By Michael O Connor
excuses here as Clare exited the championship at the very first hurdle
against a spirited Longford side in Cusack park on Saturday evening.
Prior to the game it was expected that Clare would survive this clash
against a side that were mauled in Croke Park against Dublin in the
struck for the first score as Gary Brennan converted a free with the
game less than two minutes old. SIgnals that Longford were intent on
making a contest of it were evident with their efforts early on. Brian
Kavanagh levelled matters before David Tubridy scored a well taken
effort after four minutes. Ciaran Russell who struggled throughout the
game and it was a surprise that he was not relieved of his duties
conceded a penalty after taking down Liam Connerton and it was a
grateful Brian Kavanagha that goaled. Connerton and Michael Quinn
stretched the lead of the midlanders by the 14 mintues to five points,
(1-3) to (0-1) and indeed Clare were second rate by this stage.
Eoin Cleary who was surprisingly replaced late in the game whilst others who were non productive were left on the field and Gary Brennan narrowed the deficit by the 21st minutes to two points before Brian Kavanagh restored the goal lead. The handling errors by Clare when in primary possession in defence and attack played a huge role in their downfall against a physically strong Longford side managed by former Dublin star Jack Sheedy.
The home side had one of their most productive spells of the game scoring 1-2 in 7 minutes as David Tubridy, and Pat Burke struck over points as a well worked five man move ended with Clare's Dean Ryan hitting the back of the net. The home side were now two clear and in the view of many in the ascendancy. However, this climb up the ladder soon became a stunted movement and gradual decline. Liam Connerton who caused numerous problems and Dessie Reynolds levelled matters once more before the half time whistle. Clare went in at the break up by the minimum as Sean Collins who an uneventful afternoon had the final score of the first half to leave Clare (1-7) to (1-6) uncomfortable half time winners.
The opening minutes of the second half were error strewn by Clare with handling errors, poor kicking and it was like a rash spreading throughout the side for the remainder of the game. When they had good possession it was given away with ease especially by the full back line and half forward line. Rory Connor levelled proceedings three minutes into the second half before disaster struck as Dessie Reynolds lobbed the outrushing Joe Hayes.
With the game now entering the final half hour Clare were trailing by just three points but the feeling was that they were struggling all over the park and nothing less than a goal would ease that difficulty on the field.
David Tubridy (2) and Rory Connor were on target between the 40th and 50th minutes to leave Longford (2-8) to (1-9) clear and holding their own against a side that was perceived to be better than the Leinster side. Eoin Cleary scored a wonderful point and then was subbed which drew gasps of amazement from supporters. It appeared the decision was made before he scored and as stated before others were in the reckoning to go ahead of the Miltown man.
David Tubridy who did his best throughout the afternoon with limited supply drew the sides together after 55 minutes. Longford wing back Diarmuid Masterson scored a great long range effort and was stunningly sent off for a second yellow card less than a minute later. This appeared to hand the impetus back to Colm Collins men but far from it as Clare managed only one score in the final 15 minutes and this was simply not enough for a team in the All Ireland championship. Dean Ryan was on hand with the equaliser in the 59th minute.
Clare had chances to win and draw the game in the last ten minutes with Pat Burke and Keelan Sexton going close with goal chances. On the break Longford proved too much for Clare and in particular Brian Kavanagh as he struck for the last three points of the game with two frees and a third and final score of the game from play on the stroke of full time. The loss of Cathal O Connor was detrimental to the Clare cause whilst Gary Brennan was injured early on and it clearly hampered his movement. The Clare full back line coughed up too many scores (2-8) and sadly the forward division were far from evident in their runs.
CLARE: Joe Hayes, Ciaran Russell, Kevin Harnett, Martin McMahon, Shane Hickey, Gordon Kelly, Dean Ryan (1-1), Gary Brennan (0-2), Cathal O'Connor, Sean Collins (0-1), Jamie Malone, Keelan Sexton, Eoin Cleary (0-2), David Tubridy(0-4), Pat Burke (0-1). Subs: Shane McGrath for O Connor (inj), Enda Coughlan for Cleary, Stephen Collins for Kelly,
LONGFORD: Paddy Collum, Cian Farrelly, Barry O Farrell, Fergal Battrim, Colm P Smyth, Barry Gilleran, Diarmuid Masterson (0-1), Kevin Diffley, Michael Quinn (0-1), Pauric Gill, Ronan McEntee, Rory Connor (0-2), Liam Connerton (0-2), Brian Kavanagh (1-5), Dessie Reynolds (1-1). Subs: Shane Doyle for Gill, Ross McInerney for McEntire , Peter Foy for Connor.
Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow)