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Clare shout to the echo

CLARE 1-20 WEXFORD 0-12 All-Ireland SHC quarter-final QUIETLY and efficiently Clare became the first team to deposit themselves in the Guinness All-Ireland hurling semi-finals.

No fuss, no fanfare just a simple brand of force and economy to brush Wexford aside with consummate ease.

Anthony Daly resisted the temptation to point a wagging finger at the press box or TV gantry high in the stands. Not his style. Instead they disappeared out of sight in the same businesslike fashion that they had arrived out on to Croke Park.

A very obvious and oft used parallel is best used to describe this disappointing All-Ireland quarter-final - men against boys.

Long before the end Wexford had resorted to digging out goals from a menacing Clare defence. No change there, except for Des Mythen's pickpocketing of David Hoey that yielded three points. Anything else took hard labour and in the end the workload proved unbearable. Clare were just too streetwise and too forceful to concede ground.

In truth we should have seen this coming. Wexford haven't put two decent back-to-back championship performances together since their reference year of 1996. Such infuriating inconsistency came back to haunt them.

Thirteen minutes into the second half with the wind at their backs Mitch Jordan plucked a superb cross field pass from Diarmuid Lyng and quickly fed Eoin Quigley who had raced into the inside channel. Wexford trailed by nine points (1-16 to 0-10), a goal would surely have made a game of it in the last quarter.

But Quigley's connection was poor and Davy Fitzgerald had time to draw breath before he cleared. From that point on the sting was gone from Wexford's challenge, any hope of a late uprising had faded.

When Seamus Murphy holds his inquest he might have a look at the statistics. Not a yellow card was flashed by referee Brian Gavin, not even one that could be attributed to awkwardness or an over-desire to win possession. Wexford took everything that was given to them and barely issued a response.

Wexford's decision, after winning the toss, to play against the wind in the first half worked out to Clare's advantage as the Slaneysiders failed to replicate the start they had enjoyed against Kilkenny last time out.

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After a tentative first quarter Clare exploded to life after that and from being just 0-7 to 0-5 ahead after 17 minutes they turned around 1-13 to 0-7 clear at the break.

Wexford weren't helped by a hamstring injury sustained by centre-back Declan Ruth on 24 minutes. Ruth's departure robbed them of a defensive bulwark and left Murphy with too much patching up to do. Ruth's opposite number Seanie McMahon gave a performance right out of his 1990s manual when he was a peerless figure in the position. He hasn't looked this good since Clare stormed through the back door in 2002.

He had plenty of support around him. Gerry Quinn was impenetrable on his left and behind him the Lohans used guile to put themselves in the right positions all the time. Rarely were they caught.

Brian O'Connell grew in stature at midfield beside an energetic Colin Lynch who provided one of the game's few inspiring moments when he shipped a couple of heavy tackles on the Hogan Stand sideline in the first half and fired over a superb point, Clare's 10th to move five points clear. It was the perfect snapshot to encapsulate the day.

Within two minutes of that Lynch point Alan Markham had put further daylight between the teams when he raced onto Barry Nugent's hand pass and struck the game's only goal, albeit with some assistance from Damien Fitzhenry. Maybe we have come to expect too much from Fitzhenry in these situations but he has done better with more stinging shots than Markham's.

With Tony Carmody and Tony Griffin dove-tailing well between centre-forward and corner-forward Clare had more artillery and by the break they had snapped up five points between them - Griffin scored three - from a variety of angles and distances.

Wexford had withdrawn Paul Carley to a more defensive role in the first half but that policy didn't work as McMahon and Quinn revelled in the extra freedom.

They needed a brisk response on the restart to begin tackling a hefty six-point deficit but when Markham pinched the opening point it left them with an even greater mountain to climb, psychologically more than anything else.

Clare had an answer for every question Wexford asked of them and soon it became apparent that Wexford weren't going to make headway.

Niall Gilligan grew in prominence in the second half but still never reached the heights he can as Darragh Ryan shows why he still rates highly among the game's top circle of full-backs.

Clare's half-forward line contributed 1-8 of their 1-20 total and Diarmuid McMahon enjoyed one of his most profitable afternoons in a Clare shirt by finishing with four points.

Mick Jacob tried hard to initiate some sort of Wexford revival but it was all in vain and after Quigley's spurned chance the sense of inevitability was palpable.

SCORERS - Clare: N Gilligan 0-5 (4f), D McMahon 0-4, A Markham 1-1, T Griffin, T Carmody 0-3 each, S McMahon (1 '65') 0-2, C Lynch, B O'Connell 0-1 each. Wexford: D Mythen, R Jacob (3f) 0-3 each, M Jacob 0-2, A Fenlon, D Ruth (f), D Lyng ('65'), R Barry 0-1 each.

CLARE - D Fitzgerald 8; F Lohan 7, B Lohan 7, G O'Grady 8, D Hoey 6, S McMahon 9, G Quinn 8; C Lynch 7, B O'Connell 8, D McMahon 8, T Carmody 8, A Markham 7; B Nugent 5, N Gilligan 6, T Griffin 8. Subs: D O'Rourke 5 for Griffin (41), C Plunkett 6 for Hoey (42), D O'Connell for Griffin (66), J Clancy for Markham (68), A Quinn for Gilligan (70).

WEXFORD - D Fitzhenry 6; D O'Connor 6, D Ryan 8, K Rossiter 7; M Travers 7, D Ruth 6, D Lyng 6; A Fenlon 6, R McCarthy 6; P Carley 5, E Quigley 5, D Mythen 8; M Jordan 6, M Jacob 7, R Jacob 6. Subs: R Barry for Ruth (24), T Mahon for Carley (42).

REF - B Gavin (Offaly).

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