By Michael O Connor.
Win number three and full points in the League. As ordered by the management and achieved. Two more wins and a league semi final spot awaits. That would be progress without question despite issues relating to the pattern of play and central positions that may yet need tinkering with before the possible league final.
Back to the scene of the disaster of 2011 when the rot set in as Laois shocked the Banner men with a 3-16 to 3-13 win to secure a famous win for the first time in 37 years over Clare. No more than 150 people were at most sitting when the ball was thrown in by Eamonn Hasson and the usual Clare supporters were in place to see what transpired to be quite a lifeless encounter.
The opening score came from James McInerney loosing possession to Michael McEvoy who pointed after 30 seconds. John Brophy and Matt Whelan set the alarm bells ringing with points from play with just three minutes played as Clare found themselves three points in arrears. John Conlon who had a busy opening quarter help settle the nerves by setting up Sean Collins for the Clare goal with a deft hand pass to level matters.
Clare were playing Conlon and Ryan as a two man full forward line. Laois hit three wides in a four minute spell before a series of passes found the unmarked Clare captain Pat Donnellan who put Clare ahead after eight minutes. The threat posed by the home side appeared to dilute as Clare began to find their feet in Portlaoise. Caimin Morey scored his first effort for a score from 50 yards after a handpass from Fergal Lynch as Colin Ryan got on the scoreboard after 14 minutes as Clare were now three clear and looking comfortable. John Conlon who was involved in all Clare scores hit the post with Ryan hitting the rebound off the other post as Laois were living on their wits.
Conlon (2), Clancy and Ryan (2 frees) stretched the Clare advantage to seven scores (1-8) to (0-4) with 22 minutes played as Willie Hyland managed a solitary converted free in response to this Clare scoring spree. Once again even with Clare on top there was a certain unease when Clare when in possession of the ball in the rearguard as they often cleared it poorly. The biggest cheer of the first half was reserved for Neil Foyle who gained the ball 25 yards out and with ease turned Cian Dillon and Enda Barrett before expertly hitting the ball low past Patrick Kelly in the 27th minute. Willie Hyland punished a foul by James McInerney with a converted free as Clare were now only three clear after 31 minutes.
McInerney made up for his error with a fine score from a solo effort as Conlon added his third point of the first half and Donnellan with a long range effort was also on target as gradually Clare were rebuilding the lead they had surrendered. A smart piece of skill by Willie Hyland resulted in the Laois star rounding off the first half scoring as Clare went in (1-11) to (1-6) ahead. Eight of the side that lost to Laois in 2011 were in action once more namely Fergal Lynch, Brendan Bugler, James McInerney, Nicky O Connell, John Conlon, Jonathan Clancy, Sean Collins and Conor Cooney as Pat O Connor (illness) and Conor McGrath (injury) precluded them from playing this seasons renewal.
Man of the match John Conlon goaled after a darting run from the corner flag unhindered even though Colin Ryan did accidentally body check Brian Stapleton to aid Conlon. Just before this match turning score Pat Donnellan once more from 60 yards was on the mark and now Clare were (2-12) to (1-6) clear in the 39th minute. Clare, now in cruise control began to once more over elaborate and lose a number of sure scores in a ten minute spell. Sean Collins, with his first and only point outside of the gaol traded points with Neil Foyle as Caimin Morey and Fergal Lynch were having a quiet afternoon in the forward ranks. Neil Foyle and Willie Hyland showed good pieces of ingenuity with two points in the 41st minute before Jonathan Clancy and Ryan hit back with another brace of scores to negate the Laois revival.
Neil Foyle who was giving Cian Dillon trouble once more won the ball and set up Stephen Maher who was half hooked with the goal at his mercy in a let off for Clare. Nicky O Connell hit another Clare wide just after Willie Hyland once more pointed a free as Laois without ever threatening Clare were popping away the scores as Clare were (2-15) to (1-9) ahead in the 47th minute. James Walshe with a bit of work to do hit a minor for Laois as Conor Cooney’s outstretched hurl saved a sure goal shot by Laois by intercepting a handpass that ended with Daire Keane who had just been introduced for Fergal Lynch popped the ball over the bar after good work by Colin Ryan.
The high ratio of scores continued unabated as the game had the same intensity as a worthwhile challenge game with no hard hits witnessed as Stephen Maher for the home side and Ryan, McInerney as well as O Connell (free) kept Clare 11 points clear with ten minutes of normal time to enact. Once more Neil Foyle caused untold trouble for Clare and helped Dayne Peacock to win a penalty that Willie Hyland blasted the ball past Patrick Kelly. This did not unduly trouble Clare yet the worry that Laois had caused issues for the full back line as Clare finished the better with a late salvo of scores from Daire Keane (2) and Pat Donnellan as Chris Murray and Willie Hyland responded for the Laois men. When Eamonn Hasson ended the game Clare had maintained their 100% record before the visit of Wexford to Cusack Park. A win against the Slaneysiders will confirm Clare’s spot in the 1B final and success in that game grants a NHL semi final spot and real Div 1 hurling in 2013. Who says pressure is only in championship?
Best for Clare were Pat Donnellan, John Conlon, Colin Ryan, Daire Keane, Brendan Bugler in patches, Nicky O Connell, Sean Collins and Jonathan Clancy. Laois started well and finished well but fell apart when Clare through Ryan and Conlon hitting 1-9 as Conlon received no protection at all in the first half when he was clearly manhandled at least four times. Laois had solid displays from their star man Willie Hyland, Matthew Whelan, Eoin Reilly, Michael McEvoy early on, the impressive Neil Foyle who retired injured, Joe Fitzpatrick and Stephen Maher late on.
CLARE: Patrick Kelly, Eamon Glynn, Cian Dillon, Conor Cooney, Brendan Bugler, James McInerney (0-2), Enda Barrett, Nicky O Connell (0-1), Pat Donnellan (0-4), John Conlon(1-4), Fergal Lynch, Caimin Morey (0-1), Colin Ryan (0-5), Jonathan Clancy (0-2). Subs: Daire Keane (0-3) for Lynch, Liam Markham for Morey, Patrick Kelly for Barrett, Eoin Hayes for Clancy
LAOIS: Eoin Reilly, Paddy Mullaney, Darren Maher, Brian Stapleton, Conor Dunne, Joe Fitzpatrick, Matthew Whelan (0-1), James Walsh (0-1), Brian Dunne, Willie Dunphy, Michael McEvoy (0-1), Willie Hyland (1-6), John Brophy (0-1), Neil Foyle (1-1), Stephen Maher (0-1). Subs: David O Mahony for W Dunphy, Sean Burke for B Dunne, Dayne Peacock for Brophy, Chris Murray (0-1) for Foyle
Referee: Eamonn Hasson (Derry)