By Michael O Connor.
Ciaran Curley opened the scoring for the home side after four minutes before Derek McNicholas gave Westmeath a two point lead with six minutes elapsed.
Clare had three wides on the board before Nicky O Connell finally broke the Clare scoring drought with a long range free from his own 45 yard line. John Conlon with a well taken brace of scores in the 11th and 12th minutes sent Clare ahead by the minimum. A small fracas developed that ended with Ciaran Curley, Joe Clarke and Pat Donnellan entering Gareth Duffy’s notepad. A hat trick of frees in the 13th, 15th and 16th minutes by Colin Ryan had Clare four clear at the end of the first quarter.
Darach Honan stretched this to five with a well taken effort and this was added to by Cratloe’s Cathal McInerney just after Derek McNicholas was on target for Westmeath’s third score. A huge moment that could have ended the game as a contest failed to go Clare’s way in the 22nd minute as Darach Honan capitalised on a Westmeath error but his goal shot after racing through the centre was inches wide of Pat Burke’s left post.
This let off appeared to reignite the challenge of the lake county and they reeled off four scores in nine minutes as Clare hit three wides. Charles Flanagan, Andrew Mitchell, Brian Smyth and Brendan Murtagh were the Westmeath sharpshooters by the 31st minute. Clare introduced Caimin Morey for Cathal McInerney who has Under 21 football action on Wednesday night as Pat O Connor replaced the out of sorts Pat Donnellan with McInerney moving to wing back and John Conlon out to centrefield.
Within seconds the game appeared to be over as a contest as firstly Colin Ryan pointed from play and in the next attack Darach Honan goaled from 14 yards under pressure. A kicked point from Pat O Connor and a first score from Fergal Lynch after only two minutes of the second half had Clare seven clear 1-13 to 1-9. However a free given away by Clare was blasted to the net by Brendan Murtagh and he quickly added another point from a free to leave just a goal between the sides after 42 minutes.
The following four points settled the Clare nerve as Honan, O Connell and Ryan (2) had the visitors back to a seven point advantage after 48 minutes. Brian Smyth responded with a well taken score but the advantage of most certainly going the way of Clare. Yet without reason Clare allowed space to Westmeath and it must be noted that both sides when in the ascendancy hit wides when scores seemed easy to obtain. Seven points materialised between the 48th and 62nd minutes. Caimin Morey who found space in front of the Westmeath square spread the ball around and set up a number of scores as did John Conlon when moved outfield at the start of the centre field. Honan, Morey and a Derek McNicholas sideline score after 68 minutes left Clare (1-24) to (1-17) clear. Ten points was the difference as the game trundled into an amazing five minutes of unwarranted injury as Clancy, Honan and Lynch were on target. The final score of the game was a goal from McNicholas who flicked a high delivery from Andrew Mitchell to the Clare net.
For those Clare hurling followers of long suffering the solace from this game is that Clare scored well with Honan showing more signs of improvement along with Conlon and Ryan also contributing well. The downside is a suspect defence that does not look comfortable under sustained pressure.
Best for Clare were Cian Dillon, Pat Vaughan, Jonathan Clancy, John Conlon, Darach Honan, Colin Ryan and Caimin Morey. Westmeath have players of real quality that would be welcome in the Clare dressingroom namely Andrew Mitchell, Brendan Murtagh, Eoin Price and Derek McNicholas.
CLARE; Donal Touhy, Pat Vaughan, Conor Cooney, Domhnall O Donovan, Brendan Bugler, Cian Dillon, Pat Donnellan, Nicky O Connell (0-3), James McInerney, Jonathan Clancy (0-2), John Conlon (0-3), Fergal Lynch (0-2), Darach Honan (1-4), Cathal McInerney (0-1), Colin Ryan (0-9). Subs: Caimin Morey (0-2) for McInerney, Pat O Connor (0-1) for Donnellan, Sean Collins of O Connell,
WESTMEATH: Pat Burke, Ronan Whelan, Paul Greville, Eoin Price (0-1), Philip Gilsenan, Andrew Mitchell (0-1), John Shaw (0-1), Joe Clarke, Niall Flanagan, Brian Smyth (0-2), Brendan Murtagh (1-4), Chris Flanagan (0-1), Ciaran Curley (0-1), Derek McNicholas (1-5), Dan Carthy. Sub: Alan Devine (0-1) for Dan Carthy, Alan McGrath for Curley
Referee: Garrett Duffy (Antrim).