Clare have wind in their sails

Wexford 1-11 Clare 0-18: Played six, won six.
Clare have wind in their sails

It looks like Clare are finding their mojo again.

Munster Senior League winners in January, they have followed on in that vein with an opening Division 1B defeat of Offaly and now this imperfect but dogged defeat of a Wexford side that was much improved from the limp outfit that surrendered to Limerick.

Bigger days and tougher assignments await Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare, but they at least have momentum billowing their sails again and there was some symmetry in continuing on their new course at the ground where they relinquished their All-Ireland title in 2014.

Wexford made them work for it. They belied the wind and intermittent rain that peppered their faces in the second half to keep the result in doubt until near the end and even led briefly by a point as late as the 65th minute before Clare found their stride to pull clear.

The visitors did it without key men. Tony Kelly, for example, who is still a month or so away from full fitness. And Colm Galvin who sat this one out with a hamstring injury. Brendan Bugler and Darach Honan were both named in the starting side, but played no part.

Fitzgerald spoke afterwards about how Clare might turn out for championship this summer “with one or two you mightn’t have thought of”. Competition for places, a run of victories: it was little wonder that he wore that familiar half-smile on his face as he dissected the day.

“We have six competitive games played this year and we have six won,” he pointed out. “So we are happy with that. It’s important for us to get the ‘W’s. And do you know what is important? To get them like we got that there today.

“It looked dodgy at times, but they believed in themselves, backed themselves, and that’s good. That’s a good sign for us. When Wexford battle like they did in that second-half you are going to find it tough. I like when Wexford play like that.”

Maybe, but it was no classic.

Seventeen of the 30 scores came from dead balls and they contributed 23 wides between them. It was no surprise what with a wind that whooshed down from one goal to the other and an uneven pitch hardly aided attempts to play pretty hurling.

Both sides did at least try. Short passing moves were knitted throughout the 70 minutes, but defences dominated: Clare limited Wexford to just 1-6 in the opening period with three of those points coming from frees and the goal from a penalty.

It was awarded for a supposed Cian Dillon foul on Podge Doran and converted by goalkeeper Mark Fanning, and handed Wexford an undeserved two-point lead at the interval and it changed the complexion of the game on the stroke of half-time.

Dillon protested his innocence at the time to referee James McGrath and later to Fitzgerald, but it clearly galvanised Wexford – and the crowd - and the home side dominated the first 15 minutes of the second half. At one point, their lead actually doubled to a four-point margin.

That was the point when Clare began to reel them in and they would have managed it sooner had Liam Ryan not hooked Shane O’Donnell as he pulled the trigger on goal and Fanning not diverted Aaron Cunningham’s follow-up wide for a ‘65’.

There were 15 minutes to go at that point with Wexford still leading. The hosts would retake the advantage briefly with five to go, though it was difficult to disagree with Fitzgerald who said later that he always felt his team would pull through.

“We had to fight it out. They were dogging it out out there. I thought we were in control of the first-half until that goal and, being honest, I thought Wexford dominated a good patch of the second-half. They did the same as we were doing, coming back running the ball, and they were good at it.

“We didn’t panic and I think you would have seen that,” said Fitzgerald.

Wexford selector Ger Cushe suggested afterwards that perhaps Clare hadn’t done much to break his own side down and, with nine of Colin Ryan’s ten points coming from dead balls on the day, it was an observation that carried no little merit.

Scorers for Wexford:

H Kehoe (0-6 frees); M Fanning (1-0 penalty); D Dunne (0-2); E Moore, A Shore and P Doran (all 0-1).

Scorers for Clare:

C Ryan (0-10, 8 frees and 1 ‘65’); C McGrath, J Brown and B Duggan (all 0-2); D Reidy and J Conlon (both 0-1).

WEXFORD:

M Fanning; J Breen, M O’Hanlon, L Ryan; E Moore, P Foley, S Murphy; L Chin, A Kenny; H Kehoe, A Shore, A Nolan; D Dunne, P Doran, L Og McGovern. Subs: E Conroy for Murphy (29); I Byrne for Breen (42); C McDonald for McGovern (58).

CLARE:

P Kelly; P Flanagan, C Dillon, P O’Connor; J Brown, C Cleary, D McInerney; C Ryan, G O’Connell; J Conlon, C McGrath, C Ryan; A Shanagher, S O’Donnell, C McGrath. Subs: B Duggan for O’Connell (46); A Cunningham for Shanagher (56).

Referee:

J McGrath (Westmeath).

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