Clare 0-13 Louth 1-9
The wafer-thin line between success and failure in an ultra-competitive Division Two were epitomised by this dramatic opening crescendo as Clare kicked four injury-time points to snatch a last-gasp victory over Louth in Cusack Park, Ennis on Sunday afternoon.
Having proven the more efficient side over the 70 minutes, the Division Three champions appeared set for their seventh consecutive National League win when a late Ciarán Downey goal was bolstered by Sam Mulroy’s fifth point to soar 1-9 to 0-9 clear by the 68th minute.
Despite the frustration of 10 second-half wides, Clare never panicked though as Emmet McMahon and substitutes Gavin Cooney and Daniel Walsh regained full parity by the allotted six minutes of additional time before Jamie Malone arrowed over a rousing winner from the restart.
All the pre-match build-up had been on the Colm Collins and Mickey Harte’s management experience and longevity at intercounty level. And for long periods, the magnitude of the result in terms of a pivotal running start in Division Two was reflected in a cagey low-scoring duel.
However, the compelling finale would make up for any previous prudence as the lead switched hands three times, while the sides would be locked together as many times.
The result was unquestionably a welcome tonic for a profligate home side that passed up 17 scoring chances over the 80-plus minutes and equally a bitter pill to swallow for a Louth side that arguably should have capitalised fully.
With the wind at their backs, the Division Two newcomers settled perfectly with the first four points through braces for talisman Mulroy and midfielder Conor Early by the 23rd minute, and despite a black card for Liam Jackson and a serious leg injury for Ciarán Byrne.
Clare had found it difficult to hone their radar but made up for lost time in the 25th minute when Eoin Cleary’s opening free was accentuated by a well-worked point through Keelan Sexton from an intercepted kick-out.
Sexton would grab a second point to lower the gap to the minimum by the 32nd minute, only for a late brace from Mulroy to repair the damage for Louth by the break at 0-6 to 0-3.
The wind-assisted hosts stormed into the new half but despite eventually levelling up proceedings for the first time by the 48th minute thanks to frees from McMahon (two) and captain Cleary, their mounting wide count ensured that the Banner failed to edge in front.
Instead, Louth seized upon the opportunity to retake the lead through Daire McConnon and Dermot Campbell at 0-8 to 0-6 at the start of the final quarter.
Fresh legs from the bench sharpened Clare’s focus as Ennis pair Mark McInerney and Gavin Cooney reeled in the visitors before Malone got in on the scoring action to give the hosts the lead for the very first time by the 66th minute.
Louth’s response would be both immediate and devastating as Conor Grimes benefited from a break from the resulting kick-out before teeing up Downey for the game’s only goal. However, despite the bleak outlook, a defiant Clare still refused to yield and would somehow unearth a four-point backlash to floor their Leinster opponents and get their seventh consecutive Division Two campaign off to the perfect start.
CLARE: D Sexton; R Lanigan, C Brennan, M Doherty; J Malone (0-2), C O’Dea, A Sweeney; C O’Connor, D O’Neill; E McMahon (0-3, two frees), P Lillis, D Coughlan; K Sexton (0-2), E Cleary (0-2, two frees), P Collins.
Subs: M McInerney (0-1, a 45) for Sexton (33 mins, inj), C Downes for Coughlan (47), D Bohannon for O’Connor (51), D Walsh (0-1) for Sweeney (54), G Cooney (0-2, one mark) for Collins (62).
LOUTH: D Byrne; D Corcoran, P Lynch, D Campbell (0-1); L Grey, D McKenny, C Murphy; C Early (0-2), C Byrne; C McKeever, C Grimes, L Jackson; D McConnon (0-1, free), S Mulroy (0-5, three frees), C Downey (1-0).
Subs: T Durnin for C Byrne (12 mins, inj), N Sharkey for Lynch (38), A Connor for McKenny (45), T Jackson for McKeever (47), C Lennon for L Jackson (both 47), R Burns for Durnin (68, inj).
Referee: S Lonergan (Tipperary).