CLARE’s senior hurlers produced a stirring comeback to seal their place in the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Venue: FBD Semple Stadium, Thurles
With ten of the final twelve scores, Clare turned the game on its head to advance to the last four in the race for the Liam McCarthy for the first time since 2018 and marked the third season in a row that they have eliminated Wexford from the championship.
When the need was greatest, Clare stood tall and carved out a win that will really strengthen the character of an already spirited bunch.
Not many of the 34,040 spectators in Thurles would have predicted such an outcome for large spells of the game as like the contingent of Clare supporters, the performance on the field was not as vociferous as previous displays.
Coupled with this, Darragh Egan and his Wexford management appeared to have an edge over their counterparts when it came to match-ups, notably the battles of Lee Chin versus Rory Hayes, Conor Devitt on Ryan Taylor, Matthew O’Hanlon against Peter Duggan.
Of major importance was the fact that Conor Cleary managed to keep Conor McDonald scoreless over the seventy six minutes. Cian Nolan following his introduction used his physicality to ensure Chin and other members of the Wexford attack were aware who they were facing off with. Tony Kelly though curtailed at times, stepped up with critical scores.
Most definitely it was the shakiest championship start for Clare this year. Within forty five seconds, they shipped a goal with Jack O’Connor exploiting a parting opposing defence to cut through and slam the sliotar past Eibhear Quilligan.
Just as easily, Wexford could have raided for another goal a minute later when Conor McDonald’s ground stroke went from one side of Quilligan’s goal to the other.
David Fitzgerald opened Clare’s account on two minutes before Lee Chin immediately cancelled this out. Shane O’Donnell added from distance before Oisin Foley and Tony Kelly traded scores. Rory O’Connor and Foley made the gap four points on nine minutes before Brian Lohan’s side hit four points without reply via David Reidy, Diarmuid Ryan and two from Peter Duggan to level matters.
In what was a period of uncertainty, Lohan and his management substituted corner back Rory Hayes who had been marking Lee Chin while free taking duties were taken off Tony Kelly after he missed three placed balls.
This storm was weathered and Clare headed in on level terms at half-time after Duggan and Ian Galvin converted the final two scores of the opening half. For the Model County, this has must have been a sucker blow as they had been the more dominant outfit yet it didn’t show on the scoreboard.
On the restart, Clare managed to nudge their noses in front but were rocked by the concession of a second goal on forty seven minutes when a long-range free Mark Fanning free eluded the Banner defence and Eibhear Quilligan. Three minutes later, Wexford struck for their third goal via the dangerous Lee Chin putting five points between them.
It was at this juncture that the majority of supporters began to lose their faith but led by Shane O’Donnell and Diarmuid Ryan particularly, the men in saffron and blue had other ideas. When substitute, Mikie Dwyer pointed, he extended their advantage to six points with fifty eight minutes on the clock but the Banner were just about to begin gate-crashing premature celebrations of Wexford qualifying for the last four.
For the final ten minutes, Wexford were limited to two points while the Banner tacked on 1-07 to seal their place in the last four. Shannon’s Aron Shanagher struck for 1-02, the goal typifying the workrate of this team, Shane O’Donnell made way back into his own half to make a dispossession, the turn over was cleared up by Ryan Taylor who won a free which was launched in by Tony Kelly with Shanagher finishing to the back of the net in the scramble on sixty six minutes.
This green flag swung the lead, prior to it Shane O’Donnell had pointed to reduce the deficit to a point and after it, Clare led by two, from here there simply was no going back. Even with six minutes of additional time signalled, Wexford coughed up chances via Chin and Charlie McGuckin while Shane Meehan, Kelly and Shanagher found the target to seal their return to Croke Park for the first time in four years.
Bowing out to Clare is becoming an annual ritual now for Wexford, however unlike the past two seasons when Davy Fitzgerald was in charge, this year they dominated for lengthy spells and were within ten minutes of causing a major upset. Losing Rory O’Connor to injury on thirteen minutes was a gigantic blow to their cause while as the tie wore on they unsuccessfully grappled with a mounting Clare challenge.
Homework was done effectively by Darragh Egan and his setup when it came to match-ups but they were caught by a lacking strength in depth on their panel an inability to see out a game that they will certainly have regrets of losing.
Feelings of immense relief and satisfaction will have filled the victorious dressing room in Semple Stadium. It was far from Clare’s best but they still managed to grind out the result, they were outthought in large patches but are the team left standing. The self-belief they will have amassed from this outcome will be difficult to quench for any team and if harnessed properly can really drive them over the next month.
There will be debate as to whether Lohan and his management were too quick to substitute Rory Hayes but the decision showed a ruthlessness that is fed in with the ferocity associated with this team in 2022. Particularly in the first half, Wexford’s sweeper in Diarmuid O’Keeffe left Clare on the backfoot with regards their use of Paul Flanagan as a free man, quick thinking was not so prominent in this sector. Timing of substitutes and the personnel drafted in worked well, combining Aron Shanagher with Shane Meehan as a full-forward line replacement pair was effective yielding a return of 1-04 between them while Cian Nolan justified the faith placed in him.
Pulling this game back was made a reality due to the tireless work of Shane O’Donnell and Diarmuid Ryan, the stability of David McInerney, John Conlon and Conor Cleary, although Tony Kelly and Ryan Taylor were quieter by their own standards this year they packed a punch when the game was really on the ropes.
Kilkenny’s Cats lie in the long grass in a fortnight, another physical battle is on the horizon but Clare are showing they are exceptionally crafty in the heel of the hunt.
Scores for Clare: Peter Duggan 0-5f, Aron Shanagher 1-2, Tony Kelly 0-4, Diarmuid Ryan 0-3, Ian Galvin, David Reidy, Shane O’Donnell and Shane Meehan 0-2 each, Cathal Malone, David Fitzgerald and Ryan Taylor 0-1.
Scores for Wexford: Lee Chin 1-8 (0-6f), Mark Fanning (1-0f) and Jack O’Connor 1-0 each, Oisin Foley 0-2, Damien Reck, Rory O’Connor, Mikie Dwyer, Diarmuid O’Keeffe 0-1 each.
1: Eibhear Quilligan (Feakle)
4: Paul Flanagan (Ballyea)
3: Conor Cleary (Kilmaley)
25: Rory Hayes (Wolfe Tones)
5: Diarmuid Ryan (Cratloe)
6: John Conlon (Clonlara)
7: David McInerney (Tulla)
10: Cathal Malone (Sixmilebridge)
15: Ryan Taylor (Clooney/Quin)
8: David Fitzgerald (Inagh/Kilnamona)
26: Peter Duggan (Clooney/Quin)
12: Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg)
9: David Reidy (Éire Óg)
11: Tony Kelly (Ballyea)
13: Ian Galvin (Clonlara)
2: Cian Nolan (Smith O’Briens) for Hayes (8)
14: Mark Rodgers (Scariff) for Reidy (53)
18: Aron Shanagher (Wolfe Tones) for Fitzgerald (58)
19: Shane Meehan (Banner) for Galvin (61)
1: Mark Fanning (Glynn-Barntown)
3: Liam Ryan (Rapparees)
25: Shane Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien)
2: Simon Donohoe (Shelmaliers)
24: Diarmuid O’Keeffe (St Anne’s)
6: Damien Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien)
5: Matthew O’Hanlon (St James’)
7: Paudie Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn)
9: Liam Óg McGovern (St Anne’s)
4: Conor Devitt (Tara Rocks)
13: Rory O’Connor (St Martin’s)
11: Jack O’Connor (St Martin’s)
10: Oisín Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn)
12: Lee Chin (Faythe Harriers)
14: Conor McDonald (Naomh Éanna)
15: Mikie Dwyer (St Mogue’s Fethard) for R O’Connor (13) (Inj)
8: Kevin Foley (Rapparees) for O’Keeffe (61)
19: Conall Flood (Cloughbawn) for Óg McGovern (62)
22: Charlie McGuckin (Naomh Éanna) for S Reck (67)
23: Paul Morris (Ferns St Aidan’s) for D Reck (68)
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)