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Wexford hurlers thwarted by late Clare onslaught

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Oisín Foley strikes from near the sideline as John Conlon challenges. Photographs: George Hatchell.

Oisín Foley strikes from near the sideline as John Conlon challenges. Photographs: George Hatchell.

Wexford captain Lee Chin in a race for possession with Clare's Cian Nolan.

Wexford captain Lee Chin in a race for possession with Clare's Cian Nolan.

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Oisín Foley strikes from near the sideline as John Conlon challenges. Photographs: George Hatchell.

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Clare 1-24 Wexford 3-14

IT’S NOW all of 15 years since Wexford last won an All-Ireland Senior hurling championship quarter-final, with the losing sequence extending to six attempts after strong favourites Clare required a powerful late surge to get the job done before 34,640 spectators in Semple Stadium, Thurles on Saturday.

And of all those losses, this one is likely to linger for a little longer than the others because it was hard to escape the feeling afterwards that Wexford had victory snatched from their firm grasp.

Certainly, when substitute Mikie Dwyer finished off good work by Shane Reck and Liam Óg McGovern in the 59th minute to leave them with a 3-12 to 0-15 lead, the outcome looked to be in their own hands.

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Alas, the fade-out that followed was similar in many ways to our last semi-final loss to Tipperary in 2019 – the year when we avoided our bogey quarter-final path by virtue of Leinster glory and a direct route to the last four.

A Clare attack that had been superbly contained up to that point suddenly sprung to life, and they went on to outscore us by 1-9 to 0-2 and advance to a meeting with Kilkenny on Saturday week.

And while they showed exactly why they appear to be the main threat to Limerick in the process, let’s give plenty of credit to our own lads too, because they still surpassed a lot of expectations with the quality of their performance.

They did so despite suffering a savage blow as early as the 14th minute when our player of the league, Rory O’Connor, was forced off after hurting his left knee in a tussle for possession with David McInerney.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, our player of the championship, Damien Reck, also had to retire near the end, very soon after his brother, Shane, was also called ashore through injury.

Clare now undoubtedly carry the mantle of being our bogey team in the championship, having eliminated us from the race for honours in 2018 (quarter-final), 2020, 2021 and 2022.

And while it’s no real consolation if truth be told, Wexford certainly made them earn it on this occasion.

The match-ups in defence were bang-on for the most part, with Matthew O’Hanlon holding Peter Duggan scoreless and Pádraig Foley restricting David Fitzgerald to one point.

Shane O’Donnell was also very quiet on Damien Reck until the latter ran out of gas late on, while Shane Reck was excellent on Tony Kelly for three-quarters of the game before the Clare captain did show his undoubted class. It’s next to impossible to keep a player of his calibre quiet for a full 70 minutes.

Wexford went with an out-an-out sweeper, with Diarmuid O’Keeffe moving into the role from the throw-in and positioning himself for the most part in the first-half on the right flank, directly in front of Kelly and Shane Reck.

One downside was that it left O’Keeffe’s nominal direct opponent, Paul Flanagan, free in the Clare defence, and he gave an outstanding display and was their man of the match in my opinion.

Our start was ideal as, after Diarmuid Ryan fired a Clare wide, Mark Fanning sent a short delivery to Rory O’Connor. He pumped it downfield to big brother Jack who had lost direct opponent John Conlon, and the centre-forward caught cleanly and bore down on goal before giving Eibhear Quilligan no chance.

A mere 26 seconds had elapsed, and Wexford came close to adding a second goal on their next attack. Rory Hayes was nearly punished severely for his indecision close to his own posts, as he squandered possession and Conor McDonald pulled first-time across goal and the shot went narrowly wide.

Clare looked out of sorts in several areas in those early exchanges, with Tony Kelly firing three wides on the trot from frees before Peter Duggan took over and he also missed his first.

Their opening point from David Fitzgerald was matched by Lee Chin – part of a two-man inside line with McDonald – following a Liam Ryan delivery in the fourth minute.

And at the time of the injury to Rory O’Connor – a frustrating way to mark his landmark 50th Senior appearance – Wexford led by 1-4 to 0-4 after his sole score was sandwiched between two beauties off the left flank by Oisín Foley.

Clare then drew level with three points on the trot from Peter Duggan (free), Diarmuid Ryan and another Duggan placed ball, but the response was positive.

Wexford had to wait until the 21st minute to be awarded their first free, when John Conlon held back Jack O’Connor, and Lee Chin duly obliged. And after Conlon dropped an effort short to Mark Fanning, another Wexford point followed within 25 seconds after Diarmuid O’Keeffe obliged from a Conor McDonald handpass (1-6 to 0-7).

Ian Galvin and Damien Reck traded scores, the latter from an O’Keeffe assist, but Wexford didn’t register in the ten minutes plus three extra before half-time.

They amassed four of their twelve wides (six per half) in that spell, with Clare forcing parity (1-7 to 0-10) at the break after late points from Ian Galvin and Peter Duggan (free).

David Reidy and Chin (free) swapped points on the restart before Diarmuid Ryan joined his attack twice, first on the right wing and then on the left, to claim neat scores and leave Clare with a 0-13 to 1-8 lead.

And after a further exchange between Chin (free) and Tony Kelly, the Wexford captain was inches away from rattling the roof of the net. That was certainly his intention when a Mark Fanning puck-out broke in behind to Jack O’Connor who fed him with a handpass, but his rising shot went over rather than under.

Five minutes later, though, that town end net was shaking after a route one Wexford goal. Mark Fanning pumped in a long free after a foul on Shane Reck near the right sideline and, after several viewings from various television angles, I’m still not sure if Chin did get a slight touch on the dropping ball as Wexford moved clear by 2-10 to 0-14.

If there was a doubt in that instance, there was none whatsoever in relation to his finish for the third goal just three minutes later.

It came in a breathtaking passage of play, with Ian Galvin crashing a shot off the Wexford crossbar before Simon Donohoe launched a long delivery towards the Clare square.

With Conor McDonald offering a distraction, the ball broke kindly for Chin who lashed it to the corner of the net via Eibhear Quilligan. It was 3-10 to 0-14 and Wexford appeared to hold all the aces.

Chin and Duggan exchanged points from frees before that score from Mikie Dwyer, but Clare really prospered in the nine and a half minutes that followed prior to Chin sending over another placed ball.

Indeed, they hit 1-6 on the bounce, and the quality of their play in that spell had to be admired. Points from Aron Shanagher, Duggan (free), Shane Meehan, Cathal Malone and Shane O’Donnell generated serious momentum, before the arrival of their goal that could have been prevented in the 67th minute.

A free from distance by Tony Kelly was fumbled by Mark Fanning, and Shanagher was on hand to sweep it to the net despite the best efforts of Matthew O’Hanlon, who was making his 125th appearance at this level.

That score gave Clare the lead (1-20 to 3-12), and Kelly added a point before Chin finally stopped the rot from a free in the 68th minute.

Shane Meehan who, along with Shanagher, made such a big impact off the bench, added his second point before Chin featured in the game’s most controversial incident. He gathered possession and was turning for goal when he was unceremoniously brought down by Clare’s Cian Nolan. An athlete of Chin’s calibre would hardly have been cut off by either of the two back-tracking defenders, but indecisive referee Colm Lyons didn’t see it that way.

Instead of sending Nolan to the sin-bin and awarding a penalty, he opted for a yellow and a free that was duly converted by Chin, but it seemed like poor reward for such a cynical act.

It was also Wexford’s last score, with Kelly and Aron Shanagher adding the last two for a Clare side who knew they had come through one hell of a contest afterwards.

Wexford: Mark Fanning (Glynn-Barntown, 1-0 free); Shane Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien), Matthew O’Hanlon (St. James’), Liam Ryan (Rapparees); Simon Donohoe (Shelmaliers), Damien Reck (Oylegate-Glenbrien, 0-1), Pádraig Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn); Conor Devitt (Tara Rocks), Liam Óg McGovern (St. Anne’s); Rory O’Connor (St. Martin’s, 0-1), Jack O’Connor (St. Martin’s, 1-0), Oisín Foley (Crossabeg-Ballymurn, 0-2); Diarmuid O’Keeffe (St. Anne’s, 0-1), Conor McDonald (Naomh Éanna), Lee Chin (Faythe Harriers, capt., 1-8, 0-6 frees). Subs. – Mikie Dwyer (Fethard, 0-1) for R. O’Connor, inj. (14), Kevin Foley (Rapparees) for O’Keeffe (62), Connal Flood (Cloughbawn) for McGovern (63), Charlie McGuckin (Naomh Éanna) for S. Reck, inj. (67), Paul Morris (Ferns St. Aidan’s) for D. Reck, inj. (69), also James Lawlor (Ferns St. Aidan’s), David Clarke (Glynn-Barntown), Ben Edwards (Rapparees), Conor Hearne (Shelmaliers), Richie Lawlor (Faythe Harriers), Kyle Scallan (Faythe Harriers).

Clare: Eibhear Quilligan; Rory Hayes, Conor Cleary, Paul Flanagan; Diarmuid Ryan (0-3), John Conlon, David McInerney; Cathal Malone (0-1), Ryan Taylor; David Fitzgerald (0-1), Shane O’Donnell (0-2), David Reidy (0-2); Ian Galvin (0-2), Peter Duggan (0-5 frees), Tony Kelly (capt., 0-4). Subs. – Cian Nolan for Hayes (8), Mark Rodgers for Reidy (54), Aron Shanagher (1-2) for Fitzgerald, inj. (59), Shane Meehan (0-2) for Galvin (62).

Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork).


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