THOSE who felt that Clare couldn’t possibly repeat their 11-point win over Wexford in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final were proved correct in Croke Park yesterday — Clare won by 12, and won pulling up.
The first game of the day’s quarter-final double-header, the third quarter-final of the weekend, proved a major disappointment for an attendance of nearly 46,000, and was never a contest.
From the start, it was Clare in control, 1-7 to 0-1 ahead after 18 minutes, 1-13 to 0-7 at the break, 1-18 to 0-8 ten minutes into the second half, extended to a 14-point lead with five minutes remaining; from the start it was over for Wexford.
Four of those early Clare points came from centre-forward Tony Carmody, giving Declan Ruth a torrid time, but all over the pitch Wexford were in trouble. One point in those opening 18 minutes says all that needs to be said about the potency of their attack, their midfield was anonymous, which all meant that their defence was under constant pressure, from all sectors.
How constant? How varied? Well, put it this way — by the 30th minute, all six of the Clare forwards had scored from play, with centre-back Seanie McMahon also in on the act.
Midfielder Colin Lynch was also highly visible, as Clare piled misery on misery for Wexford. Try as they might, full-back and team captain Keith Rossiter, his two corners Doc O’Connor and Malachy Travers, and wing-back Diarmuid Lyng could not hold back the rising Clare tide, with Declan Ruth also doing his utmost. Quite simply, Wexford were overpowered and overrun, by a bigger, faster, fitter, more skilful Clare 15.
And make no mistake, despite the paucity of the opposition, Clare were impressive. Beaten once — a goal about which he could do nothing — keeper Davy Fitz was in fine fettle, and got his stick to a goal-bound bullet from substitute Paul Codd in the second half, as Wexford tried vainly to mount some kind of comeback
The Lohan brothers were like a pair of pincer Panzers, crushing most threats in front of goal, Ger O’Grady also impressive alongside; wing-backs Brian O’Connell and Gerry Quinn, though with contrasting styles (the former all grace and style, the latter with power and panache), were in control out wide, with Sean McMahon never really questioned early on. Lynch lorded the middle, young Jonathon Clancy his sidekick; up front, however, was where Clare really stamped their authority; 1-27 is quite a statement, it could have been more.
On at least four occasions, different Clare forwards opted for the point when a goal was there for the taking, had they passed to better-placed colleagues. On another day, had those goals been needed, they would probably have been taken; as it was, right option, keep the scoreboard ticking over during your period of dominance.
Most prominent of the point-scorers was Carmody (he ended with five from play), but he was joined by Niall Gilligan (six, four from play), Tony Griffin (four), Alan Markham (two, but unlucky it wasn’t two goals), with wing-forward Diarmuid McMahon powering his way in for 1-2.
The goal was impressive in itself, a surging run along the endline by McMahon, powerful angled shot high to Damien Fitzhenry’s net, all set up by a lovely reverse flick pass from Alan Markham out on the wing. Yes, an impressive display.
Adding to the good news for Clare fans was the strength shown off the bench, again, and significantly, by the forwards. Daithi O’Connell, Fergal Lynch and Barry Nugent all came on, all scored from play; Conor Plunkett replaced a tiring Seanie McMahon at centre-back, and really looked the part, while Declan O’Rourke did a good job in midfield in place of the injured Colin Lynch, who suffered a leg injury late in the first-half, didn’t appear after the break.
For Wexford, for their large following, more disappointment. Talismanic full-back Darragh Ryan, though named to start, didn’t make it after a further injury suffered during the week; no fault to his full-back deputy, Keith Rossiter, but Ryan’s imposing presence was missed.
Paul Codd did make an early appearance, just before half-time, and his strength and experience was a factor, his pass setting up Rory McCarthy for the Wexford goal; that came in the 18th minute of the second half, brought Wexford within nine points, but Clare immediately went on another point-scoring run, five without reply, so the goal meant little.
Rory Jacob did his best, ended with three hard-earned points from play, but brother Michael disappointed, well held by Brian O’Connell. The hope going into this game was that Wexford would have learned from their Leinster final disappointment against Kilkenny, that in the intervening weeks they would have got their act together. They didn’t, and the fear now has to be that there is no act, that this is as good as it gets for them. Bodes ill for hurling.
Scorers: Clare: N. Gilligan 0-6 (0-2 frees); T. Carmody (0-5); T. Griffin 0-4; D. McMahon 1-1; A. Markham 0-3; S. McMahon 0-3 (frees); D. O’Connell 0-2; F. Lynch, B. Nugent, D. Quinn, 0-1 each. Wexford: R. McCarthy 1-1; R. Jacob 0-3; S. Doyle 0-3 (all frees); P. Codd 0-3 (all frees); D. Mythen 0-2; M. Jacob, E. Quigley, D. Ruth (free), 0-1 each.
CLARE: D. Fitzgerald; G. O’Grady, B. Lohan, F. Lohan; B. O’Connell, S. McMahon, G. Quinn; J. Clancy, C. Lynch; D. McMahon, T. Carmody, N. Gilligan; D. Quinn, A. Markham, T. Griffin.
Subs: D. O’Rourke (Lynch inj. 35); D. O’Connell (D. Quinn inj. 35); F. Lynch (Griffin 55); C. Plunkett (S. McMahon 55); B. Nugent (Markham 62).
WEXFORD: D. Fitzhenry; D. O’Connor, K. Rossiter (c), M. Travers; R. Keogh, D. Ruth, D. Lyng; R. McCarthy, C. Kenny; E. Quigley, M. Doyle, M. Jacob; S. Doyle, R. Jacob, T. Mahon.
Subs: P. Codd (S. Doyle 35); PJ Nolan (M. Doyle 46); D. Mythen (Quigley 50); M. Jordan (Kenny 58).
Referee: M. Haverty (Galway).