By Michael O Connor.
Huge disappointment was the key emotion experienced by Clare footballing folk in Cusack Park evening. A solid start to this qualifier tie ending in a whimper, much like the entire reign on Mick O Dwyer whose legendary status and presence in Clare football was planned to propel Clare a step or two up the footballing ladder
The multi All Ireland winning manager stepped down as Clare manager after powerful shows of footballing eminence by Laois immediately before and after half-time was enough to see the Leinster men past his Clare side, 3-17 to 0-10, in round two of the qualifiers in wonderful sunshine before a sizable attendance. It had long being flagged that the Kerryman would only be a short team appointmen and this was confirmed as O'Dwyer's has decided not to seek a second year in charge of the Banner men on the back of this defeat. The real let down of the 2013 season wasn’t really the championship except maybe the hope of a qualifier win but the failure to make the promotion places from Division four. They did do well in the lower division but let themselves slip away from promising positions against sides that Clare were capable of accounting for. Once again key players unavailable due to emigration, lack of interest and lack of size, power and skill in the panel were the decisive factors in another season in the basement.
Goals either side of the break from former UCD dual star John O'Loughlin and David Conway were the pivotal scores that drove Laois on their way to victory. The blue and white clad footballers managed by Justin McNulty added to these scores with a bevy of points in the second-half, allowing Clare just four points that showed the gulf in standard in divisional football
Ten minutes before half-time Clare had led by four points after a strong opening period, but they failed to hit the target for the next 27 minutes until David Tubridy landed his fourth point. Laois wing back Darren Strong opened the scoring after two minutes before Tubridy hit two frees, one after a hefty challenge on Gary Brennan. Rory Donnelly, Colm Begley and Tubridy once more left it at (0-4) to (0-2) with ten minutes elapsed. Clare were in flying form but worringly Laois were kicking wides and had 9 before the 20thminute. Rory Donnelly and Kelly had two further Clare points and indeed Clare had two clear goal chances that went a begging.
By the 23rd minute Laois had seized the initiative back from Clare and secured the win leading by 1-12 to 0-07 after their forwards finally found the target after hitting ten wides in the first-half. Initially Clare made plenty of progress by feeding direct ball into Gary Brennan, who once again braved a broken rib to line out for the Banner. He was involved in everything good that Clare did early on and, after his move to the edge of the square, the points began to flow for Clare. It could have got a lot worse for the O'Moore men in the 25th minute when wing-back Graham Kelly charged down on goal, only for his blistering drive to clear the crossbar. This juncture was where Clare's creative industry ended and Laois went on to hit 1-05 before and after half-time to end the contest.
The key score arrive in the 31st minute when O'Loughlin finished smartly to the net after Donie Kingston's excellent pin point pass. Five minutes after the restart David Conway found the top corner for a splendid goal to end any Clare hopes. David Tubridy kept Clare's score respectable with three second-half frees but, late on, Munnelly palmed to the net from 5 yards out to put suitable gloss on the deserved midlanders win.
Best for Laois were Mark Timmons, Darren Strong, Kieran Lillis whose father Mick was a former Clare great, John O Loughlin Colm Begley, Ross Munnelly, Padraig Clancy, Donal Kingston and Padraig McMahon. Clare will have to regroup, probably promote Mick O Dwyer’s assistants or move onto new supremos for the next season, Irrespective of this the true football base in Clare is experiencing a huge drift in population with some of the best footballers now domiciled in hurling heartlands. Trying times ahead for the football future of Clare.
Laois: Eoin Culliton, Paul O'Leary, Mark Timmons, Paul Begley; Darren Strong (0-03), Kieran Lillis (0-01), Padraig McMahon; John O'Loughlin (1-01), Padraig Clancy (0-01); Billy Sheehan, Conor Meredith (0-01), Colm Begley (0-02); Ross Munnelly (1-03), Donal Kingston (0-02), David Conway (1-01).
Subs: Colm Kelly for Kingston, Evan Costello (0-01) for Kelly (51 mins), Denis Booth for P Begley (53 mins), Conor Boyle for Clancy (55 mins), Tom Shiels (0-01, 0-01f) for C Begley (57 mins).
Clare: Joe Hayes; Gordon Kelly, Laurence Healy, Martin McMahon; Declan Callinan, John Hayes, Gary Brennan; Ger Quinlan, Cathal O'Connor; Shane McGrath, Ian McInerney, Alan Clohessy; Rory Donnelly (0-02), Graham Kelly (0-01), David Tubridy (0-06).
Subs: Chris Dunning for Clohessy , Chris Dixon for G Kelly, Shane Ryan (0-01) for McGrath, John Keane for O'Connor (60 mins), Padraig McMahon for Brennan (63 mins).
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork).