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Battling Dubs are foiled by banner

Dublin's dreams of a first All-Ireland appearance since 1983 were cruelly quashed as Clare booked a final spot against Killkenny next month with a narrow one-point win in an absorbing encounter at Croke Park yesterday.

There was to be no fairytale comeback for Dublin's captain Robert Hardy, who recently returned to the panel after a four month injury lay-off, as his driving shot in added time sailed narrowly over the bar. But there could be little argument that the better side prevailed as Clare's ability to respond to the concession of Dublin's two goals was crucial to their merited win.

Second-half strikes from Emmet Ó Conghaile and the lively Cormac Costello looked to have breathed new life into Dublin's flagging challenge but, on each occasion, the Banner upped their game, scoring two and three points respectively, to quell any potential Dublin resurgence and stifled any momentum these goals could have generated.

That Dublin started slowly was of little surprise considering the difficulties they'd experienced in the campaign to date -- their problems in midfield were cruelly exposed once again as their sharper opponents dominated possession and territory, with Dublin's midfield pairing of Darren Kelly and Brian McCarthy switched and subsequently replaced.

Clare, for all their superiority in the opening exchanges, only led by four points at the end of the first quarter, David O'Halloran, Niall Arthur, Tony Kelly and Daire Keane all contributed points but they were increasingly undermined by a series of poor wides as the half progressed.

Clare's forwards also had to contend with a Dublin rearguard that generally performed their defensive duties with aplomb and both corner backs, Conor Murphy and Seán McClelland, equipped themselves well, especially when under constant pressure in the first half.

Dublin, on the other hand, despite the poverty of possession, were far more economical with the limited scoring opportunities presented to them, registering just four wides over the hour, and a Dean Flood free on 16 minutes finally opened their account.

Clare continued to enjoy a monopoly on possession and they were at their breathtaking best in a three-minute spell soon after as a point from imperious midfielder Kelly and two sublime scores from Arthur preceded the first genuine goal chance of the game.

It arrived in the 18th minute as a well-worked move found Keane unmarked in front of goal, but Eamonn Dillon rushed bravely off his line to deflect Keane's goalbound shot over the bar.

That save seemed to have a galvanising effect on the Dubs as they hit four successive points through Ó Conghaile, Ciarán Kilkenny, Glenn Whelan and Flood, with them finally winning their fair share of breaking ball around the middle third.

Jamie Shanahan responded for Clare but, with the momentum firmly in Dublin's favour, they finished the half on a high as Kilkenny and Costello tagged on points to reduce their deficit to just two points (0-9 to 0-7) at the interval.

Dublin's lethargy upon the resumption mirrored that of the opening half, Arthur landed two frees and Dillon proved his prowess between the sticks once again with a fine save from Malone on 32 minutes -- although the wing-forward soon made amends with a point three minutes later to leave five points between the sides.

With the contest slowly and inexorably ebbing in Clare's favour, Dublin were gifted a lifeline on 36 minutes when Ó Conghaile swept to the net from close range after the Banner's goalkeeper Ronan Taaffe had failed to deal with a Costello sideline.

That Dublin failed to build on this much-needed shot in the arm will be one of many regrets for manager John Murphy, with Clare pushing themselves four points clear thanks to a Colm Galvin point and another Arthur free.



Thorn

Arthur continued to prove a thorn in Dublin's side with another glorious point from play on 42 minutes but, with the exchanges in midfield far more even, the Dubs remained in contention, Kilkenny and Flood popped over crucial scores to keep their deficit at a manageable level.

However, Clare were finding their scores easier to get, substitute Aaron Cunningham played an inspired cameo in the 48th minute with two sumptuous scores just three minutes after his introduction. But with the game seemingly slipping from their grasp, Dublin struck a second goal on 53 minutes when Costello found space to break onto Robert Hardy's lengthy delivery -- and his snapshot from 12 metres wrong-footed Taaffe at his near post.

Back came the Banner as Keane, Paudge Collins and Arthur restored a sense of calm to their play with a blistering three-point spell in two minutes.

Frees from Flood and John Hetherton brought Dublin to within two points with injury-time petering out but they mustered up one final attempt and, with the final puck of the game, Hardy's speculative drive from 30 metres inched agonisingly over Taaffe's crossbar as Clare held on by the bare minimum at the death.