Fast and furious Laois bring the Banner down on Micko's storied career
Laois 3-17 Clare 0-10
The Mick O'Dwyer era looks consigned to the history books after his Clare side lost out to Justin McNulty's powerful Laois, and his probable retirement will leave a great chasm in the sport.
"It'll be a huge gap in the GAA. Micko has had some career and he can retire with dignity, whenever that time comes. Now might not even be that time," said Laois manager McNulty.
It was a shame not to see Micko exit on a high note after such a glittering career, but he refused to bring the curtain down fully on a 38-year managerial life. He always leaves the possibility.
"No, I took this on for one year only and that has ended now. That is it. I won't say any more beyond that," said the 77-year-old legend.
After a career that resurrected the game in Kildare, Laois and Wicklow, it was in some way fitting that one of his former sides got the better of him.
"We didn't play well today by any standards. The majority of them Laois fellas did some sessions under me I can tell you, and I mean they did some sessions. They came back to haunt me in the end!
"We played exceptionally well for about 25 minutes but then after that we didn't seem to have any more left in the tank. That Laois team are a big, strong team and they were very fit.
"They'll take a lot of beating in this championship. Last year they ran Dublin to three points, they look good at the moment.
"The 10 minutes either side of half-time was the killer. The first goal really crucified us. And straight after half-time they got the second goal – after that it was over. But I am proud of the team, they did their best."
Laois' ability to blow red hot and icy cold must be a huge concern for McNulty, though – this is a side that exited the Leinster championship with a flat 10-point defeat to Louth.
They recovered with a 10-point win over Carlow last week, but looked likely to choke again on Saturday with 10 early wides. Thankfully for McNulty, they found their range either side of half-time with an unanswered 2-10.
"It is always frustrating to kick wides, but on a positive note, our turnover count was very, very high," said the manager.
"Also we know we have got major improvements to make. We have got to be so much more clinical against stronger opposition, otherwise we'll be punished. And the team recognises that as well.
"I need to look at the stats and the video to see where we scored and missed from, but in the end we did kick some nice scores. But to be fair Clare kicked a few good ones as well."
Remarkably, McNulty has now led Laois to wins in their last six qualifier games. Last year's route through the back door brought them to an All-Ireland quarter-final, and if they can iron out their sporadic form in front of goal, they will be a real threat as the summer goes on.
At midfield the pairing of John O'Loughlin and Padraig Clancy dominated – O'Loughlin's goal in the 33rd minute set the tone for a blistering 20 minutes that won the game.
After leading by 1-7 to 0-6 at half-time, David Conway goaled five minutes after the restart to quench any Clare hopes.
And by the time Ross Munnelly palmed Conway's pass to the net late on, Laois had run Clare ragged and helped themselves to an impressive tally. They are one to avoid.
Scorers – Laois: R Munnelly 1-3 (2fs), J O'Loughlin, D Conway 1-1 each, D Strong 0-3, C Begley, D Kingston (1f) 0-2 each, P Clancy, K Lillis, C Meredith, E Costello (f), T Shiels (f) 0-1 each. Clare: D Tubridy 0-6 (5fs), R Donnelly 0-2, S Ryan, G Kelly 0-1 each.
Laois – E Culliton 7; P O'Leary 7, M Timmons 7, P Begley 7; D Strong 9, K Lillis 7, P McMahon 7; J O'Loughlin 8, P Clancy 8; B Sheehan 7, C Meredith 7, C Begley 8; R Munnelly 8, D Kingston 8, D Conway 7. Subs: C Kelly 7 for Kingston (46), E Costello 7 for Kelly (51), D Booth 6 for P Begley (53), C Boyle 6 for Clancy (55), T Shiels 6 for C Begley (57).
Clare – Joe Hayes 7; G Kelly 6, L Healy 6, M McMahon 6; D Callinan 6, John Hayes 6, G Kelly 7; G Quinlan 7, C O'Connor 7; S McGrath 6, I McInerney 6, A Clohessy 6; R Donnelly 7,G Brennan 8, D Tubridy 8. Subs: C Dunning 7 for Clohessy (h-t), C Dixon 6 for G Kelly (h-t), S Ryan 6 for McGrath (48), J Keane 6 for O'Connor (60), P McMahon 6 for Brennan (63).
Ref – Conor Lane (Cork).