Classy Clare looked close to their best at the Gaelic Grounds tonight, as they defeated Offaly 3-16 to 2-10 to set up a mouth watering All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park next Sunday against champions Kilkenny.
Sixmilebridge sharpshooter Niall Gilligan increased his championship tally to 4-21 from three games, as he notched two goals in each half and converted some cracking scores from placed balls.
A renewal of Clare and Offaly’s championships rivalry from 1998 saw a brisk opening, but wayward Banner shooting saw them claim four wides inside the
first five minutes.
Tony Griffin bagged the opening point after five minutes. Offaly replied through Brendan Murphy and the sides remained deadlocked until the eighteenth minute.
At 0-03 apiece, Damien Murray stepped up to a 21-metre free and fired it past Brian Quinn on the Clare line for a surprise lead.
Clare replied within a minute as Carmody laid Gilligan up for an equalising goal. Gilligan added two frees to open up a five point gap and Clare secured a deserved half time lead with a second goal on 26 minutes as Griffin, scorer of four goals against Laois, rounded Offaly ‘keeper Brian Mullins on the end line to finish to the top right corner.
A heavily strapped Brian Lohan was substituted on 32 minutes for Daithi O’Connell, but with Offaly ending the half without a score for 17 minutes, Clare were clearly in the ascendancy.
Rory Hanniffy immediately reduced the arrears to six points after the restart but again Gilligan was to the fore, replying within seconds when shooting off his right past David Franks.
Clare ‘keeper Davy Fitzgerald was let off when Joe Brady’s goal was ruled out for a square ball but the diminutive net minder pulled off two great saves with twenty minutes remaining. First he blocked down Michael Cordial and with the ball still in play, dived bravely to stop a Brendan Murphy shot.
Gilligan added another goal from a 21-metre free, sneaking it under the Offaly bar for a 3-08 to 1-04 lead. Gilligan, O’Connell, Carmody, David Forde, Andrew Quinn and Diarmuid McMahon added further points as Rory Hanniffy’s injury time goal proved immaterial.
Clare: D Fitzgerald, B Quinn, B Lohan, G O’Grady, D Hoey, S McMahon, A Markham, C Lynch, D McMahon, F Lohan, N Gilligan, T Griffin, D Forde, T Carmody, A Quinn
Subs used: D O’Connell for B Lohan (32 mins), O Baker for D McMahon (62), B Murphy for Griffin, J O’Connor for Carmody, B O’Connell for Markham (all 70mins)
Offaly: B Mullins, B Teehan, G Oakley, D Franks, Brian Whelahan, N Claffey, C Cassidy, M Cordial, Barry Whelahan, G Hanniffy, R Hanniffy, J Brady; D Murray, N Coughlan, K Brady
Subs used: D Hayden for J Brady (43 mins), S Brown for K Brady (64), N Mannion for N Coughlan, R McRedmond for Murray (both 66mins)
Filed by Barry McEneaney