Late Clare rally puts paid to dominant Slaneysiders
A match defined by an extraordinary closing phase of play, victory having looked destined to go Wexford’s way when Mikie Dwyer sent over a score in the 57th minute to put them six points clear. Nothing in hurling, you say, but Clare looked dead on their feet, empty of ideas and drained of vitality.
And then it changed, like the earth in Semple Stadium shook under our feet.
From there to the finish Clare were transformed. Trailing by six points, 0-15 to 3-12, when Dwyer pointed, they had been a pale imitation of the side that put Limerick to the pin of their collar in the Munster final. Wexford were making the more compelling victory claims, enjoying a favourable swing of fortune in the 51st minute when Lee Chin goaled after Ian Galvin hit the crossbar moments earlier.
Yet when all seemed lost, Brian Lohan’s side found something, a burst of energy and took over completely. From there to the end whistle, including six minutes of injury time, they soared, outscoring Wexford 1-9 to 0-2. It was astonishing to witness.
A name not really on anyone’s lips, Aron Shanagher, proved one of Clare’s saviours. He led by example on his introduction off the bench, pointing on the hour to start a procession of Clare scores. By the time Wexford scored again, a Chin free in the 69th minute, Clare had accumulated 1-6 without reply. Shanagher took 1-2 for himself and without him it is no exaggeration to say that Clare would have been doomed.
Shane Meehan, a wispy livewire, was also introduced and got two points and Tony Kelly, subdued for much of the same, also stormed into the match with two late scores. In the first half Kelly scored one delightful point but had little impact otherwise. Three missed frees, one from 45m in front of goal, led to the duties being transferred to Peter Duggan as they had been in the Munster final. But he came good in the decisive phase of the match and finished with four points from play.
Clare already had reeled off five points in a row, to leave themselves one behind, when Shanagher scored his goal in the 67th minute with Wexford trying desperately to catch a breath. A Kelly free was dropped by Mark Fanning and before Wexford could scramble the ball clear, Shanagher pulled to the net.
Clare’s deepest fear going into the match was physical and mental fatigue after an energy-sapping Munster final. Their first defeat of the championship, after an exhaustive effort, raised questions about their readiness for an expected turbo-charged challenge from Wexford just a fortnight later.
Adding to the imponderables was the impact of the proposed double suspension to Duggan and Rory Hayes. The news created a storm of indignation in Clare. Never mind that both players left themselves exposed by their actions to such penalties, the fever it stirred drew comparisons with the unhealthy distraction caused by the Colin Lynch affair in 1998, which did much to derail their bid to win a third All-Ireland in three years.
Duggan and Hayes gained an unexpected reprieve during the past week, but the entire episode did little to maintain the team’s focus on the Wexford test coming roaring down the tracks. Only eight minutes into the match Hayes was taken off, struggling on Chin, replaced by Cian Nolan who may have secured his place for the All-Ireland semi final against Kilkenny after a fine performance. Paul Flanagan was outstanding in the other corner and Conor Cleary did much to subdue Conor McDonald who failed to score.
Those Clare fears were borne out in the early stages of the match, with Wexford getting a dream start when Jack O’Connor caught Fanning’s puck out, ran through a gap in the middle and sent a low shot to the net after just 25 seconds. Last year in Thurles they were beaten after a desperately poor start.
They were exuberant in the early stages, with Chin rampant and Oisin Foley also in scoring form. Before his substitution Hayes fumbled a ball and McDonald almost claimed a second Wexford goal, his ground shot clearing the outside of the far post. The Clare line didn’t take long in making the change.
Wexford brought in Shane Reck to pick up Kelly who played on the inside forward line and Diarmuid O’Keeffe played as a sweeper which meant Clare were unable to get any flow to their hurling.
Yet they still went in at half time on level terms, 0-10 to 1-7) having shot nine wides to Wexford’s six. Ian Galvin hit two points, with Shane O’Donnell also scoring but Ryan Taylor wasn’t able to repeat his Munster final display. But in the final period of the match Taylor was a telling influence.
Wexford had their misfortune too, losing Rory O’Connor to injury just 14 minutes in. Having lost to Clare in 2020 and ’21 qualifiers, and the 2018 All-Ireland quarter finals, they weren’t lacking in motivation. David Reidy put Clare in front for the first time in the opening minute of the second half and half back Diarmuid Ryan took his tally to three points by the 40th minute, leaving Clare two up.
But Clare were facing another set-back 12 minutes into the half when a Fanning free dropped into the opposing goal, Chin trying to make contact in mid-air. Wexford were back in front. Four minutes later Galvin had his effort smack off the crossbar and within seconds Chin had the ball in the net at the other end, opening a five-point lead. It has that ominous look for Clare followers, but the best was yet to come.
Scorers - Clare: A Shanagher 1-2; P Duggan 0-5 (all fs), T Kelly 0-4; D Ryan 0-3; S Meehan, S O’Donnell, I Galvin 0-2 each; D Fitzgerald, C Malone 0-1 each. Wexford: L Chin 1-8 (5 fs); M Fanning (f), J O’Connor 1-0 each; O Foley 0-2; D O’Keeffe, D Reck, R O’Connor, M Dwyer 0-1 each.
Clare: E Quilligan; R Hayes, C Cleary, P Flanagan; D Ryan, J Conlon, D McInerney; R Taylor, C Malone; D Fitzgerald, S O’Donnell, P Duggan; T Kelly, I Galvin, D Reidy. Subs: C Nolan for Hayes (8 mins); M Rodgers for Reidy (54); A Shanagher for Fitzgerald (59); S Meehan for Galvin (62).
Wexford: M Fanning; S Reck, L Ryan, S Donohoe; M O’Hanlon, D Reck, P Foley; D O’Keeffe; C Devitt, L Og McGovern; R O’Connor, J O’Connor, O Foley; L Chin, C McDonald.Subs: M O’Dwyer for R O’Connor (inj 14 mins); K Foley for O’Keeffe (61); C Flood for McGovern (63); C McGuckian for S Reck (67); P Morris for D Reck (68).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).