CLARE’S remarkable consistency under Colm Collins has been one of the underappreciated storylines of the decade in football, and they plucked another feather for their cap tonight in Ennis, beating Meath to put themselves into the last 12 of this year’s Championship.
eath had won the last five meetings between these teams, all of which were played in the last four years but this was an Armageddon sort of evening for Andy McEntee’s team, done and dusted with their season by the June Bank Holiday
Clare’s summer may have another couple of weeks to run yet.
Luck will play its part but they’re unlikely to be particularly phased by facing any of the provincial losers next weekend.
They did this the hard way, kicking just four points in a second half where the shot seven wides.
Regardless, they deserved it.
The tenor of the match was set early.
Meath played with a strong wind but it took 18 minutes to register a first score. Between the throw-up and that moment, McEntee’s players made more errors and turned over more ball than he would have wished for the whole game.
By then, Clare’s hard running had already yielded 1-2.
Pearse Lillis got the goal, blind siding Harry Hogan with a late run across the Meath goalkeeper, to flick a short-dropping free into the net.
He should, all told, have had a second goal just 90 seconds later but for a brilliant save from Hogan.
Lillis spotted an empty corridor down the left side of the Meath defense and surged clear with only Hogan to beat but the latter read the intention and got down low and early to his left.
That would have made it a seven point lead in a game where such a lead – even at that early stage – would have seemed a daunting.
Thomas O’Reilly got Meath moving after 18 minutes and Matthew Costello added a second soon after, but Clare controlled the next phase and by the 28th minute, had pushed their lead out to seven points.
If Meath’s football lacked accuracy, it wasn’t without effort and the were bestowed with some reward for their graft with four of the last five points of the half; Jack O’Connor (f), Jason Scully, Eoin Harkin and Cillian O’Sullivan (mark) all serving to eat into Clare’s lead.
At 1-7 to 0-6, Clare still looked likely winners. But the history of this fixture wasn’t with them.
Almost in an instant, the tide seemed to turn upon the resumption.
In his previous 80 appearances for Meath, Conor McGill hadn’t registered a single score, not hugely surprising for a man who had played nearly every one of those games at full-back.
So the sight of the Ratoath man coming take a penalty at a crucial not just of Meath’s bit their entire season, in Ennis this evening, wasn’t one we had up stage, planned.
Meath were down by four, having squandered the first half and flirted skittishly with their year ending on the June Bank Holiday weekend.
But McGill was a picture of calmness and slotted his penalty to Tristan O’Callaghan’s left for his first score for Meath in his 81st appearance.
A minute later, Daithí McGowan equalized with a point in his very first game for Meath and McEntee’s team were back in business.
That early part of the second half seemed like it would be key chapter in the story of the game.
In the case of emergency, McEntee broke the glass and reached for pace; brothers Eamonn and Joey Wallace.
It was the latter who won the penalty, after scoring the earth and drawing a foul by Ciarán Russell.
Clare, so composed in the first half, lost their sights completely.
They kicked two wides in the entire first half but had six clocked by the 15th minute.
Oddly, having taken Meath 18 minutes of a wind-propelled first half to score, it took Clare the same length of time in the second to kick their first of the half.
In the 58th minute, Clare had a penalty, James McEntee committing the foul on Keelan Sexton.
David Tubridy, Clare’s penalty taker, had to be treated for a blood injury and change shirts before the kick.
Hogan, deputising for Andy Colgan, made another huge save, low to his left.
That set us up for the final tense five minutes.
Sexton had a brilliant goal chance saved by Hogan – again – but he kicked the resulting ’45 to nose Clare ahead as the game entered injury time.
Meath had one chance but Matthew Costello miscued his kick Clare tore downfield, Manus Doherty’s clinching score the cherry on the icing on their cake.
Clare: E Cleary 0-4 (2f), P Lillis 1-0, E McMahon 0-2, M Doherty, J Malone, D O’Neill, D Tubridy (f), K Sexton (’45) 0-1 each.
Meath: C McGill 1-0 (pen), C O’Sullivan 0-2 (1m), E Harkin, D McGowan, J Scully, T O’Reilly, J O’Connor (f), M Costello, B McMahon (f) 0-1 each
CLEAR: T O’Callaghan; M Doherty, C Jordan, S Sweeney; C O’Dea, C Russell, J Malone; D O’Neill, C O’Connor; P Lillis, E Cleary, E McMahon; G Cooney, D Tubridy A Griffin. Subs: K Sexton for Griffin (32), B Rouine for McMahon (47), P Collins for Cooney (49), C Rouine for Sweeney (67)
METH: H Hogan; R Clarke, C McGill, E Harkin; C Hickey, P Harnan, D Keogan; B Menton, D McGowan; J Scully, M Costello, C O’Sullivan, B McMahon. Subs: J McEntee for Hickey (25), E Wallace for Scully (ht), J Wallace for O’Connor (ht), J Morris for McMahon (57), S Walsh f0r O’Reilly (67)
REF: B Cawley (Kildare)