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font size=6 color=red>Clare hurlers escape with draw

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Mark Jones

Clare 1-13, Offaly 1-13

Clare were within seconds of losing their title as Offaly confounded the critics in an engrossing All-Ireland hurling semifinal at Croke Park last Sunday. Following Jamesie O’Connor’s perfectly struck free, which tied the game just before the last whistle, the teams will now have to do it all again on Saturday, Aug. 22.

It had been a roller-coaster week for Clare, which in the end produced one of their flatter performances of the season. In the aftermath of several off-the-ball incidents in the Munster final win over Waterford, their manager, Ger Loughnane, had accused both the media and the Munster Council of a witch hunt against his players.

In an extraordinary outburst on Clare FM radio, he said criticism of the Clare players’ attitude had portrayed them as “criminals almost.” As the Munster Council prepared to ban Colin Lynch for dangerous use of the hurley in the Munster final, Clare were going to the High Court in a failed attempt to get an injunction against the Council.

In the end, Lynch was given a three-month suspension which will see him miss the All-Ireland decider should Clare win through and the fiery Loughnane had more to say on the subject after last Sunday’s draw.

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“The Munster Council does not dispense justice equally,” he said. “Colin Lynch nominated two people to represent him at the hearing and they were locked outside the door.

“There is an abuse of human rights going on within the GAA, where everybody should have the right to represent themselves or be defended. I never want to hear anybody talking again about abuse of human rights in other countries.”

If the Loughnane’s passionate defense of his team and the controversy over Lynch’s lengthy ban was supposed to, in some way, galvanize Clare, neither worked. They were lucky to get a second chance as Offaly offered a skillful and stubborn challenge.

With the resignation of Babs Keating as manager and strife in their own camp, Offaly had been largely written off before the game, but they came close to the shock result of the season.

Clare were flattered by a 4-point lead with 8 minutes remaining after substitute Fergie Tuohy had contributed what looked like a match-winning goal and a point. However, Offaly were far from finished.

Johnny Pilkington batted home a goal when Clare keeper David Fitzgerald could only deflect a Johnny Dooley free and then a Dooley free, followed by a marvelous solo point by Pilkington, left Offaly close to a major upset.

But Clare kept their nerve and O’Connor’s late free gave the champions a reprieve as referee Jimmy Cooney surprisingly failed to add on at least a minute and a half of injury time.

If Offaly were frustrated by the outcome, this performance was a triumph for new manager Michael Bond. “I’m very disappointed, I think we should have won,” Bond said. “A whole lot of people wrote us off, but I think we were the better team on the day.”

Offaly’s defense, in which Brian Whelehan, Simon Whelehan and Kevin Kinahan were outstanding, kept the Clare forwards on a tight leash, and the Leinster side deservedly led by 0-7 to 0-5 at the break. The champions’ cause was not helped when Whelehan brilliantly saved a penalty from Fitzgerald and earlier O’Connor’s rash goal attempt from a 21-yard free had also been blocked.

There wasn’t too much change in the pattern after the break as Seanie McMahon’s superb defense and Ollie Baker’s appetite at midfield kept Clare in the hunt as their forward line continued to struggle. It was close until Tuohy slipped in behind the Offaly rearguard for the game’s first goal and when the same player whipped over a point, Clare appeared to have saved the day.

However, Offaly showed more determination than at anytime during their disappointing Leinster campaign and no one was begrudging them a replay.

Meanwhile, in the Cork edged out Wexford in the minor semifinal by 0-12 to 0-10.

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