Clare finish strongly to end Wexford's stout resistance
Clare 0-27 Wexford 1-17
The lessons of the Munster defeat to Cork were learned by Clare as they held off Wexford in yesterday's All-Ireland SHC quarter-final.
Having seen an eight-point lead overhauled in the provincial decider, the Banner must have been nervous as a seven-point half-time advantage was whittled down to three as Conor McDonald's goal for Wexford was followed by three Rory O'Connor frees. but some poor shooting prevented them from coming closer.
Clare produced a strong finish when required. Scores from Shane O'Donnell, Ian Galvin, John Conlon and Conor McGrath eased them clear at the death, Wexford finishing with 14 men as O'Connor was red-carded in injury time.
For Clare, it means a semi-final joust with reigning All-Ireland champions Galway on July 28 and, while they will be underdogs, they can approach that game with some measure of optimism after this good response to the Cork loss.
"It looked as if we were well on top in the first half and we spoke all week about finishing strongly at the end of the first half," said Clare joint-manager Gerry O'Connor.
"We managed that and we were seven points up. They came out and tacked on two points and we didn't score for eight or nine minutes, but John Conlon and Peter Duggan and Sods [Shane O'Donnell] pulled back a few points and we were able to keep that six- or seven-point cushion for a long time.
"Then the goal came and the momentum shifted quickly and they got on top and there was three or four points in it for a long time. It was in the last ten minutes again that our boys really stood up, we had some massive performances all over the field in that last stage."
While Wexford, with Shaun Murphy dropping deep as a sweeper, led twice early on through Damien Reck and O'Connor, Clare hit their stride as unanswered points from Séadna Morey, Peter Duggan and O'Donnell put them into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead and they would lead for the remainder.
With full-back David McInerney operating well as the spare man in defence, Clare's delivery inside was good as they sought to avoid dropping balls directly into Murphy's hand. It was a strategy that paid off as David Reidy's second point of the game on 25 minutes - which followed scores from Cathal Malone, Tony Kelly and Duggan - had them 0-10 to 0-4 to the good as they dominated on puckouts.
They would end the half with five of their six starting forwards having scored from play - the other, Duggan, was reliable from frees - whereas in contrast Wexford only had Conor McDonald making an impact, with the Model County's scoresheet dominated by the dead balls of O'Connor.
He was keeping them in touch and his fifth of the day left it 0-13 to 0-8 on 34 but Clare finished the half with points from Duggan (two) Pádraic Collins, answered only by McDonald, for a half-time score of 0-16 to 0-9.
With the wind behind them, Wexford started the second half in encouraging form as Diarmuid O'Keeffe pointed within a minute of the restart and Lee Chin got his only score of the day soon after that following a good catch.
Clare didn't look rattled though and replied with O'Donnell's third and a good score from Duggan, set up by Collins. That was the theme of much of third quarter - Wexford eating into the gap and Clare stretching it out again. Indeed, but for a good challenge from Reck, Reidy might have been in for a goal chance on 47 after Donal Tuohy's puckout found its way through to him.
After scores from Kelly and Conlon, Clare were 0-21 to 0-14 ahead by 51 and when Chin almost put in Jack O'Connor at the other end, Cathal Malone got an important challenge in. When Duggan had his seventh point of the game immediately afterwards, that seemed to be that but Wexford got a lifeline.
From a sideline cut from deep, sub Harry Kehoe broke the ball down to McDonald and his low shot flew past Tuohy. O'Donnell replied for Clare but Wexford almost got in again as Chin set up Liam Óg McGovern, however Tuohy saved well from him and Reck couldn't poke the loose ball in, Jack Browne getting an important block in.
Nevertheless, the momentum was with Wexford and two O'Connor frees left four in it. While he got another to bring them to within three, in the interim some scoreable chances were wasted.
As the end of normal time neared, O'Donnell had his fourth point and sub Ian Galvin also got in on the scoring action for Clare to give them a cushion once more. Wexford pushed for goal and Chin might have played Devereux in for a chance but Patrick O'Connor was alive to the danger and intercepted well.
When Conlon slung over a superb score from the right-hand touchline, the Clare contingent in the attendance of 10,255 knew that they were returning to Croke Park for the first time since winning the 2013 All-Ireland and another sub, Conor McGrath, had the final say as he became their tenth scorer of the day.
Scorers - Clare: P Duggan 0-7 (5f), T Kelly 0-5, S O'Donnell 0-4, J Conlon 0-3, P Collins, D Reidy 0-2 each, S Morey, C Malone, C McGrath, I Galvin 0-1 each.
Wexford: R O'Connor 0-10 (9f), C McDonald 1-3, D Reck, S Murphy, D O'Keeffe, L Chin 0-1 each.
Clare: D Tuohy; J Browne, D McInerney, P O'Connor; S Morey, C Cleary, J Shanahan; C Galvin, C Malone; P Duggan, T Kelly, D Reidy; P Collins, J Conlon, S O'Donnell. Subs: C McGrath for Collins (27-29, blood), D Fitzgerald for C Galvin (58), I Galvin for Reidy (61), C McGrath for Duggan (67), M O'Malley for Malone (70), R Hayes for Browne (70).
Wexford: M Fanning; D Reck, L Ryan, C Firman; S Murphy; D O'Keeffe, P Foley, M O'Hanlon; K Foley, A Nolan; R O'Connor, L Chin, C McDonald; D Dunne, L Óg McGovern. Subs: J O'Connor for Nolan (49), H Kehoe for K Foley (57), H Kehoe for K Foley (57), S Donohoe for P Foley (61), W Devereux for O'Keeffe (66).
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).
Sunday Indo Sport