Impressive Clare see off Wexford in All-Ireland quarter-final

Rory O’Connor sending off costly for Wexford as they exit the championship

Clare's Shane O’Donnell and Shane Meehan with Conor Hearne of Wexford. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

All-Ireland SHC quarter-final: Clare 2-28 Wexford 1-19

Clare made amends for their Munster final defeat with a much tighter and sharper performance in the All-Ireland quarter-final at FBD Semple Stadium on Saturday afternoon. They will now renew acquaintances with Kilkenny in a fortnight in the first of this year’s semi-finals.

Yes, they were facilitated by Wexford losing a man before half-time when Rory O’Connor was sent off for a foul on David Reidy but they showed a lot more of their best form with Tony Kelly back on song and Shane O’Donnell maintaining the perfect pitch he has sustained all season.

In the 43rd minute, he took a ball and ran at Matthew O’Hanlon, got fouled but persisted, racing in an arc towards the goal, ball on his stick like a waiter hurrying with a late order on the tray. Once in enough space to get off the shot he placed it in the left corner for a 1-18 to 0-12 lead.


It would be unfair on Wexford’s unflagging attempts to stay in touch to say that the goal put the match to bed, as they did after all rattle off the next three points, from a Lee Chin free, Cian Byrne and replacement Cathal Dunbar.

Clare did finish things off a couple of minutes later when the excellent John Conlon, regularly cutting out hopeful, high ball in on the Clare defence, send a fine clearance down the left wing where replacement Ian Galvin was up like a steeplejack to catch the ball ahead of Eoin Ryan.

He landed, turned and sped in for a crisp finish and the margin was back out to seven, 2-19 to 1-15.

The match was attractively balanced as the first half neared conclusion. A dominant Clare opening had the Munster finalists leading by between five and seven points until the 25th minute. Their forward movement had a reorganised Wexford defence baffled and they scored more freely than they had managed for much of their provincial campaign.

David Fitzgerald’s 22nd-minute point was a case in point, the ball moved smoothly between Aron Shanagher and Kelly for the wing forward to finish,

Shanagher had been brought in at the start for Aidan McCarthy and he gave the attack an aerial focus but it was the relentless running of O’Donnell that caused most consternation as well as Kelly playing as well as he has this year, having returned from lengthy injury at the beginning of the championship.

So far, so much plain sailing but Wexford had started to exhibit potential of their own, an ability to run straight at the Clare defence, with Damien Reck making inroads, and draw fouls or create space for shooters, such as centrefielder Conor Hearne and lively wing back Conor Foley.

An unanswered 1-3 for Wexford threw the match back in the hazard and the contest entered its crucial phase.

The central controversy of the half – arguably the match – came in the 29th minute just after Chin had reduced the margin to four. Rory O’Connor on a run at the Clare defence was brought down by a high challenge from David McInerney.

After consulting with his umpires, referee Johnny Murphy awarded a penalty and black carded McInerney for cynically preventing a goalscoring opportunity. The dependable Chin drove the sliotar out of Eibhear Quilligan’s reach.

Clare’s Conor Cleary with fans after the game. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Reduced to 14, Clare wobbled and Foley scooted up the right wing and hit the equaliser. A contest for the ball between O’Connor and David Reidy ended with the Wexford man catching his opponent with an attempted block.

It was a rash challenge by someone already on a yellow and the referee reached for another yellow and the inevitable further card. O’Connor’s premature departure with injury in this fixture two years ago had a significant impact on the outcome.

Clare manager Brian Lohan, content to have reached third successive All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny, acknowledged the advantage.

“When you have a marquee player like Rory O’Connor, he’s just a really good player. Nobody ever likes to see hurler being sent off. It was the opposite side of the field to me, so I didn’t see – I was following the play. But nobody likes to see a player go off.”

Wexford hung in but couldn’t get Chin properly into the game with a succession of long-ball bombardments and had to content themselves with shaving points off the total. Conor Foley added the last of these, a stylish sideline cut but at 12 points down, it was a conjuring trick from the deathbed.

Once Clare had survived the last acts of resistance, they were able to pull away. In the 65th minute, O’Donnell flew up to take another superb catch and almost nonchalantly struck his fourth point.

Kelly added the next score for a personal tally of 0-6, five from play. His manager was asked about his returning form.

“He had a fairly serious operation and it’s taken him a while to get back. Tony needs matches. He needs to get out on the field. Today was the opportunity for him to start and rebound. He didn’t play poorly in the Munster final but just to rebound and get to the level he is capable of – so, delighted for Tony.”

His counterpart Keith Rossiter was very disappointed.

“We’re devastated to be honest with you. We prepared really well for it. The lads were in good form and just for the way it went, it’s very disappointing. You know, you throw everything at it, no different to any other team. Our lads put in the same amount of effort.

“We’re just missing a small bit of luck, I think. It’s happened to us too often this year. We probably could be in a Leinster final but for a decision or two.

“I haven’t looked back on Rory’s first tackle after 15 seconds yet but I’d a good view from where I was, and it didn’t look to be that dangerous to warrant a yellow card after 15 seconds, but these are the little things that cost you on a big day like today. You are not going to beat a team of Clare’s calibre with 14 men.”

Clare move on to play Leinster champions Kilkenny on Saturday week, July 6th, in the first of the All-Ireland semi-finals.

They defeated Kilkenny twice in the league, including April’s final, which Lohan felt would help them in the upcoming contest.

“Any time you win is good. Inter-county hurling is about winning matches. We won those games. They were big targets for us, in the league and in the league final.

“Given the opposition, and that there was a trophy at stake, that was a big deal for us. It mightn’t be a big deal for a lot of teams, but it was for us. So, we were delighted with that. It’s another challenge now.”

Clare: E Quilligan; A Hogan, C Cleary (capt), C Leen (0-1); D Ryan (0-2), J Conlon, D McInerney; C Malone, T Kelly (0-6, one free); D Fitzgerald (0-2), M Rodgers (0-6, six frees), P Duggan; D Reidy (0-3), A Shanagher (0-1), S O’Donnell (1-4).

Subs: I Galvin (1-1) for Duggan (46 mins), P Crotty for Fitzgerald (57 mins), C Galvin for Conlon (59 mins), S Meehan (0-1) for Shanagher (65 mins), A McCarthy (0-1 65) for Rodgers (61 mins),

Wexford: M Fanning (0-1, one free); S Reck, M O’Hanlon, E Ryan; C Foley (0-3, one sideline), D Reck, S Donohoe; C Hearne (0-1), L McGovern; R O’Connor (0-2), R Lawlor, C McGuckin; C Byrne (0-2), L Chin (capt; 1-6, one penalty, five frees), C McDonald (0-1).

Subs: C Dunbar (0-1) for McGovern (44 mins), K Foley (0-1) for McGuckin (46 mins), C Byrne Dunbar for Byrne (56 mins), D Carley for Lawlor (68 mins), S Casey (0-1) for McDonald (68 mins),

Referee: J Murphy (Limerick).

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times