Clare 1-21 Laois 0-16
Clare did enough to keep their unbeaten record in Division 1B of the Allianz Hurling League, with a hard earned eight-point win over a determined Laois side at O'Moore Park. John Conlon's first half goal was crucial, in a game where Laois pressed hard, but ultimately 14 wides proved costly, as Clare held out to ensure maximum league points. The visitors made a strong start, and raced to a 0-3 to 0-0 lead with Aaron Cunningham (0-2), Gearoid O'Connell (0-1) and Colin Ryan (0-5) on target early on.
Willie Hyland (0-3) made a memorable return for Laois, on his first league start of 2016 he started brightly, with their opening two scores, and made a solid contribution over the contest.
Hyland's early brace cut the gap to the minimum, but this was as close as the O'Moore's got, as the visitors maintained at least a three-point lead, and as much as a nine-point gap over the remainder of the tie.
Hyland, Zane Keenan (0-5), Lee Bergin and Stephen Maher kept them in touch in the first half, but Conlon's goal ensured a 1-13 to 0-9 interval lead.
Laois made the best of the third quarter, outscoring their opponents during this spell, but the switch of Colin Ryan to midfield settled the visitors in the middle third, and despite some wayward shooting they held out for an eight-point win.
Clare were handed a boost before this contest with dual player and All-Ireland winner Podge Collins making his first return to the Clare bench since 2014, although the Cratloe clubman didn’t feature.
While Fitzgerald’s side headed this game throughout, the hosts at times weren’t keen to hand out all the welcomes, and certainly made in tough for the Banner County.
Laois were eager, and launched the opening attack, with Ciaran Collier firing wide, but Clare responded with the opening three scores.
Aaron Cunningham, Gearoid O’Connell and Colin Ryan on target with a point each inside the first three minutes.
Willie Hyland was a strong force throughout, and certainly made his mark - opening the Laois account in the fourth minute, and quickly reducing the gap to the minimum with back-to-back scores.
The Laois defence was pushing back at this stage, with four defenders inside the 45 metre line, in contrast to just two forwards for Clare.
But despite this defensive approach, and some good work from the likes of Tom Delaney, who was the first player to pick up a yellow card; Clare raced 0-6 to 0-2 ahead after 15 minutes.
John Conlon and David Reidy (2) were on fire to ensure that four-point gap, with Reidy fresh from his Fitzgibbon Cup winning exploits with Mary Immaculate College one of Clare’s key players on the night.
Lee Bergin helped reduce the gap with a much required score for the hosts, bridging a 10-minute barren scoreless spell.
However, Clare fought back with two unanswered points from Conor and Colin Ryan, to leave an 0-8 to 0-3 score-line at the start of the second quarter.
Zane Keenan began to come into the game more for Laois, with a point from play from the resulting puck-out - the first of four first-half points from the Camross clubman.
Both sides were guilty of wides over the next five minutes, with the best scoring chance falling to the newly introduced PJ Scully.
The UL student headed in search of goal in the 23rd minute, but David McInerney was on hand with a well placed block.
This was a good spell from Laois with Keenan adding back-to-back points, and Clare held scoreless over a 13-minute spell.
The visitors bounced back well with a trio of unanswered points with Bobby Duggan, Colin Ryan and John Conlon on target to ensure a double-scores lead at 0-12 to 0-6 approaching injury-time.
Laois hit back well with scores from Hyland and Stephen Maher, but Clare kept motoring.
Injury-time was certainly frantic in scoring terms, with Duggan pointing a free, before Conlon showed great pace to pounce for the game’s opening goal, two minutes into additional time.
Laois had time to respond, with Keenan firing his fourth point, to ensure a 1-13 to 0-9 interval score-line.
Clare rang the changes at half-time, with many positional switches, but just one change in personnel as Colm Galvin came in for Conor Cleary, with Galvin taking a midfield role.
Frustrations began to set in from a Laois perspective, with both Hyland and Matthew Whelan picking up yellow cards early on the restart.
However, the O’Moore’s hit a bright patch, and outscored their opponents by four points to three during that spell, with quick back-to-back scores from Cha Dwyer and Scully ensuing a six-point gap with 17 minutes to go.
1-16 to 0-13 ahead, one would have expected Clare might use their experience to take control, but Laois dominated possession over the next few minutes.
Crucially for the visitors, Laois failed to score during this spell, registering two wides to bring their tally to eight for the half, and 14 overall.
Clare were struggling in the middle third, but used substitute Cathal O’Connell to great effect, moving Colin Ryan to midfield, and suddenly getting on top once more.
Quick scores from Cha Dwyer and Scully saw Laois cut the gap to six points entering the final quarter, but Clare dug in yet again, with Duggan on fire from placed balls, and scoring contributions also from Cathal ‘Tots’ O’Connell, Reidy and Aaron Cunningham in the closing 10 minutes on the way to an eight-point win.
Next up for Clare is Kerry, while Laois will be aiming for their first league points away to Limerick next Saturday.
CLARE: A Fahy; P O’Connor, C Dillon, P Flanagan; B Bugler, D McInerney, C Cleary; D Reidy (0-3), Conor Ryan (0-1); J Conlan (1-2), Colin Ryan (0-5, 1f, 1 65), B Duggan (0-6, 6f); A Cunningham (0-2), S O’Donnell, G O’Connell (0-1). Subs: C Galvin for Cleary (HT); O O'Brien for Dillon (48); C O’Connell (0-1) for G O’Connell (58); D Fitzgerald for Galvin (63); C O’Donnell for S O’Donnell (68); M Malley for Reidy (70).
LAOIS: E Rowland (0-1, 1 65); C Healy, N Foyle, J Phelan; L Bergin (0-1), M Whelan, R Mullaney; P Purcell C Collier; C Dwyer (0-2), Z Keenan (0-5, 1f), T Delaney; R King, W Hyland (0-3), S Maher (0-1). Subs: PJ Scully (0-3, 2f) for King (21); W Dunphy for Maher (58); C Stapleton for Bergin (63); J Walsh for Foyle (63).
REFEREE: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)