By Peter O’ Dwyer
“Come at the king, you best not miss.” So goes one of the most famous lines from the critically-acclaimed American TV show, ‘The Wire’; a line that essentially warns you only get one chance to take the top dog down and you better not waste it.
Last Saturday however, miss was exactly what a gallant Wexford team did. Early in the second half it seemed it was all they could do. This time around, Clare won’t, in all likelihood, offer their opposition an opportunity as great.
To be fair to Liam Dunne’s men, they lit the blue touch paper early and had a nine point lead over the All-Ireland champions in Cusack Park before Clare knew what had hit them. The champions were wounded but not fatally. It was Wexford’s chance to drive the final nail in their Championship 2014 coffin, but they couldn’t manage to do so.
All of this is, of course, easy to say and much more difficult to do – especially against the All-Ireland champions who themselves showed great fight and determination to salvage a draw but the lingering feeling was one of a missed opportunity for a Wexford side that for all their improvement need to take one such chance sooner rather than later to sustain their upward trajectory.
In the end, Wexford went close to winning it (and were perhaps somewhat unfairly criticised for tapping over a late penalty), before Seadna Morey’s three-pointer saved the champions and Conor McGrath went close to nudging the Banner over the line for what would have been a cruel blow to a Wexford side that looked the most likely to win for much of the 70 minutes. Paul Morris, at the death of extra-time, ensured the Model County at least get another crack at the whip.
For all its thrills, spills and pulsating action last week’s game wasn’t of the highest quality and both managers will want to see an improvement; Davy Fitzgerald, across the park and his opposite number, in front of goal in particular.
Dunne will be heartened by the county’s U-21 success over Dublin midweek with three of his star men Conor McDonald, Jack Guiney and Liam Ryan all integral to their success in retaining the Leinster championship.
As an added bonus, McDonald was named man of the match for his exploits in front of goal which Dunne will hope he can recreate for the senior side this afternoon.
Clare seem a little bit lost thus far in 2014. Losing to Tipperary in the league semi-final and even being vanquished from Munster by Cork, while a little disconcerting, didn’t represent sufficient cause for panic – after all, look what happened last year subsequent to a Munster championship loss.
Their performance last week though showed that all is not as it was a year ago. While Conor McGrath was impressive last time out and Tony Kelly somewhat improved, the forward line just doesn’t have the same zip about it in 2014.
Davy has always been fiercely protective of his players which clearly has earned him their trust and affection in return, but the post-match incidents are becoming a bit too much of a regularity for the Clare boss too. A little less Davy, a little more the Clare of a year ago is what hurling fans want to see and hopefully come Saturday evening that’s what we’ll have.
Whether the king is there for the taking at the second time of asking remains to be seen; conventional wisdom says not but behind enemy lines in Wexford Park is as good a place as any for convention to go missing.