KILDARE 0-16 CLARE 0-15
With twenty minutes remaining in Cusack Park, Ennis on Sunday, Kildare footballers were staring down the barrel of a gun. With Ben McCormack dismissed on a second yellow card any hope of a first league victory at the third attempt looked remote.
The Lilywhites trailed by five points at that stage but their late resurgence, outscoring the Banner men seven points to one in the time remaining, left the home side scratching their heads wondering how they’d thrown away the two league points.
Clare had looked so dominant up to McCormack’s sending off but seemed to sit back on their lead playing into the breeze and the loss of influential midfielder Cathal O’Connor at midfield saw them lose a foothold there.
Glenn Ryan’s side on the other hand benefitted from a tightening up at the back and a few significant turnovers that roused both the team and the traveling support, while the impact from the bench was telling. Between them Daniel Flynn and Neil Flynn scored six second-half points.
Truthfully, Kildare were very poor again for the first three-quarters of the game, with any hope that the two-week break and four pre-match switches would trigger a whirlwind response to the poor performance against Cork proving unfounded, and the subsequent Hail Mary effort, while commendable, must be taken in the context of what went before.
A well-drilled Clare team used the wind to their advantage, kicking some fine scores and could have been more than four points up at half-time (11-7), despite losing Alan Sweeney to a black card in the 19th minute for a third-man challenge on Paddy Woodgate. The Banner kicked four wides in the opening seven minutes at a stage when Kildare couldn’t really get going.
Ryan’s men came into it and clawed level at four points apiece after 17 minutes with a Jimmy Hyland free, his second of the game. Woodgate and Jack Robinson were also off the mark from play at that stage.
Kildare failed to take any advantage of Sweeney’s ten-minute absence with Clare outscoring them four to two during that spell with Eoin Cleary accurate as usual from frees and Podge Collins scoring a beauty. Clare in general were finding it far easier to get shots off. Kildare’s two came from a fine Feely effort that split the posts after good work from McCormack in the corner, and another Hyland free when Kevin O’Callaghan was fouled.
In attack, Kildare were proving laboured, time and again working ball into the corners only for it to be turned over or recycled back towards midfield, while there was no penetrating a heavily reinforced ‘D’. Clare made hay on turnovers with their swift counterattacks leading to at least three scores.
Back to their full complement, Clare leaned on the throttle in the run-up to half-time, outscoring Kildare four to one, Hyland’s fourth free keeping their heads just about above water.
There was no real sign of a Kildare renaissance immediately after half time, either, with Clare still causing trouble on the counterattack. They extended their lead to six points (14-8) by the 46th minute with a brilliant score into the teeth of the wind by Gavin Cooney, Woodgate’s sweetly struck free from 45 metres the only retort in a dozen minutes after the restart.
Daniel Flynn had been called for at this stage and he got out in front of the full-back, scoring on the turn to narrow the gap to five but McCormack’s dismissal should really have signalled the end of Kildare’s hopes.
That they managed to dig deep and pull off a win will stand to the team as they displayed a spirit and determination that some might feel has been missing at times in recent years.
Darragh Kirwan’s low drive forced goalkeeper Stephen Ryan to tip over before Neil Flynn benefitted from O’Callaghan’s knock down to fire over a clinical point in the 54th minute. But it would be another ten minutes before the Maynooth man added another from a similar position to make it 14-12.
With two minutes remaining Clare must have thought they were safe enough when Cleary steered one over the crossbar, but Kildare kept plugging away.
On the stroke of normal time David Hyland pointed one wind-assisted and a minute later the gap was down to a single point with Clare nerves suddenly jangling. A back-pass was fumbled by Banner keeper Ryan and when substitute Shane O’Sullivan snaffled the ball, Ryan was deemed to have pulled him down.
The ‘keeper was shown a black card and with all five subs used, he was replaced by full-forward Emmett McMahon between the sticks. Neil Flynn stroked over the free to make it 15-14 in Clare’s favour with two of the announced five minutes of injury time played.
Kildare’s siege continued, though, and a masterful left-footed point from Daniel Flynn two minutes later from the right wing drew them level to huge applause from the traveling faithful.
They’d have probably taken a point but the extra one gained could prove crucial at the end of the campaign. They secured it straight from McMahon’s kick-out, which they turned over, and when the ball was worked through to Kirwan, a foul was called, for what we weren’t sure, providing Neil Flynn with the opportunity to stroke over his fourth score and hand Kildare a priceless victory.
Derry come to town on Sunday and Ryan and his management team will know that Kildare need to lift their performance significantly against the impressive Ulster Champions. At least they are up and running but they remain in a perilous position in the Division 2 drop zone, below Louth and Clare on scoring difference.
KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Mick O’Grady, Shea Ryan, Ryan Houlihan; David Hyland 0-1, Eoin Doyle, Paddy McDermott; Kevin Feely 0-1, Kevin O’Callaghan; Ben McCormack, Kevin Flynn, Paddy Woodgate 0-2 (1f); Jimmy Hyland 0-4 (4fs), Darragh Kirwan 0-1, Jack Robinson 0-1.
Subs: Daniel Flynn 0-2 for Robinson 42, Neil Flynn 0-4 (2fs) for Woodgate 44, Darragh Malone for O’Callaghan 58, Shane O’Sullivan for J Hyland 66.
CLARE: Stephen Ryan; Manus Doherty, Cillian Brennan, Ronan Lannigan 0-1; Cian O’Dea, Pearse Lillis, Alan Sweeney; Cathal O’Connor, Darragh Bohannon; Jamie Malone, Eoin Cleary 0-8 (6fs), Dermot Coughlan 0-1; Padraic Collins 0-1, Emmett McMahon 0-2 (1f), Gavin Cooney 0-2.
Subs: Ikgm Ugweru for Sweeney HT, Aaron Griffin for Cooney 47, Brendy Rouine for O’Connor 47, Ciaran Downes for Coughlan 55, Ciaran Russell for Doherty 70.
Referee: David Murnane (Cork).