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Davy Fitzgerald: ‘People can write what they like about me and Brian Lohan. He is who he is and I am who I am’

Clare 0-18 Wexford 0-15

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Wexford’s Joe O’Connor watches on as the sliotar goes wide of the post. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Wexford’s Joe O’Connor watches on as the sliotar goes wide of the post. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Wexford’s Joe O’Connor watches on as the sliotar goes wide of the post. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

February's never a month for picking up idealised notions about yourself so Tony Kelly's brilliance in a tough place passed quietly into the black evening.

"When he's going like that, Tony is great," ventured an impassive Brian Lohan after the Ballyea man's haul of 0-12 proved pivotal to this Clare victory. "But Tony knows as well that this is only the beginning of February. It's a long year."

The familiarly sociopathic Wexford Park wind was at its contrary worst, allowing little harmony or syncopation into a game settled, essentially, by quarrelled-over inches.

That's how it often is when winter comes tossing its mischief down from the Clonard end goal towards the harbour. The trick is to improvise smartly. To play two different styles, one with it at your shoulders, the other without.

Willingness

Neither Clare nor Wexford really got it right here, the visitors' survival based largely on willingness to run the hard yards, accept pain and - maybe most crucially - put their trust in Kelly.

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Tony Kelly of Clare narrowly fails to stop the sliothar from going out over the sideline under pressure from Wexford players Conor Dunbar, 22, and Shaun Murphy. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Tony Kelly of Clare narrowly fails to stop the sliothar from going out over the sideline under pressure from Wexford players Conor Dunbar, 22, and Shaun Murphy. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

It wasn't an occasion distinguished either by an outbreak of collegiality between Lohan and his old Clare comrade Davy Fitzgerald. The opposing managers barely exchanged eye-contact never mind handshakes at the end.

When asked if they'd had the opportunity to talk, Lohan replied icily: "No!"

Fitzgerald was more forthcoming. "People can write what they like about me and Brian Lohan, it doesn't bother me in the slightest," he reflected. "He is who he is and I am who I am. That never would come into it with me. I'll always be a proud Clare man, but I'm manager of Wexford and I love what I do down here as well."

It wasn't then a day to detain many in the 6,500 attendance beyond dusk. Facing the wind to begin with, Wexford adjusted accordingly, withdrawing Rory O'Connor into a deep-lying role to supplement the sweeping chores of Kevin Foley, meaning a compression of bodies in their half of the field.

But Clare were six points to the good inside just 12 minutes, a margin that might have been greater but for Ryan Taylor snapping a seventh-minute shot off the Wexford crossbar after O'Connor had taken a heavy first touch off a short Mark Fanning puck-out.

Fitzgerald's men found their bearings though and three Jack O'Connor frees had halved the margin by the 27th minute before Clare were then reduced to 14 men with their captain, John Conlon, red-carded for a high challenge on Foley. It looked accidental but, as Lohan rightly acknowledged, the rules left referee, Seán Cleere, with little option but to dismiss the big Clonlara man.

There and then, Clare looked in deep, deep trouble. Yet, their best hurling was delivered in the pocket of minutes between Conlon's departure and the half-time whistle, a period the visitors - inexplicably - won 0-6 to 0-1.

That secured an eight-point half-time advantage (0-12 to 0-4), a gap Fitzgerald put down essentially to self-harm.

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Shaun Murphy of Wexford and Tony Kelly of Clare jostle each other near the end of the match. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Shaun Murphy of Wexford and Tony Kelly of Clare jostle each other near the end of the match. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

"I think it was down to mentality," said the Wexford manager. "We talked about it at half-time, lads waiting for stuff to happen. That period was actually our fault."

For all that, within three minutes of the resumption, Paudie Foley, Rory O'Connor and Jack O'Connor all had Wexford points and, with Donal Tuohy going long on his puck-outs over a predictably high press, Clare were in all kinds of trouble now in the middle third.

Wexford were playing heads-up hurling, Jack O'Connor finding his goalkeeper with a sublime 40-yard sideline 'cut' from under the stand and Fanning firing over from just inside his '45. That cut the margin to just three points with 25 minutes still remaining and the game, it seemed, rolling relentlessly away from Clare.

The crowd, audibly, thought so. Clare's first score of the half would be a 51st-minute Kelly free, but it was followed almost instantly by points from Conor McDonald (two) and Paul Morris, reducing the margin to the minimum.

From there, though, Wexford stalled. Their shot selection became erratic (ten second-half wides to Clare's one) and they found themselves drawn into a narrow, attritional game when it was clearly in their interests to spread the play wide and work their way into better positions.

By now, they also had the problem of an imperious Kelly coming into his own.

A 58th-minute Jack O'Connor free that would have levelled the game drifted left and wide, giving Clare an energy-charge with the Ballyea man at the centre of it. Just seconds later, he torqued past Shaun Murphy onto a breaking ball to rifle a point.

Two Paudie Foley frees kept Wexford in touch, but they were matched by a fine David Fitzgerald score and a masterful Kelly free into the wind from 70 yards. Then, with Wexford throwing the kitchen sink towards Tuohy's goal, Kelly closed the scoring with, arguably, the point of the day.

The final whistle drew two clenched fists from the normally zipped-up Lohan.

Fitzgerald, though, was a portrait of calm. "Well done to Clare, they showed great resilience," he said. "Of course I'm disappointed, because I think there's more in Wexford than what you saw today."

SCORERS - Clare: T Kelly 0-12 (10fs); D Fitzgerald 0-3; R Taylor 0-2; S O'Donnell 0-1. Wexford: J O'Connor 0-4 (3fs); P Foley 0-3fs; R O'Connor and C McDonald 0-2 each; L Óg McGovern, A Rochford, M Fanning (f), P Morris 0-1 each.

CLARE - D Tuohy 7; J Browne 7, C Cleary 7, E Quirke 5; A McCarthy 7, P O'Connor 6, S O'Halloran 6; D McInerney 6, T Kelly 9; I Galvin 6, D Fitzgerald 8, D Reidy 6; R Taylor 7, J Conlon 5, S O'Donnell 7. Subs: D McMahon 7 for Galvin (46), S Morey 7 for Taylor (55), C Malone for Reidy (65), L Corry for Quirke (67), A Shanagher for O'Donnell (72).

WEXFORD - M Fanning 7; Joe O'Connor 7, L Ryan 7, S Reck 6; D Reck 7, S Murphy 7, P Foley 7; K Foley 7, Jack O'Connor 8; L Óg McGovern 6, R O'Connor 8, C Dunbar 6; A Rochford 6, C McDonald 7, P Morris 7. Subs: A Nolan 6 for McGovern (60), H Kehoe for D Reck (64).

Ref - S Cleere (Kilkenny)

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