By Mike Fitzpatrick
Offaly 3-5, Clare 1-11
Neither side will be pleased that the result of this senior hurling clash was a draw, particularly Clare, which held an 8-point lead going into the break.
Both sides desperately needed a win to keep the pressure on Tipperary, Limerick and the Cats of Kilkenny.
Offaly, having clinched the junior crown last year, has found the going quite tough in the senior level, having been trounced by Tipperary a couple of weeks back in their first senior hurling tie.
And though Clare put up stamina-filled performances in their previous two ties this season, the side have finished up on the losing side twice so far.
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Clare began this game in an attacking mode, with John Kennedy having a brilliant game in midfield, hitting a couple of early efforts over the bar. And with no reply from Offaly, the result was clearly in the hands of Clare.
Dave Reynolds hit a brace of efforts over the Clare bar to give the scoreline a little respectability, but a goal from Barney Breen, and more points from Kennedy, Sean Harvey and Darren Doherty, suggested that Offaly were on course for yet another defeat.
Going into the interval leading by a score of 1-7 to 0-2, the understrength Offaly side were looking defeat squarely in the face.
Sean Guinan clearly gave his side an inspiring pep talk at halftime, for the Offaly side that emerged from the break seemed flowing in creativity and rampant in front of goal.
Brendan Coughlan hit two goals for Guinan’s men to bring his side storming back into the fray, and points from Reynolds and Colm Scanlon brought an air of equality to the tie.
Kennedy continued his good form for the Bannermen, however, registering another couple of points for his team, but the second half was clearly devoted to an Offaly resurgence.
Coughlan continued to run the Clare backline ragged, almost hitting a hat trick only for a fine save from on-form goalie Paul Donovan between the Clare posts.
Clare: Paul Donovan, Tony Byrne, Noel McGovern, Marty McGlade, Seamus Pender, Bryan Adams, John Kennedy (0-8), Sean Harvey (0-1), Donal Moore, Darren Docherty (0-2), Eddie Flynn, Barney Breen (1-0). Sub: Donal McGeohan.
Offaly: Jim Miller, John Hyland, Sean Nolan, John Hanlon, Pat Leavy, Trevor Willis, Kevin Dunne, Sean Donoghue (1-0), Dave Reynolds (0-4), Colm Scanlon (0-1), Martin Murray, Brendan Coughlan (2-0), Paddy Hogan.