A fixture written in the stars, Darach Honan looks ahead to the knockout clash between Clare and Wexford this weekend.
This fixture seems as though it was written in the stars since the start of the season. These two counties hit national headlines after their league clash earlier in the year, when two Clare hurlers were nominated as close contacts.
It was generally accepted that Wexford had behaved poorly, in this debacle but despite this the Wexford chairman called on Brian Lohan to apologise. This contributed to the ill feeling that surrounds a considerable grudge match. There will be a real edge to this game as no camp will want to take a backwards step.
After an equally controversial game against Tipperary, Clare will be looking to bounce back with a win this weekend. Wexford put in a super performance in their Leinster Semi Final clash v Kilkenny. The team’s movement and use of the ball troubled the Cats, who took the full 70 minutes plus extra time to see them off. Wexford looked the best they had in years and played with huge hunger and pace. They had a numerical advantage in extra time when Eoin Murphy was sin binned, but as happened v Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi final of 2019, they could not take advantage of it. In fact, Kilkenny looked the far better of the two teams despite being at this disadvantage and went on to win comfortably as Wexford energy levels waned in extra time.
Having put so much into the performance against the Cats and not coming away with a victory, it will be interesting to see how Wexford respond. It was a physically and emotionally taxing game, as Wexford were forced to re-introduce players who had come off previously in extra time. It can be hard to rebound from a game like that. Clare’s response to the injustice of their loss to Tipperary will also be compelling, because an event like that can be a huge motivating factor for a team. If they can circle the wagons and play with a chip on their shoulder it will be a dangerous prospect for Wexford.
When these sides met in the league, Clare beat themselves. We played all the hurling and dominated play for the first 55 minutes of the game. Only our ill-discipline kept Wexford in the game, as they were able to stay within touching distance by scoring frees. Further ill-discipline cost us the game when we went a man down after a red card was issued in the 56th minute. Wexford then hit their purple patch and were able to play the ball through the lines without Clare defenders getting close to them. They worked the ball really well to their forwards, and when Rory O’Connor and Lee Chin started to run at the Clare defence it caused havoc.
This will be a concern for Clare, particularly after this was done to great effect by Tipperary in our last outing. If Wexford were to play Rory O’Connor and Lee Chin in the half forward line this weekend, they could take advantage of a weakness in our game. By withdrawing a sweeper, Wexford are quite one dimensional in that they do not have an option to hit deep ball to an inside forward line. This can lead to their inside line being easily nullified. However, if they can work ball through the lines and get O’Connor and Chin in possession 65 yards out from goal they can be dangerous.
Wexford have no shortage of talent in the county; this group won three Leinster under 21 titles in a row and those guys are now in their prime. Clare have a good record against them in recent years, mostly because their style of play was stale and predictable. But against Kilkenny they looked to be back to their best. If they can dictate the pace of play and the terms of the game this Saturday, they are good enough to win.
Conversely, if Clare can learn from the Tipp game and tweak a few things they should be strong enough to get over this game. From a team selection point of view, Davy McInerney has to be brought into the defence. Personally, I feel Jack Browne should also be in the team but that is looking unlikely at the moment. If we can also improve our scoring efficiency and our discipline then this game is there for Clare to be won.
The qualifiers represent a huge opportunity for both squads. There is lots riding on this game for Wexford. They have been on a downward slide for the last few years and a loss here could spell the end of their manager’s term down there. However, a big win against Clare after a great performance against Kilkenny could make them a dangerous side going forward.
Clare will be keen to show improvement from last year and a win this weekend is essential to that. If Clare could progress it would put them in a great position for the remainder of the championship the awaiting Cork and Galway would not be keen to see a Clare team coming with momentum behind them. It promises to be an enthralling affair with plenty of side stories to keep us engaged and I think Clare people will be happy with the result as we should have enough to see off Wexford.