*Jack Browne would strengthen Clare’s defence according to Darach Honan. Photograph: Martin Connolly
Fresh from being one of the few pundits in the country to correctly call a Clare victory Wexford, Darach Honan has backed the Banner to do the business in the All-Ireland quarter-finals but said greater support for Tony Kelly in attack is crucial to this.
Clare gave a defiant performance in the face of much criticism and demonstrated their tactical and skilful superiority over Wexford. There was an overreaction to what I considered a good win over Laois. Clare were criticised for not winning by more. The Clare players used this as motivation this week as they were written off versus a Wexford team which they know they are better than. Clare have consistently beaten Wexford in league and championship over the past few seasons. Despite losing Davy McInerny to suspension, Aron Shanagher and Jack Browne to injury, the Clare players knew this was a game they should win.
The opening exchanges were lively with Wexford attempting to paper over the flaws in their game with pure aggression. However, after the first water break Clare settled down and began to take over the game. They stopped the Wexford backs advancing the ball out of defence and creating overlaps. Once this fell apart for Wexford, they looked completely bereft of ideas.
Clare won this game in the second quarter, inspired by the brilliance of Tony Kelly. Tony scored five or six points in this game that would make for impressive career highlights for any other player. He is hurling with huge confidence now and looks like he can do whatever he wants to with the ball. It was a dubious call from Wexford management to place Matthew O’Hanlon as a man marker on Tony. Matthew is a good player but does not have the pace to keep with Tony. It was too easy for Tony to get free and create separation, once he had a yard of space he could score from anywhere on the field.
After shipping three goals against Laois, Eibhear Quilligan and the backs will have been keen to keep a clean sheet. Once Clare opened a significant lead at half time, a goal was needed by Wexford to change momentum and bring them back into the game. While there were some heart-stopping moments at the end, Clare did well to keep Wexford attackers at bay.
Wexford’s lack of penetration has a lot to do with how they play the game. They carry no threat inside as they sacrifice their goal threat to bring bodies back the field. From a Wexford point of view, it is a shame that the likes of Conor McDonald, who is an excellent talent, will never get a chance to shine under this system.
Credit must still be given to Clare defenders who snuffed out any danger when it did arise. Rory Hayes is becoming a really good player at corner back; he plays the game with huge energy and aggression. With experience his use of the ball will improve, and he looks an excellent corner back for Clare for years to come. Pat O’Connor coming back into the team helped to steady things also. Pat brings experience and reliability and is comfortable when on the ball.
As noted in previous articles here, it is difficult for a new management team to come in in 2020 when there has been so much disruption. However, the Clare team is starting to take shape under Brian Lohan now and they are improving game on game. This improvement will need to continue as they play Waterford this weekend.
Waterford possess a very different threat than Wexford. They have an excellent manager who has them playing an exciting brand of hurling. It is commonly accepted that Limerick are the top team in the country right now and Waterford have given them the most competitive game so far. Heading into the last water break there was nothing between the teams. However, the Waterford game plan demands huge energy and they just did not have enough to see through the full 70 minutes.
As I see it there are two areas that Clare will need to target to be victorious. Waterford start most of their attacks by carrying the ball out of defence into midfield creating an overlap. Tadhg De Búrca, Kevin Moran and Callum Lyons are particularly good at this. Clare cannot allow them to break the tackle here. If they cannot dispossess these players when running, they must not let them beat them and create an overlap. Forcing a clearance on the back foot would be a good result when these guys are in possession.
The second thing is the Waterford puckout. Limerick did a great job of putting pressure on Stephen O’Keefe’s puckouts. Limerick were dominant aerially when he went long, when he went short, they managed to intercept him three times. Clare will have to select a half-backline who will be able to attack the high ball successfully. For this reason, I would start Jack Brown and David McInerney in this line. This would free up Aidan McCarthy to move further up the field. He had a super club campaign at wing forward and I believe he would bring something different to the forwards.
This weekend represents a serious step up for Clare. It will give us a better picture of where exactly we are at and if we can mix it with top opposition. I believe Clare have what it takes to overcome this challenge, but it will not be easy. Waterford will do everything they can to stop the influence of Tony Kelly this weekend, but it is easier said than done. Tony taking the focus of the Waterford defence will give some of our other forwards a chance to step up and I think this weekend we will see a breakthrough performance from one of them.