CLARE pushed their suspension and injury problems, and Antrim, to one side in their Guinness All-Ireland SHC qualifier at Casement Park yesterday. The Banner men travelled back south with a 3-21 to 2-15 victory, but the margin flattered the visitors.
Granted, Clare were short 10 of their team that faced Cork in the contentious Munster battle, but they were able to call on other players with championship experience.
The visitors rattled home 1-4 in the closing 13 minutes to just two points from Antrim.
Star man Niall Gilligan, operating at full-forward, came out to the '40' to collect the ball, turned and split the home defence before rifling the sliotar home.
During a fast and furious first half, Diarmuid McMahon proved a thorn in Antrim's side, with the visitors moving into a 1-13 to 1-7 lead at the break - McMahon with four points.
The teams were level four times over the opening 12 minutes with young Shane McNaughton hitting two Antrim points in quick succession to put the Saffrons 0-5 to 0-4 ahead, before Brian O'Connell squared the argument for the fourth time.
Clare then took control and a goal by Daithí O'Connell in the 19th minute, when he knocked a sideline puck from his brother Brian to the net, sent them into a commanding 1-9 to 0-6 lead. Antrim scored only one point, from Paddy McGill, in an 18-minute spell, but then hit back.
Teenager McGill knocked over another point and 19-year-old Niall McManus rifled the ball to the Clare net on 31 minutes as the visitors went in 1-13 to 1-7 ahead at the break.
Early points by McManus and Karl McKeegan (free) narrowed the gap, but Gilligan and Brian O'Connell wiped out those home points. However, Antrim let Clare know they were in a game.
In a swift upfield raid, Conor Plunkett found half-time substitute Derek Quinn inside and he snapped up Clare's second goal in the 41st minute, but Antrim hit back with a Michael Herron goal to leave the score at 2-15 to 2-9 for Clare.
Some long-range frees by McKeegan raised Antrim's hopes of a win, with McGill and Michael Herron adding other points. With 15 minutes left the home side were well in the hunt at 2-17 to 2-13.
However, Clare closed out the game, hitting 1-4 to just two points by the home side to run out 3-21 to 2-15 winners.
Scorers - Clare: N Gilligan 1-6 (3f, 1 '45'), D O'Connell 1-3, D McMahon 0-5 (1 s/l), D Quinn 1-2, B O'Connell 0-2, J McInerney, D O'Rourke, C McMahon 0-1 each. Antrim: K McKeegan 0-4 (4f), N McManus, M Herron 1-1 each, P McGill 0-3, S McNaughton 0-2, J McIntosh, P Shields, S McCrory, A Graffin 0-1 each.
Antrim: R McGarry; A Graffin, K Kelly, S Delargy; M McCambridge, J Campbell, C Herron; K McKeegan, B Herron; P McGill, N McManus, M Herron; S McNaughton, J McIntosh, P Shields. Subs: K Stewart for B Herron (41), S McCrory for McIntosh (51), B McFall for McNaughton (61).
Clare: P Brennan; G O'Grady, F Lohan; K Dileen; B Bolger, G Quinn, C Plunkett; J McInerney, B O'Connell; D O'Rourke, D McMahon, P Vaughan; D O'Connell, N Gilligan, J Clancy. Subs: D Quinn for Vaughan (h/t), D Shannon for McInerney (60), C McMahon for Clancy (67).
Referee: T Mahon (Fermanagh).