*Conor Cleary is congratulated by members of the Clare backroom team. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill
Clare survived a tactical challenge that tested their game-plan more than any other championship outing this year, Eoin Brennan rewinds over the quarter-final and dishes out the player ratings from the Wexford tie.
1: Eibhear Quilligan
Regardless of the legitimacy of the square ball claims for Wexford’s second half goals, the Feakle stopper won’t be at all pleased to have conceded two such soft goals in the space of only three minutes that could have cost Clare their championship lives. With Wexford opting to man-mark, it was infinitely more difficult to find the usual runners Tony Kelly, Ryan Taylor and David Fitzgerald but crucially Quilligan helped his side retain a whopping 80% of their own puck-outs.
2: Paul Flanagan
Despite being only his tenth senior championship start, Paul Flanagan is playing with the confidence and leadership of a chiselled veteran. With Wexford expectedly playing a two-man full-forward line, the former All-Ireland Under 21 winning captain was appointed the free man due to his reading of the game and efficiency of distribution. Kept the ship afloat when others were faltering and was a source of inspiration throughout.
3: Conor Cleary
Had the difficult task of trying to curb Wexford’s top scorer from play Conor McDonald. However, despite raiding for 3-11 in six previous outings, the Naomh Eanna star didn’t get any change out of the Miltown Malbay native who, due to Wexford’s incremental preference to isolate Lee Chin in a one-man full-forward line, got to play in a more advanced position and actually struck more ball than in any of his league or championship matches in 2022 to date.
25: Rory Hayes
Received a late reprieve from suspension midweek but was only granted eight minutes of action as a pressurised start from Wexford caused early consternation in Clare’s last line. Was replaced as Lee Chin’s man-marker by newcomer Cian Nolan. Considering the scrutiny of the previous fortnight, it may yet be a blessing in disguise for Hayes who has been one of Clare’s most consistent players over the past three seasons.
5: Diarmuid Ryan
Unquestionably proved that an unusually quiet Munster Final was just a blip or a virus, Ryan was back to his marauding best on Saturday and was an instrumental part in Clare’s comeback success. Anyone could lead when momentum is on your side but Ryan was one of the few to take the game to Wexford when things were going against Clare. Scored three massive points, had a direct hand in three more as well as eventually getting the better of an eager Oisin Foley.
6: John Conlon
With Wexford’s tactical nous challenging Clare’s gameplan more than any other previous opponent, Clare’s defensive anchor had to dig very deep to lead from the front as he didn’t receive the same amount of cover and also had to be wary of holding his side’s shape. Evolved quickly to handle both aspects admirably and even managed to set up a crucial point either side of the much-needed half-time recess.
7: David McInerney
After negotiating the physical presence of Gearoid Hegarty, McInerney’s newest challenge was the more elusive and yet equally potent threat of Wexford talisman Rory O’Connor. It was a tentative opening but O’Connor’s leg injury after 14 minutes provided the Tulla defender with the freedom to prosper. Didn’t score himself but teed up three for others including an inspirational catch from a late Wexford puck-out that was worked to Shane O’Donnell to lower the arrears to just one.
10: Cathal Malone
With Clare’s central runners Tony Kelly, Ryan Taylor and David Fitzgerald all man-marked, there was an inordinate burden of responsibility placed on Cathal Malone around the centre. Like several others, found the opening period tough going, summed up by a poor wide but warmed up to his more familiar self on the turnover to lead from the front. Scored a great point when required too in the midst of Clare’s late rally.
15: Ryan Taylor
Unaccustomed to being shadowed, Taylor struggled for air against Conor Devitt for three-quarters of the tie. It was ultimately a mark of respect as to how influence the Clooney/Quin playmaker has been for Clare this year but as a result, was negated for long periods. Spectacularly powered into the final quarter though and was back to his best when making two superb runs from deep, one of which prevented what might have been a Wexford goal.
8: David Fitzgerald
Similar to Ryan Taylor, the roving Fitzgerald saw his wings clipped by sticky direct opponent Paudie Foley and as a result struggled to emulate the lofty heights of previous performances. The Inagh/Kilnamona clubman did maintain his scoring consistency as the only player to score in every championship outing but after opening the scoring, uncharacteristically wouldn’t have another shot at the posts.
12: Shane O’Donnell
Simply outstanding in the final quarter and the leader of the blitzkrieg revolt that saw the Banner come back from the dead in spectacular fashion. Did grab an early point but it was his inspirational role as puck-out magnet when required most that made tick at the perfect time. Earned two frees that Duggan converted, scored a point himself while also teeing up Shane Meehan for another. Exceptional leadership.
26: Peter Duggan
Hasn’t troubled the umpires from open play over the past two outings but still a hugely effective targetman and of course freetaker too as for the second successive outing, the 2018 All-Star took over the placed ball duties from Tony Kelly. Landed five and missed three more but in addition, played in Ian Galvin for that ill-fated goal chance that cannoned off the crossbar, won three frees and also set up Tony Kelly for a point.
13: Ian Galvin
Much like Diarmuid Ryan, was one of the few to excel in a first half in which Clare struggled for leaders. In the first quarter, assisted a David Reidy point and won a free that Peter Duggan converted while picking off two points of his own nearing half-time. Consequently, had he kept his glorious goal chance on target, the Clonlara man would have been in Clare’s chief marksman. Was a little unlucky to be withdrawn but one couldn’t argue with Shane Meehan’s contribution either.
11: Tony Kelly
Strong rumours of his absence from training since the Munster Final were validated as Clare’s talisman wasn’t moving as freely, frequently or as far afield as normal. Kelly’s normal is a ten though so even though he spent the majority of the tie camped in the full-forward line and missed some early frees, his sporadic brilliance was sufficient to impact and inspire with four points from play and 1-3 from direct assists.
9: David Reidy
Championship appearance number 30 for the Ennis native who again was one of the key battlers against the grain of Wexford’s early ascendency as Clare somehow went in level at the break. Scored an early point to stem the Wexford tide and even after the flooring double blow of conceding two second half goals, had just earned a free when withdrawn for Mark Rodgers at the turn of the final quarter.
2: Cian Nolan
Marking Lee Chin in a one-man full-forward line would be a daunting prospect for most but Nolan coped well to contain Wexford’s most effective forward, even if he threaded the wafer-thin black card line entering the final quarter.
14: Mark Rodgers
Only his second game back and only sixth ever appearance but was straight into the mix in a hectic final quarter around the Wexford goal.
18: Aron Shanagher
Due to injury, hadn’t featured since the Limerick group game but certainly made up for lost time as he not only arrowed over two exceptional points from the right wing but also grabbed the goal that catapulted Clare into the ascendency in the 66th minute.
19: Shane Meehan
Only his fourth senior championship outing but remarkably has scored in every cameo so far, with Saturday being no exception as the Banner man raided for two crucial points to take his tally to five.