*Diarmuid Ryan was among the central figures behind Clare’s comeback. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
It was an unusual day of hurling in Thurles at the weekend. While it is great to be able to see both quarter finals live, the GAA should revisit the idea of a double header for All-Ireland quarter finals. It creates a strange atmosphere in the ground, and it took both games until the second half to really come to life as a result.
Clare did not get going until it was almost too late. They looked a tired team, both mentally and physically from the beginning. While it had been flagged after the Munster Final, I was a little surprised at how much of an impact that game had on the lads. In the first half, Ian Galvin was the only forward who looked to be operating at a level management would be happy with. He provided dynamism in the forwards along with exceptional scores when Clare was in desperate need of it.
While Clare looked out of sorts and lacking in energy they did well to be going in at half time with the game level. Wexford had played the better hurling in the opening half but Clare were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Tony was positioned in the full forward line for the first 30 minutes and this tactic did not really work. He looked like he may have been a little hurt from the Munster Final and was not operating at 100%. He badly needed to get out the field and get on ball and Clare did find a way to make that happen in the second half by positioning him at centre forward.
Wexford played the game with three to four forwards up front. They brought numbers back and built the play from defence. They used the ball very well and even though their remaining forwards were outnumbered they were able to find pockets of space and cause trouble for the Clare backs. Too many Clare players were marking space at this point and allowing Wexford to play around them. Often times there were three and four backs who were covering while their men made hay out the field.
This would usually be okay but we did not get the same work rate from our forward line as we are accustomed to, but the lads just weren’t physically able to give that on Saturday. Wexford worked the ball to a free man in space in the middle of the park at their ease as very little pressure was applied. A decision needed to be made to push up on the Wexford players, keep no more than one covering defender and place your trust in the Clare full backline who had acquitted themselves admirably. You could see this change in effect early in the second half, from Diarmuid Ryan particularly who got up the field and got scores to put Wexford on the back foot.
Shane O’Donnell came to the fore in the second half as he picked off some nice scores and while we didn’t see the same heroics from Tony that we are used to, he made some really positive contributions from centre forward before thundering into the game in the last ten minutes. The second half sprung to life when Wexford hit Clare for two quickfire goals in the space of five minutes. Both came from long balls into the square that should have been dealt with but weren’t and all of a sudden Clare were under savage pressure being five points down with 20 minutes left.
This is where the bench played a crucial role. It was clear from early in the game that Clare would need a boost from our subs. It came primarily from Aron Shanagher, who has had a disrupted season due to injury. Aron came in and scored 1-2 and every one of them were crucial to the effort. We were boosted also by the introduction of Shane Meehan and Mark Rodgers who played key roles in getting us over the line.
The character that Clare showed in the last 20 minutes was incredible. The Wexford goals seemed to come at the wrong times for us, our free taking and shooting in general was off and there were tired bodies all over the field, however, the lads found a way to get a result and everyone in Clare should be incredibly proud of their efforts. It’s a great sign of a team to be able to eek out a result when not operating at 100% and that mental strength will stand to them in two weeks when they will face another huge battle against Kilkenny.