Laois 3-16 Clare 3-13
Laois who looked out of luck in the 68th minute deservingly rallied and grabbed a sensational late goal to capture both league points and send Clare handicapped by 17 wides to yet another defeat.
The defeat of Laois by Down was unexpected and apparently cleared the road to the league final for Clare against Limerick plus a chance to atone for the early season defeat . As Clare has dissected the Mournemen 5-22 to 0-6 it was reasonable to suggest a win of some magnitude yet one suspected that Laois might have a kick without the foresight that Clare would be second rate for 40 minutes of this sparsely attended tie in O Moore park.
250 spectators were present and admittedly the same faces old and young once more were present to support Clare.
Joe Fitzpatrick lining out at wingback opened the scoring with a huge speculative effort as Laois used massive long deliveries all day to telling effect. Conor McGrath hit the Bannermen’s first score before Sean Burke raced through the Clare half back setting up Neil Foyle who in turned teed up John Brophy who blasted to the Clare net.
McGrath hit two crucial frees wide before Willie Hyland and Sean Burke struck Laois points as the home side went five clear. (1-1) from McGrath within five minutes narrowed the Clare deficit to the minimum as signs of a Clare improvement materialised. Brendan Bugler and Willie Hyland entered the referee’s notepad for tough handbagging at the end of the first quarter.
John Conlon equalised after 16 minutes as Clare collapsed for the intervening 15 minutes conceding five and scoring none. Willie Hyland (3), James Walsh and Sean Burke were on the mark as James McInerney was moved from centre back as Diarmuid McMahon was a foot wide with a goal effort in the 25th minute. A late rally before the break saw Clare outscore 3 to 1 with Nicky O Connell (2) and Diarmuid McMahon on the scoresheet as James Walsh responded to leave Laois worthy (1-9) to (1-6) ahead at the interval.
Torrential rain visited Portlaoise for the interval as an infusion of raw talking was order of the day for the Clare management. A Conor McGrath point and Darach Honan goal after Patrick Mullaney dropped the slippery ball had Clare a point clear two minutes into the second half. Willie Hyland and Nicky O Connell who was to the fore in the second half swopped scores by the 40th and indeed the duo shared four points between the 41st and 47th as Clare held onto a tenuous (2-10) to (1-12) lead.
Caimin Morey replaced Sean Collins with twenty minutes remaining. Jonathan Clancy hit wide after wide inbetween scoring Clare’s third goal in the 51st minute as Hyland bit back with two points as Clare held a (3-10) to (1-13) lead with 15 minutes left.
One could sense that even though Clare had improved Laois were still in the game and only needed a lucky break or a mini run of scores to overtake Clare once more. Joe Fitzpatrick with a repeat effort just as he managed in the first half kickstarted Laois. Owen Holohan tipped the ball to the net from within the square when Donal Touhy dropped a long delivery under pressure as Laois were now (2-14) to (3-10) ahead entering the final nine minutes. Hyland again pointed a free as soft frees awarded by the referee which will not be replicated in the championship arena sent Laois two clear.
Nicky O Connell scored a marvellous solo effort and another from a free to level matters by the 64th minute. When Fergal Lynch who had a few constructive moments in the second half popped up with a point only to be matched by Hyland again a duel to the finish was on the cards as the sides were level for the seventh occasion.
One more score emanated and it was the match winner. A high ball sent in evaded Cooney and Hyland only for Touhy who had advanced too far from goal to see it go in behind him and Clare were left reeling and angry with themselves and Laois dancing with delight.
Best for Clare who can score but concede almost immediately in every game were Pat Vaughan, Domhnall O Donovan, John Conlon when moved outfield, Nicky O Connell and Conor McGrath early on.
Willie Hyland was the star turn for the home side as any county would have him in their starting 15. He received good support from Brian Campion, Joe Fitzpatrick, Matt Whelan, Sean Burke, Ger Reddin, John Brophy and John Delaney.
Clare host Carlow in Ennis on Sunday week.
Scorers -- Laois: W Hyland 1-10 (8f), J Brophy, O Holohan 1-0 each, S Bourke, James Walsh 0-2 each, M Whelan (1f), J Fitzpatrick 0-1 each.
Clare: N O'Connell 0-7 (4f), C McGrath 1-3 (2f), D Honan, J Clancy 1-0 each, J Conlon, D McMahon, F Lynch 0-1 each.
Laois: P Mullaney; JA Delaney, B Campion, B Stapleton; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, B Galvin; James Walsh, S Bourke; B Dunne, G Reddin, W Hyland; O Holohan, N Foyle, J Brophy. Subs: E Costello for Foyle (26-32), E Costello for Dunne (39), N Costello for Bourke (59)
Clare: D Tuohy; P Vaughan, C Cooney, D O'Donovan; B Bugler, J McInerney, P O'Connor; N O'Connell, S Collins; J Conlon, F Lynch, J Clancy; C McGrath, D McMahon, D Honan. Subs: C Morey for Collins (48).
Referee: M O'Connor (Limerick)