Two goals apiece from Tony Carmody and Niall Gilligan spearheaded Clare’s passage to the decider - a just reward for the efforts of Anthony Daly’s side over the past number of weeks.
After a sluggish start, Clare’s campaign took off after their stunning victory over Kilkenny at Nowlan Park in the fourth game of the competition.
But manager Daly warned: “Kilkenny will be all out to annihilate us; they did not like losing to us at Nowlan Park and they won’t take that lying down. And, of course, Brian Cody is on record as saying they want to win league and championship this year.”
Daly said he was pleased, with his side’s performance: “We started sluggish enough but after Niall Gilligan’s goal in the 22nd minute we settled into a good rhythm and never really looked in any danger of losing afterwards.
Early on, Wexford showed little signs of a hangover following last week’s 30-points plus defeat to Kilkenny. Indeed they scorched into a two-point lead courtesy of Rory Jacob, who converted a free, and Nigel Higgins just minutes after the start. Clare, playing with the assistance of a fairly strong wind found it difficult to piece their game together against a side who seemed hell-bent on atoning for last week’s drubbing.
Although Clare edged to the front for the first time in the 15th minute with a superb point from Niall Gilligan, the home side, with commendable endeavour, continued to trouble their opponents.
With Clare going through a rocky patch following the dismissal of corner-back Gerry O’Grady for a yellow card offence, Wexford took full advantage and regained the lead when midfielder Johnny O’Connor put over a sideline puck for a two-pointer. Then Nigel Higgins pounced to kick a rebound to the net in the 18th minute after Davy Fitzgerald had saved from Michael Jacob.
In the twinkling of an eye, however, the bubble burst for Wexford after Gilligan soloed through before rocketing the ball to the net.
Clare were now a transformed side. From there on they outclassed Wexford with splendid team-work.
After Wexford levelled the game for the third time in the 24th minute, Clare to hit a real purple patch. Scoring at will, they powered their way into an interval lead of 2-12 to 1-7 after Daithi O’Connell and Colin Lynch combined to set up Anthony Carmody for a gem of a goal.
A third goal from centre-forward Diarmuid McMahon 45 seconds after the resumption completely knocked the stuffing out of Wexford.
To their credit however, Wexford never threw in the towel, but they had no answer to Clare’s superior technique. Carmody grabbed his second goal in the 43rd minute. Displaying great footwork and craft, he got inside goalkeeper Damien Fitzhenry, who was policing the ball wide, to flick the ball to the net from near the end-line.
Gilligan rifled home his second nine minutes later after collecting a cross from Daithi O’Connell.
With Clare’s place in the final assured, for the first time since 2002, they were reduced to 14 men when Brian Lohan was yellow-carded and could not be replaced.
: Clare: T. Carmody 2-6, N. Gilligan 2-3 (0-1 free), D. McMahon 1-0, S. McMahon 0-2 (0-2 65’s), C. Plunkett, D. O’Connell, A. Quinn, A. Martin, B. O’Connell 0-1 each). Wexford: N. Higgins 1-1, R. Jacob 0-5 (0-3 frees), D. Ruth 0-2 (both frees), B. Lambert 0-2, J. O’Connor 0-2 (sideline cut), E. Quigley, M. Jacob, M.J. Furlong 0-1 each.
: D. Fitzgerald; F. Lohan, B. Lohan, G. O’Grady, A. Markham, S. McMahon, G. Quinn, B. O’Connell, C. Lynch, C. Plunkett, D. McMahon, T. Carmody, A. Quinn, N. Gilligan, D. O’Connell. Subs: B. Quinn for O’Grady (yellow card); D. Hoey for G. Quinn; D. O’Rourke for D. McMahon; B. Lynch for C. Lynch; C. Forde for S. McMahon; J. Clancy for A. Quinn.
: D. Fitzhenry; M. Travers, D. O’Connor, K. Rossiter, D. Ruth, D. Stamp, K. Kavanagh, J. O’Connor, R. McCarthy, M. Jacob, E. Quigley, D. Mydhen, N. Higgins, R. Jacob, M. Jordan . Subs: M.J. Furlong for O’Connor; B. Lambert for Quigley; C. McGrath for Jordan; D. O’Brien for McCarthy.
: Anthony Stapleton (Laois).