By Michael O Connor.
When the round 1 qualifiers were announced bar Westmeath it was clear that a home draw against Offaly was the very best one could hope for. Clare do look fitter than before the munster championship and did score with regularity but for most of the game had little or no challenge to worry about. Compare same with Cork/Wexford and Kilkenny/Galway and it shows the experienced Clare side how many gears they will need to go up on Saturday in Thurles against Jimmy Barry Murphy's charges.
A stunning attendance for a Ennis Qualifier of 14,268 greeted both sides onto the perfectly prepared Cusack Park on Saturday evening. From a Clare viewpoint it was morale boosting to see DarachHonan in action and looking hungry for same. He opened the scoring and this was quickly followed by the fast moving Tony Kelly seconds later. Paddy Murphy responded with Offaly's opening score as Offaly set up defensive as Clare were attempting to leave Shane O Donnell and John Conlon up front together. Colin Ryan and Conor McGrath who looked sharp in the first half added minors before Darach Honan set up McGrath and the Cratloe man struck for the first Clare goal after 8 minutes as the home side surged seven points clear with little real effort.
Ryan added a free before Offaly struck back with three scores from Shane Dooley (2) and Shane Kinsella as Clare led (1-5) to (0-4) after 12 minutes. Shane Golden who worked hard as he was way fitter than his marker and Tony Kelly struck for a brace of scores as Shane O Donnell saw a goal effort cannon off the crossbar after 20 minutes. James Mulrooney, Shane Kinsella and Joe Bergin were lonely Offaly scorers in the midst of Clare striking four scores with McGrath (2), Ryan and Honan were on the mark to leave Clare double scores clear, (1-11) to (0-7) with eight minutes to play in the opening half. Offaly were guilty of eight first half wides as Clare soaked up the minimum pressure exerted by Brian Whelehan's charges with little difficulty. Both sides shared four scores in the last five minutes of the half with Shane Dooley, Pat O Connor, John Conlon and Dooley once more on target as Offaly retired (1-13) to (0-9) clear. Colin Ryan was denied a goal on the 30 minute mark as James Dempsey effected a smart block and clearance.
Normal platitudes about Offaly requiring a good second half start, or two goals, or Clare to play poorly are not to be used here as it was impossible to contemplate any of the above because sadly from a hurling perspective Offaly were unable to create any of the scenarios.
Sean Cleary ironically hit over the first score of the new half but the statistics favoured Clare for the next seven minutes as Davy Fitzgerald's men hit (2-3) without reply. John Conlon following a huge clearance ran onto the ball and raced clear to finish with ease for Clare's second goal as Tony Kelly set up Shane O Donnell for the home side's third goal. Conor Ryan (2) and Kelly added points to leave Clare (3-16) to (0-10) ahead.
over 20 minutes action left there was plenty of time for Offaly to
build on their score but they managed a measly 5 points as Clare
utilising their bench added nine more scores with ease and actually
their standard of play was little to write home as they had too much
time on the ball. Not exactly the best preparation for next Saturday.
Tony Kelly was scorer in chief hitting five of the last nine points as
thoughts turned to more pressing matters this coming weekend.
CLARE: Patrick Kelly, David McInerney, Cian Dillon, Seadna Morey, Brendan Bugler, Pat O Connor (0-1), Jack Browne, Conor Ryan (0-3), Tony
Kelly (0-8), John Conlon (1-1), Colin Ryan (0-3), Shane Golden (0-2),
Darach Honan (0-3), Shane O’Donnell (1-0), Conor McGrath (1-4). Subs:
David Reidy for Conlon, Aaron Cunningham for O Donnell, Paul Flanagan
for Dillon, Domhnall O Donovan for Browne, Colm Galvin for Honan,
OFFALY: J Dempsey; D Shortt, N Wynne, D King; E Murphy, C Egan, G Conneely; E Nolan, D Currams; P Murphy (0-1), S Kinsella (0-4), J Bergin (0-1), S Dooley (0-06), J Mulrooney (0-1), B Carroll
Subs: S Cleary (0-2) for Nolan, S Ryan for Conneely, P Camon for Shortt, S Wynne for Currams, D Mooney for Murphy.