Banner charge past shell-shocked Rossies to book last-eight place
Clare 2-12 Roscommon 1-9
Injury robbed Gordon Kelly of a chance to play in Croke Park when Clare were crowned Division 3 champions earlier this year, but the 11-year veteran is confident his side can flourish on the big stage again next weekend.
An All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry is quite the reward for Colm Collins' side after they dominated another Division 1 outfit, Roscommon, to secure their best ever run through the qualifiers.
Kelly turned 33 yesterday and for a while it seemed as if Clare's football supporters were determined to hold the celebrations on the pitch in Pearse Stadium. But they had plenty to be happy about as first-half goals from David Tubridy and Jamie Malone ensured they eased to a deserved win over Roscommon's 13 men.
It was left to Eoin Cleary to finish off the job in the second half and despite an earlier defeat to Kerry in the provincial championship, wins over Laois, Sligo and the Rossies has created a confident outfit.
"We are in the last eight in Ireland and that's great. We really hope that it encourages the young lads in the county to go down to the football pitches and start practising. They want to get on to the county senior team and that will raise the standard of Clare football again. We want this to be every year," said Kelly, who first played for Clare in 2006.
"We are very proud to be representing our county as footballers. We are just happy now that what we have been working on on the practice field is starting to pay off in the championship."
Other than Enda Smith's goal 16 minutes from time, Clare looked rock solid at the back, with full-back Kevin Harnett, Shane Hickey and Martin McMahon totally dominant against a starting pack of forwards that only managed one point from play.
The loss of Cathal O'Connor to a straight red card just after half-time threatened to upset Clare's momentum, but that barely altered the flow of the game. Instead, Séan Mullooly picked up two yellow cards in eight minutes to even up the numbers and David Murray then got his marching orders as Clare easily saw the game out.
Sitting out that league final win over Kildare was tough for Kelly, but he says the win and promotion to Division 2 has given his side the belief they can mix it with the best.
"It gave us the confidence that we could produce under pressure. We won that game by a point and it was probably the first one-point game we won under Colm Collins," said Kelly.
"It gave us the confidence that on a tough day, we can pull it out. This is fantastic and we are relishing it. But we are in the last eight, we want to get to the last four. We have had a great year but we want to keep this going.
"Of course we can win it, but the other team will be saying they can win too. It's up to whoever goes up on the day and takes it. It's game on and whoever takes it, wins it."
The autopsy has already started in Roscommon and supporters will wonder how a side that was able to beat Kerry, Cork and Donegal in the league could fail to perform in their last three championship games.
In reality, their season didn't wilt against Clare, but it was always going to be tough to recover from their abject, 11 point defeat to Galway in the provincial final replay.
"We didn't have the momentum today. That's where Clare had the upper hand. They came in on a winning streak. We came in on a really poor Connacht final and it caught up with us," said joint manager Kevin McStay. "You think it's right until the test arrives. When they bury the ball in the back of the net, there is a big, 'oh gee, here we go again'.
"You have to be able to react to that and we weren't able to react to it. We knew where we'd be when the test was put to us and as a group we weren't able to reach like we'd like to have."
Scorers - Clare: E Cleary 0-6 (2f, 1'45); D Tubridy 1-2 (1f); J Malone 1-0; D Ryan, G Brennan, S McGrath, S Malone 0-1. Roscommon: E Smith 1-1; C Murtagh 0-3 (3f); D Murtagh (1f), S Mullooly, N Kilroy (1f), D Shine (1f), C Devaney 0-1.
Clare - J Hayes 8; S Hickey 8, K Harnett 8, M McMahon 9; C O'Dea 8, G Kelly 8, D Ryan 8; G Brennan (c) 9, C O'Connor 7; J Malone 8, S Collins 8, P Lillis 8; E Cleary 9, D Tubridy 8, K Sexton 8. Subs: P Collins 7 for Tubridy (47), S McGrath 7 for Lillis (56), E Coughlan 6 for Sexton (60), S Malone for Cleary (74), P Burke for Cleary (75), D Burke for J Malone (76).
Roscommon - D O'Malley 7; S McDermott 7, S Mullooly 5, N McInerney 6; J McManus 5, N Daly 7, D Murray 5; C Compton 6, D Keenan 6; U Harney 5, N Kilroy 6, E Smith 6; C Cregg 5, D Shine 5, C Murtagh (c) 5. Subs: T Corcoran 6 for Compton (32), K Higgins 4 for Harney (h-t), C Connolly 6 for C Murtagh (h-t), D Murtagh 6 for C Cregg (42), C Devaney 6 for Higgins (46 BC), F Cregg for Shine (67).
REF - P Hughes (Armagh).