By Michael O Connor.
Mid July and with the races in Galway nine days away the senior footballers of the county were breaching new ground with an appearance at this stage of the football championship. With more footballs on the ground in the Kildare warm up that ever seen before at GAA headquarters and a huge covering of white clad jerseys suggested that Kildare meant business. Sadly, when this performance is analysed the simple facts of the lack of adequate replacements, shot shy forwards from play and placed balls denied Clare a historic success more so than a stirring Kildare performance.
Clare started in positive fashion and were first on the scoreboard as Enda Coughlan kicked over from 25 yards as Podge Collins was subject to a number of unpunished blows in the opening ten minutes. Indeed Collins acted the game as a sweeper to huge effect. Kildare got on the scoresheet as late replacement Alan Smith kicked over the lilywhites first score in the 3rd minute. Podge Collins with great skill broke through for the game’s second point to a huge cheer as Clare were playing deep with Coughlan, Tubridy and Donnelly playing close to the Kildare goal but struggling with the ball sent in high as they were well marked by bigger opponents for the opening twenty five minutes.
Padraig O Neill was on hand for Kildare’s second score after seven minutes and whilst the visitors to Cusack Park threatened much they went 24 minutes before their next score. Rory Donnelly managed to break free and score a valuable lead point in the tenth minute. The final handpass by Clare to the forwards when in a possible scoring position let them down but their defensive efforts was superb with Martin McMahon, Kevin Hartnett, Joe Hayes and Ciaran Russell to the fore. Joe Hayes made a vital save to deny Stephen Harold and from that McMahon kicked over a wonderful curved effort and now Clare were two clear. Clare and Kildare had chances in the following minutes but neither converted.
The next score would be vital to both sides and it fell to Clare as a sublime piece of skill by Rory Donnelly won a free that was converted by David Tubridy as Thomas O Connor entered the Kildare side at full forward. Alan Smith who was his sides top scorer in the first half had his sides 4th and final score of the half. However it was the home side that ended the half the brighter with scores from Shane McGrath (2) as Clare retired for the half time lecture (0-7) to (0-4).
For Clare to have any realistic hope of success they required at least one goal. Playing well was not enough once Kildare would have their period of dominance in the second half. The opening moments of the second half looked like a productive second half for the Lillywhites as Alan Smith who was their top scorer overall was on hand for the opening point as the Clare defence survived a few shaky moments as Mark McMahon had to clear off the line after the ball came off the post when all thought it was going over the bar. Gary Brennan and Smith exchanged points by the 40th minute as Mark Donnellan in the Kildare goal engineered a great save from Shane McGrath. On key moments such as this games are changed. Clare supporters were in full voice as their side scored the intervening four points and looked like they could go on and seize the day.
DavidTubridy (45), Gary Brennan and two more Tubridy frees left Colm Collins men (0-12) to (0-6) ahead after 43 minutes. Eoin O Flaherty, Alan Small, Eoin O Flaherty and Eamonn Callaghan kicked four points in eight minutes as David Tubridy missed a vital 45 in the 55th minute. The ability of Kildare to bring on substitutes who made an impact was match winning as Paddy Brophy narrowed the deficit to the minimum as the Leinster side were running hard at Clare who were defending bravely yet when Callaghan pointed from play in the 63rd minute to level the tie the odds were against Clare holding out. Kildare finally took the lead for the first time in the clash in the 65th minute as Eoghan O Flaherty struck for his third score since being thrown into the fray. Clare can have no quibbles about the remaining eight minutes. They created and were rewarded with ample chances to at least send the game into extra time including an injury time 45’ but failed to seize the day.
The home side to show advancement of substance in 2014 needed to win this tie. Promotion was achieved with great consistency plus two wins and a draw out of five appearances in the championship yet the Kildare scalp would represent a national standard giantkilling act. In this scribes opinion an approach last weekend should have been made to top class hurlers who play football to join the panel. Little doubt exists in my mind when viewing the strength of the panel players such as Cathal McInerney, Conor McGrath and Conor Ryan would have made a measured difference. Galway, for example brought in the hurling centre back Daithi Burke immediately after the hurlers were defeated and he was brought on in the Connacht final. Success demands whatever is required to be enacted especially with a team attempting a breakthrough.
B est for the winners were Alan Small who Clare were unable to mark during the game, Eamonn O Callaghan, Thomas O Connor when introduced, Eoghan O Flaherty, Fergal Conway, Hugh McGrillen, Padraig O Neill and Emmet Bolton. Clare were led well by Gary Brennan and younger sibling Shane Brennan and were aided well by Martin McMahon, Kevin Hartnett, Jamie Malone, Gordon Kelly and Ciaran Russell who expended huge dollops of energy. Shane McGrath, Padraic Collins and Rory Donnelly had their moments upfield.
KILDARE: Mark Donnellan, Ciaran Fitzpatrick, Hugh McGrillen, Ollie Lyons, Emmet Bolton, Fergal Conway, Keith Cribbin, Tommy Moolick, Gary White, Cathal McNally, Niall Kelly, Padraig O Neill (0-1), Eamonn Callaghan (0-2), Padraig Fogarty, Alan Smith (0-6). Subs: Thomas O Connor for Fogarty, Eogan O Flaherty (0-3) for White, Paddy Brophy (0-1) for Kelly, Eoin Doyle for Mick O Grady, Sean Hurley for Moolick, David Hyland for Conway
CLARE: Joe Hayes, Shane Hickey, Kevin Hartnett, Martin McMahon(0-1), Jamie Malone, Gordon Kelly, Ciaran Russell, Gary Brennan (0-2), Shane McGrath(0-2), Sean Collins, Enda Coughlan (0-1), Shane Brennan, Padraic Collins(0-1), David Tubridy (0-4), Rory Donnelly (0-1). Subs: Dean Ryan for S Collins, Eoin Cleary for Donnelly, Martin O Leary for Coughlan, Shane McNeilis for Hickey, Laurence Healy for Russell (inj)
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).