FOOTBALL: Precious point is lost

Clare 1-12 Cavan 2-9 At Cusack Park, Ennis

Clare's Jamie Malone

A DRAW, but how it should have been so much more for a Clare side that in then end were spared an ignominious defeat when showing a bit of character in the closing minutes just as it seemed to have gone so horribly wrong.
Leading by five points at the break, then seven within two minutes of restart and still six to the good entering the last 20 minutes it looked as if Clare were well down the high road of comfortable opening round victory on their home patch.
But some hara kiri that saw the concession of 1-2 to a rejuvenated Cavan side in a lamentable two-minute spell between the 52nd and 54th minutes suddenly had them hurtling in the opposition direction — that high road to defeat, and possible league oblivion.
Everything was suddenly against them — the breeze and the momentum to start with, while the loss of Gary Brennan to a black card added to their woes before Cavan hit the front again on 65 minutes with a point from wing-back Oisin Kiernan.
But somehow, and from somewhere Clare survived these sucker punches with points by Eoin Cleary and Keelan Sexton putting them back in front before a free by Brian Magee at the death gave the visitors a share of the spoils that their valiant rally deserved.
But it shouldn’t have come to this — it was a gift from Clare who failed to show the composure when in control and while the vital facet of the game that is ball retention also let them down when it mattered most.
Indeed, the latter failing announced itself as early as the first minute of the game when they were hit for a shock goal, with a turnover ball in their own full-forward line allowing Cavan storm down the field to rattle Killian Roche’s net after just 49 seconds into his National League debut.
It was soft, with neat combination play by Dara McVeety and Conor Madden putting Caoimhin O’Reilly inside the full-back line before he lashed to the roof of the net from a tight angle to get Mattie McGleenan’s charges off to a dream start.
The reality was, however, that this was really as good as it got for the Breffni in that first half — their only score from play as Clare picked up the pieces admirably to dominate the rest of the half and turn this early goal deficit into a five-point interval lead.
They were level within six minutes after good points from play by Conor Finnucane and Keelan Sexton and an Eoin Cleary free, while they then responded to a Brian Magee free on 10 minutes with an Eimhin Courtney goal a minute later to lead for the first time.
It was a simple tap in to the empty goal for the Éire Óg man, the donkey work being done by Keelan Sexton who forced a turnover from a sloppy kickout by Raymond Galligan as Clare moved 1-3 to 1-1 clear.
From there until half-time Clare never looked back and while restricting Cavan to just a Caoimhin O’Reilly free on 16 minutes they tacked on four of their own. Cleary, Gearóid O’Brien and Finnucane landed good points from play, while Cleary also converted a close range free to push them 1-7 to 1-2 clear at the break.
Points by captain Gary Brennan via a free and a O’Brien’s second from play increased the advantage to seven after 37 minutes, while when Cathal O’Connor answered a two-point burst from sub Cian Mackey when storming through the middle for a great point it seemed as if Clare couldn’t lose.
Despite being against the breeze they were on the front foot, while the sight of Mattie McGleenan emptying his bench smacked of desperation as Clare seemed to be charting a confidence course towards two precious league points.
That it all went into meltdown was kickstarted when a poor kickout from Killian Roche coughed up a Dara McVeety goal that acted as a lifeline to kickstart their barnstorming recovery in the last 20 minutes.
With McVeety, Ciaran Brady and Magee landing points to level matters nothing other than a Cavan victory was coming down the tracks.
Kiernan’s lead point from wing-back on 66 minutes seemed to confirm this, but at least Clare avoided that disaster when raiding for inspirational points through Cleary and Sexton before the Breffni’s last-gasp equaliser.
A point gained and a point lost, depending on your perspective.
You know what the perspective was in the Clare corner.

Photo: Clare’s Jamie Malone in action against Cavan. Natasha Barton

For complete analysis, opinion and player ratings from Clare’s NFL opener see Tuesday’s Clare People.


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