Banner boys send out clear signal by crushing Wexford
CLARE 3-15 ; WEXFORD 3-7 THAT slashing noise you hear is the sound of bookies cutting Clare's odds for the Guinness All-Ireland Hurling Championship.
Many were quick to write their epitaphs following their third Munster championship first round defeat on the trot to Tipperary, but there's life in the old dog yet.
At times in Portlaoise yesterday, it was like being transported back in time five or six years as Clare produced a brand of forceful and utterly effective hurling that harkened back to the salad days of '95 and '97.
The concession of three goals to a limited Wexford forward division will be a concern of Cyril Lyons, but it shouldn't be allowed to tarnish a very convincing victory over determined opponents.
However, it was the same old story for a Wexford team who were undone once more by a lack of incision in their forward division.
They managed just a single point from play in the first half, so they never really gave themselves a fighting chance.
From the first whistle, this match was the anticipated blood 'n' guts battle as two teams with a liking for the fast and the furious tore into each with abandon.
Clare were quicker into their stride and smart interplay between Jamesie O'Connor and Colin Lynch saw the latter strike a sweet point over his left shoulder from 45 yards out.
Lynch was stretching the Wexford defence with his forward surges, and he hit his second point after six minutes when he seized on a loose ball and fired over accurately.
It was becoming obvious that the Wexford forwards, the half-forwards in particular, were losing their personal battles.
Marshalled with typical aplomb by Sean McMahon, the Clare defence were hunting in packs and completely suffocated a Wexford attack that struggled to create any clear-cut opportunities.
The Wexford half-forwards weren't helped by their midfield duo of Rory Mallon and David O'Brien who were shipping water in a big way against the Clare tandem of Lynch and John Reddan.
The Wexford backs were coping manfully, but the dominance of Clare's midfield meant they were under constant pressure.
Reddan illustrated Clare's superiority in this vital sector when he drove over a point to put Clare three up.
Despite Wexford's difficulties at midfield, manager Tony Dempsey was slow in making changes. His reticence was punished the Clare midfield had amassed five points by half-time.
Wexford were five points down before they finally got off the mark through a Paul Codd free after 22 minutes. Their second and final score of the half arrived six minutes later when Rory McCarthy collected a Damien Fitzhenry puck-out and fired over smartly.
It was swimming against the tide stuff though, as Clare began to dominate more and more via the superiority of their half-backs and midfield and their gradually improving forwards.
Dempsey might have been slow about making changes in the first half, but Clare weren't. Tony Carmody was brought on for the ineffective Conor Earlie after 27 minutes and made an immediate impact as the reshuffled and more potent Clare attack hit three quick-fire points before half-time to establish a 0-9 to 0-2 interval lead.
The Leinster men really needed to hit the ground running in the second half to force their way back into the game. But, the issue looked to be settled just a minute in when a high ball by Niall Gilligan was caught in the square by Carmody and duly dispatched to the net.
Heart has never been a quality lacking in Wexford teams though, and this side is no different. They hit three poor wides on the trot, but the half-time changes effected by Dempsey had clearly improved their shape and potency.
The new midfield pairing of Rory McCarthy and Darren Stamp were giving Reddan and Lynch something to think about; Codd was ruffling McMahon's feathers on the 'forty'; and substitutes Larry Murphy and young Rory Jacob were unsettling the previously dominant Clare full-back line.
Their vociferous support was finally given reason to cheer when Codd rounded McMahon and rattled the net from 21 yards. Two further points from Mitch Jordan and MJ Furlong reduced the deficit to just six.
Their comeback was suffering from a sorry wastefulness in front of goal, but they were suddenly back in it in the 50th minute when a smashing goal by Jacob was followed by a Codd point to leave just three in it.
It was at this stage though that we learned a lot about the character of this Clare team.
They refused to panic, and the match was effectively over as a contest just five minutes after Codd's score when superbly executed goals by Carmody and Niall Gilligan took the wind right out of Wexford's sails.
The genesis of both goals was telling. Darragh Ryan had been imperious in the first half, but was effectively filleted by substitute Tony Carmody in the second.
The Inagh club-man is a confidence player, and this may be the beginning of something beautiful as far as Clare fans are concerned.
For the remaining 15 minutes, the match petered out completely. Wexford hadn't the wherewithal to mount another comeback, and Clare didn't feel the need to over-extend themselves.
Points followed from James O'Connor, Tony Griffin and Gearoid Considine, but Wexford salvaged some honour with a late goal from a Codd '21' and a Larry Murphy point.
For Wexford, the post-mortem will be uncover nothing new they need more scoring forwards. Clare, on the other hand, can look to the immediate future with plenty of confidence.
SCORERS Clare: T Carmody 2-1, N Gilligan 1-2, C Lynch 0-3, J Reddan 0-3, T Griffin 0-2, J O'Connor 0-2 (1f), S McMahon 0-1 (f), G Considine 0-1. Wexford: P Codd 2-3 (2f), R Jacob 1-0, MJ Furlong 0-1, L Murphy 0-1, R McCarthy 0-1, M Jordan 0-1.
TEAMS AND RATINGS
CLARE D Fitzgerald 6; B Quinn 7, B Lohan 8, F Lohan 8; D Hoey 7, S McMahon 9, G Quinn 8; J Reddan 8, C Lynch 9; J O'Connor 7, T Griffin 7, N Gilligan 8; D Forde 5, A Markham 6, C Earlie 5. Subs: T Carmody (8) for C Earlie (27), C Harrisson (6) for B Quinn (51), O Baker (6)for D Forde (55), C Considine (7) for T Griffin (64), A Quinn for A Markham (65).
WEXFORD D Fitzhenry (6); C Kehoe (7), D Ryan (7), D O'Connor (8); D Stamp (7), D Ruth (7), M O'Leary (6); R Mallon (7), D O'Brien (6); MJ Furlong (6), N Lambert (4), P Codd (8); B Lambert (5), M Jordan (6), R McCarthy (6). Subs: R Jacob (7) for D O'Brien, L Murphy (6) for N Lambert HT, L O'Gorman (6) for M Jordan (55), B Goff (6) for R Mallon (60)
REF W Barrett (Tipperary)