Joe McGann climbed off the substitute's bench to score a crucial match-winning goal as Clare won for the first ever time in Newbridge this afternoon.
It was a slow burning performance from Colm Collins’ team but after trailing by 0-6 to 0-3 going into the first half water break they slowed down the Kildare scoring rate and were the better team by the time of McGann’s 51st minute strike.
Still, it wasn’t easy from there and they needed another superb contribution from Eoin Cleary. After scoring ten points in last week’s win over Laois, Cleary was held scoreless during the first half by the tight marking Eoin Doyle but the former Kildare captain’s departure through injury in the 43rd minute gave him more freedom and he ended the game with two frees to bring his tally to seven points in the second half.
Jack O’Connor’s Kildare knew a win would be enough to top their group and book a semi-final place with a game to spare and they started the game with great intentions. Jimmy Hyland and Neil Flynn were causing problems Clare but after an entertaining first quarter, the game ground to half during a second quarter in which both sides only managed a point.
Clare had more of an attacking intent about them from the off in the second and just before McGann’s goal brought them level, Keelan Sexton missed a great chance to hit the Kildare net.
The goal, which had an element of fortune about it after a mishit Cathal O’Connor shot fell nicely for McGann, was followed by a Cleary point just before the water break and then further points from David Tubridy and Cleary just after it.
Quickfire points just after the hour mark from Shane O’Sullivan, just after the 20-year-old had come on, and Hyland gave them hope but Emmet McMahon fired over at the other end.
O’Sullivan’s second of the game left just one between the sides going into the final three points and kept Kildare in the game but that the last score they could muster even though six minutes were added on and it was two Cleary frees in the closing stages that sealed the win. The win puts Clare in a with a great of chance securing a semi-final when they host Cork next week.
Clare: Stephen Ryan; Ciaran Russell, Cillian Brennan, Eoghan Collins, Cian O'Dea, Sean Collins, Daniel Walsh; Darren O’Neill, Cathal O’Connor, Pearse Lillis, Eoin Cleary 0-7 (4fs, 1’45), Darragh Bohannan, Gavin Cooney 0-1, David Tubridy 0-3 (2fs), Keelan Sexton.
Subs: Joe McGann 1-0 for Sexton, 45; Emmet McMahon 0-1 for Bohannan, 52; Alan Sweeney for Walsh, 60; Kevin Hartnett for E Collins, 65; Aaron Griffin for Cooney, 65; Dale Masterson for Lillis, 70; Cormac Murray for O’Neill, 70.
Kildare: Mark Donnellan; Mark Dempsey, Mick O’Grady, Eoin Doyle, Kevin Flynn, Shea Ryan, Ryan Houlihan; Luke Flynn, Aaron Masterson; Alex Beirne, Neil Flynn 0-4 (2fs), Paul Cribbin, Jimmy Hyland 0-4 (1m), Kevin Feely (0-2), Darragh Kirwan 0-1.
Subs: Con Kavanagh for Ryan, h/t; Fergal Conway for Beirne, h/t; Darragh Malone for Doyle, 43; Paddy Brophy for Masterson, 55; Shane O’Sullivan 0-2 for Kirwan, 60; Brian McLoughlin for Cribbin, 70.
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)