Clare's flying start puts early end to Offaly
Clare 3-26 Offaly 0-15
Davy Fitzgerald will hope this is the start of another qualifier run like their 2013 assault on the championship, but stiffer tests certainly await after this easy win over a feeble Offaly.
Brian Whelehan's troops had no answer to the fluidity of the Clare forwards and once John Conlon goaled for the Banner after three second-half minutes, there was little doubt about the outcome.
On the back of a forgettable eight-point defeat to Laois in the Leinster championship, this loss is another hammer blow to Whelehan's tenure as Faithful boss, but their greatest ever hurler probably deserves another season as manager.
Much of the focus ahead of this game was on Colm Galvin, who returned to the Clare panel after a three-month sabbatical in America. Fitzgerald resisted throwing him straight back into the starting team - he only appeared seven minutes from time - but having Galvin and the experienced Brendan Bugler back in the squad was a real boost to the Banner boss.
It seemed as if Clare were in a massive rush to get this game over and done with, and before the first minute had ticked by Darach Honan and Tony Kelly had pointed to put them 0-2 ahead.
Offaly started a little tentatively, but Paddy Murphy's second-minute point following a booming clearance from James Dempsey got them on the board.
The first half's crucial score came in the seventh minute and Honan was centrally involved as he fielded a long delivery into the full-forward line. He laid possession off to McGrath and the corner-forward buried his shot past the desperate attempts of Dempsey.
But instead of pushing on further Clare seemed to retreat into their shells as Offaly began to settle. Shane Dooley was their scorer in chief with four first-half frees, and he pulled the gap back to six points with his first in the tenth minute. He added a second a minute later and Shane Kinsella made it three in a row for Offaly two minutes later to leave it 1-5 to 0-4.
Kelly didn't stay long in his selected centre-forward berth before he swapped out to midfield and with the increased freedom of the position he showed his full range of skills. His point in the 20th minute, which arrived soon after Shane Golden's well-worked score, stretched their lead to six points once more.
Dempsey pulled off a stunning save to deny Shane O'Donnell and five minutes before the interval the Offaly keeper denied Colin Ryan with another instinctive stop.
Clare were full value for their 1-13 to 0-9 half-time lead, though, but the nine wides meant it should have been a more comfortable cushion.
Substitute Seán Cleary made an immediate impact for Offaly with a score in the first minute after the break, but Clare soon quenched any hope of a comeback when Conlon raced on to Patrick Kelly's puck-out and goaled in the 37th minute.
The win was all but secured with Conlon's goal, but Clare learned from their first-half lethargy and continued to pressurise the Offaly rearguard. Conor Ryan hit a point from the right wing in the 39th minute and less than 60 seconds later he slotted another to leave Clare with a 2-15 to 0-10 lead.
But Kelly had the final say. He drilled over a point in the 41st minute before his wonderful solo run and flick over a defender set O'Donnell up and he rattled a ground stroke past the helpless Dempsey.
Scorers - Clare: T Kelly 0-8 (2f), C McGrath 1-4, J Conlon 1-2, Colin Ryan (2f) Conor Ryan, D Honan 0-3, S O'Donnell 1-0, S Golden 0-2, P O'Connor 0-1. Offaly: S Dooley 0-6 (6f), S Kinsella 0-4, S Cleary 0-2, P Murphy, J Mulrooney, J Bergin 0-1.
Clare: P Kelly; D McInerney, C Dillon, S Morey; B Bugler, Conor Ryan, J Browne; P O'Connor, T Kelly; J Conlon, Colin Ryan, S Golden; C McGrath, S O'Donnell, D Honan. Subs: D Reidy for Conlon (53), A Cunningham for O'Donnell (53), P Flanagan for Dillon (59), D O'Donovan for Browne (60), C Galvin for Honan (63).
Offaly: J Dempsey; D Shortt, N Wynne, D King; E Murphy, C Egan, G Conneely; E Nolan, J Mulrooney; P Murphy, D Currams, J Bergin; B Carroll, S Kinsella, S Dooley.Subs: S Cleary for Nolan (35), S Ryan for Conneely (41), P Camon for Shortt (51), S Wynne for Currams (58), D Mooney for E Murphy (62), C Kiely for Egan (68).
Referee: J Keenan (Wicklow)
Sunday Indo Sport