Clare footballers reach All-Ireland quarter-finals at Roscommon’s expense, again

Despite a poor first half showing Roscommon led by five points in the closing stages at Croke Park

Clare 2-15 Roscommon 1-17

A touch of deja vu as Clare overcame Roscommon in a final round qualifier to take their place in the All-Ireland football quarter-finals. Back in 2016, it was also at Roscommon’s expense that Clare reached the last eight for the very first time and the Banner county — and Jamie Malone in particular — came back to haunt the Connacht side.

Former All-Star nominee Malone struck a goal in that win in 2016 and while he only managed a point this time, what a point it was. His 75th minute score capped a quite incredible comeback from Clare, who’d trailed by five points with 68 minutes on the clock, and propelled his side through to Monday morning’s All-Ireland quarter-final draw.

They will face a provincial winner — Kerry, Dublin, Galway or Derry — and as jubilant manager Colm Collins noted afterwards: “I don’t think there’s any team that’s unbeatable”.

After a broader analysis of this game, Collins will probably conclude that they were mightily fortunate to escape with a rare Championship win at Croke Park.

Sure, Clare played beautifully for most of the first-half and were superbly led by man of the match Keelan Sexton who struck 2-6 in total. They got their matchups spot on too, Pearse Lillis taking care of Enda Smith and Manus Doherty doing the needful on Conor Cox. Cathal O’Connor was excellent at midfield.

At one stage in the first-half, they even led by 1-10 to 1-6 with Sexton’s first goal, after 19 minutes, cancelling out Diarmuid Murtagh’s earlier major for Roscommon.

But when Division 2 champions Roscommon reeled off rapid fire points from Murtagh and Niall Kilroy to close out the first-half, sending them in just 1-8 to 1-10 down, they wrestled away vital momentum.

Roscommon rode that wave right throughout the second-half and, in all, outscored a suddenly stunned Clare by 0-11 to 0-2 from late in the first-half until the 68th minute.

Roscommon got a strong kick from the bench with Richard Hughes, Donie Smith and Keith Doyle contributing 0-4 between them and leading the team to the brink of victory.

Ronan Daly struck two great points for the Rossies too but just as the victory line came within sight, Clare came up on their shoulders and performed a high speed overtaking manoeuvre.

In the space of just seven minutes, Clare reeled off 1-3 without response, Sexton’s second goal from a 70th minute penalty following Daly’s foul on substitute Gavin Cooney was the moment that Clare knew a win was possible.

Sexton followed up with the levelling point in the 72nd minute before Malone pounced for that dramatic winner.

“It looked like we were in real trouble but they showed great spirit,” said Clare manager Collins, who played down what could be the biggest win of his nine seasons in charge.

“Looks, it’s just a victory and one match, that’s all. We’ve an All-Ireland quarter-final now and it’s very important that we focus on that and get the most we can out of it.”

CLARE: T O’Callaghan; C Rouine (0-1), M Doherty, C O’Dea; A Sweeney, C Russell, J Malone (0-1); D O’Neill, C O’Connor (0-2); P Collins (0-1), E Cleary (0-2 frees), E McMahon (0-2); P Lillis, K Sexton (2-6, five frees, 1-0 pen), A Griffin.

Subs: B Rouine for Sweeney (52 mins), D Tubridy for Griffin (54), G Cooney for Collins (61), C Jordan for McMahon (66).

ROSCOMMON: C Lavin; D Murray, B Stack, C Daly (0-1); C Hussey, R Daly (0-2), N Daly; U Harney, E Nolan; N Kilroy (0-1), C Murtagh (0-5, one free), E Smith; D Murtagh (1-2, two frees), C Cox (0-1 free), C McKeon (0-1).

Subs: R Hughes (0-1) for Hussey (42 mins), D Smith (0-2, one free) for Cox (47), K Doyle (0-1) for Kilroy (58), A Glennon for D Murtagh (64), E McCormack for McKeon (68).

Referee: N Cullen (Fermanagh)