would last longer in the championship than the hurlers. Very few saw that one coming.
Fewer still could argue that the footballers aren’t full value for their place in this morning’s draw for Round 3B of the All-Ireland qualifiers, however.
Yes, they were fancied to beat a shaky Carlow team at Dr Cullen Park but the scale of their double scores 19-point win was hugely impressive and hints at further gains in the coming weeks.
Even after all that scoring, the biggest cheer of the afternoon came when All Star hurler Podge Collins was substituted after 50 minutes.
A suspension kept him out of Saturday evening’s hurling defeat at Wexford Park but, in nearby Carlow, he put that distress to one side and gave an excellent display for his father, team manager Colm.
His 42nd-minute goal naturally stands out but it was his link-up play and distribution around the half-forward line when the game was still a contest early on that really impressed.
Alongside his brother, Sean, the duo pulled the strings and made sure that inside men David Tubridy and Rory Donnelly had a steady supply of ammunition with which to gun down Carlow, which they duly did.
Tubridy didn’t actually score any of the goals but, like Collins, his distribution was inspired and his diagonal kick-passing even had the Carlow supporters purring.
In truth, this wasn’t a good season for Carlow and Clare’s big win — their first in the qualifiers since 2006 — needs to be set against that fact.
For reasons that still aren’t entirely clear, Carlow’s best player, Brendan Murphy, didn’t play a minute of this year’s championship. Others, according to manager Anthony Rainbow, should have been involved too, but weren’t.
Those who did pick up the slack pulled off a fine Round 1B win over Waterford but it was sandwiched by huge defeats on home soil which won’t be easily forgotten.
The first was to Meath, when they conceded seven goals, and yesterday four more went in. Still, Clare could only beat what was in front of them and they did so with style and purpose.
Their forwards were clearly on form but their defence deserves a mention too. Carlow only breached it once in the first half, when they scrambled a goal to keep themselves just about in the contest.
The rest of Carlow’s first-half points were long-range efforts that floated over on the strong breeze.
It meant the game was almost exclusively played in Carlow’s half and this suited Clare’s forwards down to the ground.
By half-time, they had amassed a massive 2-15 to 1-6 lead and Podge Collins was the only one not to have made the score sheet. He was happy to pull the strings.
Both midfielders were on the mark too, with Shane Brennan following the earlier lead of Rory Donnelly and netting with a flicked finish in injury-time.
From this position, there was no way Clare were going to lose the game. But momentum is everything in the qualifiers and a dip in intensity wouldn’t have done them much good heading into next weekend.
Thankfully, there was no such drop off. They did register nine second-half wides — and 14 in total — but that more reflected their near patent on possession than any complacency.
Make no mistake about it, this is a quality Clare team that has ambitions of playing at Croke Park. On paper, they will be the weakest team in this morning’s draw, though few will fancy playing them either.
The onslaught continued in the second-half and Podge Collins got his goal, Clare’s third, in the 42nd minute. His first shot was blocked but he followed up with a soccer style finish from close range.
Soon after, David Bambrick slid a low shot to the Clare net for Carlow’s second goal. It contributed to a healthy 2-13 overall tally for Carlow that would win many qualifier games.
But Clare weren’t for letting up at the other end and kept the foot down all the way until full-time.
Sub Podge McMahon shot Clare’s fourth goal with 15 minutes remaining, a neat finish after good work by Gary Brennan.
By the final whistle, 10 different Clare players had made the score sheet. McMahon finished with 1-2 while another sub, Eoin Cleary, slotted three fine points from play to leave manager Collins with a nice selection headache ahead of their next outing.
Scorers for Clare: R Donnelly 1-3, P McMahon 1-2 (01f), S Brennan 1-1, G Brennan (0-1f, 0-1 pen), E Coughlan and D Tubridy (1f) 0-4 each, P Collins 1-0, S McGrath and E Cleary 0-3 each, S Collins 0-2.
Scorers for Carlow: C Moran and D Bambrick 1-0 each, D St Ledger, C Coughlan (0-1f) and P Broderick (1f) 0-2 each, E Ruth, B Kavanagh, S Kinsella (1f), M Meaney, J Kennedy, W Minchin (1f) andK Hartnett, Clare (own point) 0-1 each.
CLARE: J Hayes; S Hickey, K Hartnett, M McMahon; J Malone, G Kelly, C Russell; G Brennan, S McGrath; S Collins, E Coughlan, P Collins; R Donnelly, S Brennan, D Tubridy. Subs for Clare: D Ryan for Hickey (16), P McMahon for Tubridy (43), C O’Connor for McGrath (43), E Cleary for P Collins (50), S McNelis for Russell (55), P De Loughrey for Hayes (60).
CARLOW: A O’Brien; R Mahon, C Lawlor, BJ Molloy; K Nolan, D St Ledger, B Kavanagh; E Ruth, H Gahan; D Bambrick, C Moran, M Meaney; C Coughlan, D Foley, S Kinsella. Subs for Carlow: G Power for Lawlor (31), M Ware for Foley (33), P Broderick for Kinsella (ht), J Kennedy for Moran (36), W Minchin for Meaney (43), J Lowry for Nolan (59).
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).