By Eoin Brennan
Clare 3-26 Offaly 0-15
Clare powered to their first All-Ireland SHC victory in 21 months with a 20-point victory over Offaly in the first round of the qualifiers at Cusack Park.
Without a championship triumph since the 2013 All-Ireland Final replay, Davy Fitzgerald's side cheered up the 14,268 in attendance with a welcome morale boost as the Banner eased into the second round of the qualifiers next Saturday in Thurles.
On the flip side, Offaly were left to reflect on another poor championship run that has now seen them only claim two victories in their last 13 games since the backend of 2010.
The writing was on the wall from an early stage, however, as the home side built up a 1-05 to 0-01 advantage by the eighth minute, with the goal coming courtesy of a Conor McGrath bullet.
Offaly did finally settle somewhat, with three unanswered points through chief marksmen Shane Dooley and Shane Kinsella.
But while the Leinster side battled admirably against the conditions, Clare’s nine first-half wides masked a dominant performance from the Banner as McGrath and Tony Kelly moved through the gears to ensure a 1-13 to 0-09 interval lead.
Clare also passed up two further goal opportunities in that opening half as Shane O’Donnell was unlucky to see a pull rebound off the crossbar, while Colin Ryan’s point-blank effort was also kept out, this time by goalkeeper James Dempsey.
They would rectify that profligacy immediately on the restart as John Conlon raced through for Clare’s second goal, while only seven minutes later Tony Kelly’s sublime skill set up Shane O’Donnell for another to essentially kill off their flagging opponents.
Clare withdrew O’Donnell and Conlon with 20 minute remaining, but they still refused to take their foot off the gas as Kelly and Conor Ryan continued to pick off points at will.
Indeed, the biggest cheer of the evening came with the introduction of the returning Colm Galvin with seven minutes remaining to cap off a very satisfactory evening for the Banner.
Clare: P Kelly; D McInerney, C Dillon, S Morey; B Bugler, P O’Connor (0-01), J Browne; Conor Ryan (0-03), T Kelly (0-08, 0-02f); J Conlon (1-02), Colin Ryan (0-03, 0-02f), S Golden (0-02); D Honan (0-03), S O’Donnell (1-00), C McGrath (1-04)
Subs: A Cunningham for O’Donnell (52), D Reidy for Conlon (52), P Flanagan for Dillon (59), D O’Donovan for Browne (59), C Galvin for Honan (62)
Offaly: J Dempsey; D Shortt, N Wynne, D King; E Murphy, C Egan, G Conneely; E Nolan, D Currams; P Murphy (0-01), S Kinsella (0-04), J Bergin (0-01); S Dooley (0-06, 0-06f), J Mulrooney (0-01), B Carroll
Subs: S Cleary (0-02) for Nolan (HT), S Ryan for Conneely (41), P Camon for Shortt (51), S Wynne for Currams (57), D Mooney for Murphy (60)
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow)