Clare book-ended their sixth successive Allianz League Division 2 campaign with a much-needed victory to pour further misery on already relegated hosts Down in Páirc Esler, Newry.
Having started the league brightly, Colm Collins' men entered the game off the back of three consecutive defeats but managed to halt that trend with an encouraging final round away display.
Goals at either end of the opening period through Aaron Griffin and Cian O’Dea provided the perfect buffer for an expected home backlash. However, Down’s indiscipline would ultimately rule out any hopes of a full recovery as a straight red card for full-back Finn McElroy for an off-the-ball incident at the turn of the final quarter allied to a black card for Gerard Collins proved costly.
Instead, Clare finished strongly with five points in as many minutes and overall will be pleased by having 11 different scorers as well as a morale-boosting victory ahead of their Munster Championship opener against neighbours Limerick in a month’s time.
In an open tie of 11 goal opportunities, Clare were much more efficient in front of the posts, grabbing the first goal in only the eighth minute when a Gavin Cooney interception unleashed a five-man counter-attack that ended with Aaron Griffin kicking to the net at 1-01 to 0-01.
At the other end, Clare goalkeeper Stephen Ryan made an excellent point-blank stop to deny Liam Kerr in the 27th minute, a save that would be magnified when impressive defender Cian O'Dea was on the end of another flowing move on his side’s way to a 2-05 to 0-05 interval cushion.
A black card for Down midfielder Pat Havern late in the first half also hampered the home side’s start on the turnover as Clare kicked four unanswered points to move nine clear heading into the final quarter.
Down’s frustrations would be accentuated when another Ryan one-on-one stop denied Andrew Gilmore a reprieve while McElroy’s subsequent dismissal came at just the wrong time as substitute Cory Quinn had made an immediate impact with a lifeline goal.
Indeed, unanswered frees through Gilmore (2) and Quinn would lower the arrears to just three entering the final ten minutes at 2-9 to 1-9. However, Collins’ 63rd minute black card saw the hosts reduced to just 13 men and from there, it was merely damage limitation as Clare exploited the space to score the last five points.
Down: Niall Kane (0-01, 0-01f); Tomás McInerney, Finn McElroy, Adam Lynch; Gerard Collins, Conor Poland, Anthony Morgan; Ryan McEvoy, Pat Havern (0-01); Ceilum Doherty, Liam Kerr (0-01), Ryan O’Higgins; Andrew Gilmore (0-03, 0-03fs), Barry O’Hagan (0-02, 0-01f), Jack McCartan.
Subs: Cory Quinn (1-01) for McCartan (44), Cormac O’Rawe for O’Higgins (50), Kevin McKernan for McEvoy (68).
Clare: Stephen Ryan; Conor Jordan, Ciaran Russell (0-01), Cillian Rouine; Jamie Malone, Eoghan Collins, Cian O'Dea (1-00); Daniel Walsh, Darren O’Neill (0-01); Emmet McMahon (0-01), Eoin Cleary (0-04, 0-02fs), Pearse Lillis (0-01); David Tubridy (0-02, 0-02fs), Gavin Cooney (0-01), Aaron Griffin (1-01).
Subs: Brian McNamara for McMahon (ht), Brendy Rouine (0-01, 0-01m) for Cooney (ht), Darragh McDonagh for Walsh (44, inj), Ciaran Downes for Collins (49), Joe McGann (0-01) for Griffin (69).
Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow).