Friday 2 December 2016

'Just a step along the way to greater things' for Banner

Clare 2-17 Kildare 1-19

Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30

Clare players celebrate after winning the Allianz NFL Division 3 title against Kildare Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Clare players celebrate after winning the Allianz NFL Division 3 title against Kildare Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Martin McMahon and Pearse Lilis celebrate at the final whistle Photo: Sportsfile
Pearse Lilis, Clare, in action against Johnny Byrne, Kildare Photo: Sportsfile
Pearse Lilis, Clare, in action against Johnny Byrne, Kildare Photo: Sportsfile

Clare captain Gary Brennan epitomised the spirit which brought the Banner County a historic victory at Croke Park, but he and manager Colm Collins will not let the team rest on its laurels.

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The euphoria which gripped the players and supporters at the final whistle of a match which lasted 78 minutes had ebbed into a quiet satisfaction for Brennan as he stood in the tunnel outside the dressing-room afterwards.

"To walk up the steps as a Clare man to lift the Cup and wear the Clare jersey is very special, and I've no doubt I'll treasure that for a long time to come," he said.

"Hopefully that will be just a step along the way to greater things for Clare football."

Collins, the manager who keeps the faith in football in a county where hurling is the glamour game, intends to keep his side focused on the next challenge to come in the Championship - an away match against Limerick.

"Absolutely, nothing else matters. This day is over. It's the Limerick game now. Totally focused on that in five weeks' time," said Collins.

That statement led to a question about how much winning a Cup at Croke Park means to him.

"Well, it is nice, but promotion was the really vital part. Because it's so important to play at as high a level as you can," he explained. "I think that you can only improve then.

"That's the way you improve, by testing yourself against better players. You saw that there today, some excellent football."

Brennan deservedly won the man of the match award. From a Clare point of view, if Brennan had done nothing elese, he would have been worthy of the prize for one huge contribution: the crucial high catch under pressure on the edge of the Kildare square when all seemed lost in the last minute of normal time.

This was one for the purists: a classic launch into the air, eyes fixed on the ball, body absorbing the impact of defenders desperately trying to gain possession.

Stoppages

And then, as he fell, the precious football secure in his grasp, Brennan had the presence of mind to knock it across the goal for the inrushing Dean Ryan to palm it home.

That made it Clare 2-15, Kildare 1-18. And once referee Noel Mooney had signalled at least seven minutes' added time for previous stoppages, then all bets were off.

Time for heroes to stand up and be counted. As both managers emptied their benches, the players fought like demons for every possession.

Kildare, already down to 14 men since the 57th minute when midfielder Kevin Feely was sent off for a second yellow card offence, went behind in the 71st minute when Clare sub Enda Coughlan stroked over a point.

The Banner almost immediately were reduced to 14, when red mist descended on sub Graham Kelly who got a straight red card for a stamping offence.

In the hectic finishing period, Ryan Houlihan of Kildare was dismissed on a second yellow card just before the finish, and Clare's Martin McMahon received a black card. It was all-action, totally engrossing.

Five minutes into added time, Kildare's Neil Flynn brought his personal tally to 1-6, from a free. Level again.

Extra-time, anyone?

Just over 60 seconds later, the Clare supporters erupted in joy when Eoin Cleary kept his cool and banged over another point to edge the Munster minnows back in front.

And wouldn't you know, Kildare kept coming.

In the last minute, they got one more half-chance, a free from about 46 metres. Not an easy one. Flynn stepped up and gave it his best shot, but the ball agonisingly sailed wide of the posts.

That's sport. Heaven for one team; hell for the other.

Kildare manager Cian O'Neill took it on the chin. His team had the better of the early stages, especially when Flynn broke through to score the Lilywhites' goal in the sixth minute.

Clare, relying mainly on David Tubridy's contributions from placed balls, got back in touch, and when Tubridy rocked Kildare with a 35th-minute goal - Brennan was the provider - the Leinster team went into half-time losing by a point at 1-10 to 1-9.

"We put ourselves in a very good position early on and it's an awful shame going into half-time a point down, but we viewed it as a challenge," lamented O'Neill.

"In fairness, in the second half the lads showed a little bit of what they lacked in the second quarter of the game and it's very pleasing to see that.

"Obviously Kevin going off changed everything, but the irony is, as you often see in matches, we actually played some good football then with 14 men and had really good chances, not to kill the match, because you can never kill a match when you're a man down, but we put ourselves in a better position.

"Game management was poor, but we still came back and went up by three.

"As you saw yourselves, a goal that really is inexcusable in terms of the level we're playing at, was given away. In fairness to Clare, they pushed on from there and they were worthy winners."

Scorers - Clare: D Tubridy 1-5 (0-5fs), E Cleary 0-5 (4fs),D Ryan 1-0, J Malone, P Lillis 0-2 each, K Sexton, P Collins, E Coughlan 0-1 each. Kildare: N Flynn 1-6 (0-5fs), A Tyrrell 0-6 (4fs), E O'Flaherty, P Cribbin 0-2 each, A Smith, F Conway, T Moolick 0-1 each.
Clare - J Hayes 7; S Malone 7, D Ryan 7, K Harnett 7; S Collins 6, M McMahon 7, C O'Dea 7; G Brennan 9, C O'Connor 7; P Lillis 7, E Cleary 7, J Malone 7; K Sexton, D Tubridy 8, P Burke 7. Subs: P Collins 7 for S Malone (h-t); S McGrath 7 for P Burke (53); E Coughlan 6 for C O'Dea (56); G Kelly 6 for K Sexton (66); S Haugh for P Lillis (76); J O'Dea for M McMahon B/C 77.
Kildare - M Donnellan 7; O Lyons 7, D Hyland 6, C Fitzpatrick 6; R Houlihan 6, F Conway 7, J Byrne 6; K Feely 6, T Moolick 7; A Tyrrell 7, E O'Flaherty 6, P Cribbin 6; N Flynn 8, A Smith 5, E Callaghan 6. Subs: C McNally 5 for E Callaghan (46); K Murnaghan 6 for A Tyrrell (53); E O'Connor 5 for A Smith (57); E Powderly for C Fitzpatrick (71); D Flynn for T Moolick (74); E Bolton for F Conway (76)
Ref - N Mooney (Cavan)

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