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Wexford left to rue sluggish start as Clare march on in All-Ireland qualifiers

Clare 2-25 Wexford 2-22

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Lee Chin of Wexford is chased by Tony Kelly of Clare during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 1 match between Clare and Wexford at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach

Lee Chin of Wexford is chased by Tony Kelly of Clare during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 1 match between Clare and Wexford at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach

Lee Chin of Wexford is chased by Tony Kelly of Clare during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 1 match between Clare and Wexford at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach

There were not that many more than four thousand supporters in Semple Stadium yesterday but what a noise they made as Clare withstood a typically rousing challenge from Wexford that fell marginally short, the team paying a heavy price for a slow start to an absorbing match. Lee Chin’s goal deep into injury time came just too late and was devalued by a timely strike from Clare sub Gary Cooney only a minute before.

Cooney’s goal, with his first touch since coming off the bench, was the result of a clever ball in from Tony Kelly, well policed for the most part by Shane Reck. Cooney got a touch as Matthew O’Hanlon and Mark Fanning tried to tidy up the danger. Suddenly Clare were six points clear, leaving enough protection for the goal that followed from Chin.

Afterwards an emotional Davy Fitzgerald, who hit out against what he called unfair personal attacks on his family, spoke of his pride in Wexford’s spirit and lamented their slow start, remarking that for the opening 15 minutes they were “still back in Wexford”. By the first water break in a match played in excruciating heat, Clare led 1-9 to 0-3 and Wexford looked to be in serious trouble.

They set up with Kevin Foley playing sweeper and Reck detailed to follow Kelly, who was much less of an influence than in last November’s qualifier match. Kelly still contributed with flashes of genius but Clare had a healthy and democratic spread of scorers.

Clare, having defeated Waterford and lost in controversial circumstances to Tipperary, produced their best hurling in the first quarter. They started explosively but lost their way and some of their play at times was ragged and edgy. But they still had good spells. with Aidan McCarthy, Ryan Taylor and David Reidy each scoring three points from play and Cathal Malone hitting 1-1.

Lee Chin was top scorer for Wexford with 1-12, missing just one placed ball, and Cathal Dunbar had an excellent match, scoring five points from play. But the early deficit, 11 points at its worst after 20 minutes, cost them dearly in what was their third championship exit to Clare during Fitzgerald’s five-season tenure.

“Ah listen, I’m extremely proud of them,“ said Fitzgerald, whose future will now come under review. “Anything I ask them boys to do, they’ll do it. We probably stayed in Wexford for the first 15 minutes and gave them 11 points of a start and Clare played some great stuff and we let them. We let them attack the ball, we stood off them and if you stand off Clare they’re going to hurt you but many teams would have wilted, we didn’t wilt.”

Rory Hayes had a huge game for Clare and his inspirational point had them buzzing by the first water break. Despite having Foley as an extra defender, Wexford struggled to contain Clare’s movement as Brian Lohan’s side hit a series of brilliant scores from Diarmuid Ryan, Aron Shanagher, Taylor and McCarthy. Rory O’Connor had a few early point attempts from long distance that trailed wide - symptomatic of a Wexford side looking nervy in the boiling heat.

But Clare had some good fortune, a goal attempt by O’Connor flashing low to the side netting in the ninth minute when they led by 0-4 to 0-1. From the puck-out Malone forged an opening and Fergal Horgan played an astute advantage. The Ennistymon man made the most of the allowance by rifling the ball to the roof of the net and followed up with an exceptional point. Clare were flying.

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Immediately after the water break they extended their lead to 11 points with scores from Shanagher and McCarthy, after a turnover, but Wexford were given a lifeline when both captain John Conlon and wing back Paidí Fitzpatrick failed to control a ball and Diarmuid O’Keeffe snapped it up and raced though a hole in the cover to crash home an inspirational goal.

After the first water break, mistakes started to creep into Clare’s play, the team hitting three poor wides. Still, they were ten clear when Kelly pointed a free on the half-hour mark, 1-15 to 1-5. From there to the break the Wexford fans began to sound like they believed the match was retrievable. Wexford hit the next 0-5 without reply, a third from play by the impressive Dunbar who was a late replacement for Mikie Dwyer and a brace from Chin. Going in at half time just five points down, 1-10 to 1-15, gave Wexford plenty hope and left a worry for Clare, who blew an eight-point lead against Wexford in this year’s league and also lost a six-point lead in the recent Munster semi final loss to Tipperary.

Clare had to withstand more Wexford pressure after half time, Fitzgerald’s side rattling off the next three scores, two terrific points from Rory O’Connor and McDonald and a third from Liam Og McGovern, a streak of eight points without reply to leave them only two points off parity.

Huge Clare relief greeted a free awarded to Shanagher off Matthew O’Hanlon, Kelly’s converted free a much-needed score for Clare. That sparked a four-point run for the Munster side, with McCarthy and Kelly on the mark to lead by six with 44 minutes played.

But they could never make the game safe. At the water break, Clare led 1-21 to 1-17 and on the resumption Taylor pointed from near the sideline, before Shanagher won a free as he was bearing down on goal. Kelly put it between the posts and Clare were back six ahead with 55 minutes played, 1-23 to 1-17.

Wexford kept pressing. Three scores in a row left only a goal between the with four minutes left. On came Mark Rodgers to score two crucial points for Clare and a Kelly free was answered by Dunbar’s fifth point, a goal between them again in injury time.

Then Kelly’s delivery saw Cooney get his goalscoring touch that decided the match. Clare now look to tomorrow morning’s qualifier draw, where they will face Cork or Galway.

Scorers - Clare: T Kelly 0-9 (7 f); C Malone 1-1; G Cooney 1-0; A McCarthy, D Reidy, R Taylor 0-3 each; A Shanagher, R Rodgers 0-2 each; D Ryan, R Hayes 0-1 each. Wexford: L Chin 1-12 (9 fs, 1 65); C Dunbar 0-5; D O’Keeffe 1-0; R O’Connor, C McDonald 0-2 each; L McGovern 0-1.

Clare: E Quilligan: R Hayes, C Cleary, P Flanagan; D Ryan, J Conlon, P Fitzpatrick; C Galvin, T Kelly; C Malone, D Reidy, R Taylor; A Shanagher, A McCarthy, I Galvin. Subs: D McInerney for Fitzpatrick (ht); M Rodgers for I Galvin (inj 48); J Browne for C Galvin (55); A Fitzgerald for Conlon (66); G Cooney for Shanagher (70);

Wexford: M Fanning; G Bailey, M O’Hanlon, L Ryan; J O’Connor, S Donohoe, L McGovern; S Reck, D O’Keeffe; C McDonald, L Chin, R O’Connor; P Morris, C Dunbar, K Foley. Subs: D Reck for Joe O’Connor (47); Jack O’Connor for McGovern (48); A Nolan for Morris (56); C Flood for Bailey (59); M Dwyer for O’Keeffe (66);

Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary).


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