Clare got off to a winning start, when they had a facile victory over Down in Division Two of the Allianz sponsored National Hurling League at Cusack Park, Ennis yesterday.
With a new manager Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin in tow and fielding a relatively inexperienced and youthful starting fifteen, the Banner county still had way too much in the tank for a wasteful Down, who shot twenty wides over the seventy minutes — nine in the first half and eleven after the break.
Being so innacurate, Down were never going to be able to live with Clare, who despite fielding a host of newcomers, still could manage to call on the talents of five starters who collected All-Ireland U-21 medals last September.
Add in two more who were sprung from the substitutes bench as the game progressed and the Mournemen’s difficulties were compounded.
Down were eight points to no score in arrears after twenty minutes as they found it difficult to cope with the pace of the game.
Centre-forward Paul Braniff, who appeared to be the only potential danger up-front, scored their opening point in the 22nd from long range but it proved to be a drop in the ocean as they struggled to cope with a much more balanced and organised Banner outfit.
The game’s first goal came in the 31st minute, when after fielding a good clearance out of defence by half-back Domhnall O’Donovan, Clare full-forward Mark Flaherty shot to the net with a well drilled low effort.
This score deflated their opponents and by the half-time whistle the Munster men were completely in charge, leading by 1-13 to 0-4. Braniff had three of Down’s first-half scores while corner forward James Coyle grabbed the other point from play in injury-time.
Down went twenty-six minutes without raising a flag while Clare picked off scores at will.
Braniff landed a 45m free on 40 minutes and it wasn’t until four minutes before time that another Down point was recorded. This time centre-back Conor Woods found the target on a day that the Down players will want to forget.
Clare had a solid midfield in Brian and Nicky O’Connell. Cian Dillon proved tough and decisive at full back while wing back |O’Donovan and Patrick Donnellan gave the Down forward-line a difficult time throughout.
In attack Jonathon Clancy, Martin ‘Ogie’ Murphy had their moments but it was Mark Flaherty who stole the headlines, scoring a personal tally of 2-10. The full-forward grabbed the game’s second goal close to the end.
Clare: P Brennan, A Brigdale, C Dillon, B Bugler, D O’Donovan, J McInerney, P Donnellan, B O’Connell, N O’Connell, S Collins, F Lynch, J Clancy, D Honan, M Flaherty, M Murphy. Subs: J Conlon for Clancy (50), C Ryan for N O’Connell (54), D McMahon for Lynch (63), D Barrett for Collins (68).
Down: G Clarke, L Clarke, F Conway, S Ennis, C O’Prey, C Woods, M Teague, K McGarry, C Coulter, P Keith, P Braniff, B Ennis, J Coyle, G Johnston, E Clarke. Subs: J McCusker for Coyle (48), P Flynn for Teague (52), E McGuinness for Keith (56), S Conlon for E Clarke (59), M Hughes for L Clarke (65).
Referee: M Haverty (Galway)