Banner give Down fright of their lives
Down 1-13 Clare 1-12
Last year's All-Ireland finalists Down escaped in the dying seconds at Cusack Park in Ennis to prevent one of the biggest shocks since the qualifiers were initiated.
It took an injury-time point and then a clearance by a corner-forward off their goal line for Down to make it into the next round and in the process deny Clare a win that would have been right up there with their wins over Kerry in 1992 and Cork in 1997.
But what would have made this one even more special was that Clare were dead and buried with 16 minutes remaining when a Down side who were far from convincing opened up a 1-12 to 1-7 lead and had the very strong wind at their backs to see them home.
However, the Banner showed tremendous heart and took control and, even though they were outnumbered by about three to one in the stands in their own backyard, gave their faithful a rousing conclusion to their season.
Clare hit five points without reply in a gripping finish, but crucially never went ahead. And with extra-time looming, Benny Coulter went back and won a hard ball, and at the other end Paul McComiskey fisted over the lead point as the game slipped into injury-time.
But the drama did not end there. Clare rallied and when impressive sub Joe Dowling lofted in a high ball which Down goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh failed to deal with as he was challenged by Laurence Healy, the ball drifted towards the net only for Down corner-forward Conor Laverty, who had tracked his man back, scooped it clear of the line.
"I was sure it was in," said relieved Down manager James McCartan. "It could have been much closer. But we knew it would be tough here."
The creation of two early goal chances suggested that Down would encounter few difficulties but those early misses from Marty Clarke and Laverty were just a foretaste of some of the bother Down suffered in the opening half.
Clare got going thereafter. Kevin Harnett, Barry Duggan and McMahon tightened the defence and Gary Brennan and Ger Quinlan came into the game at midfield as the Banner tried to use wind advantage.
Down got on top after the restart with the wind at their backs and hit five points without reply from Caolan Mooney, Mark Poland, McComiskey and a brace from Coulter to go 1-11 to 1-5 in front. Remarkably, Down managed just two points in the remaining 26 minutes. Down had no answer once Clare ran at them and the DVD of the game will make for some unpleasant viewing as McCartan tries to get his side back on track.
But they are still in the Championship, and Clare are left to reflect on just how close they came to creating the shock of the season.
Scorers -- Down: C Laverty 1-3, P McComiskey 0-4 (2f), M Clarke (2f), B Coulter 0-2 each, C Mooney, M Poland 0-1 each. Clare: D Tubridy 0-4 (3f), T Ryan 1-0, G Quinlan, J Dowling 0-2 each, G Brennan, A Clohessy, M Tubridy, John Hayes 0-1 each.
Down: B McVeigh; A Brannigan, D Gordon, B McArdle; K McKernan, D Rooney, K Duffin; M Clarke, K King; M Poland, L Doyle, C Mooney; P McComiskey, B Coulter, C Laverty. Subs: P Murphy for King, D O'Hagan for Duffin, P Fitzpatrick for Doyle, King for Murphy.
Clare: Joe Hayes; K Hartnett, B Duggan, L Healy; M McMahon, John Hayes, M Tubridy; G Brennan, G Quinlan; A Clohessy, D Tubridy, C O'Connor; R Donnelly, T Ryan, N Browne. Subs: D Callinan for M Tubridy, M O'Shea for Donnelly, J Dowling for Ryan, M Foran for Browne, D Russell for O'Connor.
Referee: P O'Sullivan (Kerry).
Sunday Indo Sport