Phoney War or Cold War? A bit of both, really.
There were no shots fired by either manager when this slog of a game was over. There was no handshake either. When the final whistle sounded it was met with a brief pump of the fists by Brian Lohan and nothing beyond an empty stare into the distance by Davy Fitzgerald.
Neither made any attempt to find the other afterwards, preferring instead to strike in-field into the maw of their players and the supporters who, as always, gravitated towards the playing surface like moths to a light. A dramatic scene it was not.
For all the bad blood that is said to flow between these two old comrades-in-arms in recent times, this was still a league game at the start of February in a rejigged league where the consequences of any defeat have been shaved of so much of their bite.
“People can write what they want what they want about me and Brian Lohan,” said Fitzgerald. “It doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
He is who he is and I am who I am and that’s grand. That will never come into it with me.
“I am a Clare man, I am a proud Clare man and I will always be a proud Clare man but I am manager of Wexford and I love what I do down here. Listen, that keeps ye boys (in the media) busy for the week, it’s nothing to do with me whatsoever.”
Lohan, as is his wont, was more curt when the name of his old teammate was mentioned. “No,” was all he offered when asked if he had had the opportunity to exchange pleasantries, or anything else, with his Wexford counterpart.
That’s that, then. Panto over. For now at any rate.
So, what of the game? Poor, to be honest. Mildly diverting at times. It had its moments without ever threatening to grab the attention fully away from the two middle-aged men prowling the sidelines on either side of the halfway line.
Clare won it despite playing 52 of the 81 minutes of hurling with only 14 men. The sending-off was one of those that will have infuriated your purist with John Conlon shown a straight red for a challenge that caught Kevin Foley head high.
“I thought it was harsh looking at it but, talking to the lads on TG4, they said it was around the helmet,” said Lohan who showed no emotion when referee Sean Cleere directed his skipper to the sheds. “I’ve no benefit of seeing it back. It was just unfortunate.”
The modern diktats from Croke Park on high hits probably left the official with little option but to reach for the nuclear button.
However, Wexford, as they found when playing Tipperary in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, struggled to adapt to their improved circumstances.
They had started the game atrociously, facing into a strong wind and, after only a dozen minutes, were six-points adrift.
Then came a surge as they kept the visitors scoreless for almost 20 minutes and reel off a handful of points themselves.
The hosts looked fairly well set when Conlon walked only for a three-point gap to balloon into eight before the interval. Fitzgerald, who wasted no time issuing instructions to suit the changed landscape, was critical of his side’s mentality in that period.
“We talked about that at half-time. They were waiting for stuff to happen. That period just before half-time was actually our fault. We took the foot off the gas, so we did, and we thought because we had the extra man ... they tagged on those five points and we shouldn’t have.”
Their response was effective. Five of their own points followed the restart and, with Clare held scoreless for another lengthy stretch totalling over 15 minutes, it looked like Wexford would pass the visitors long before the home straight.
That they didn’t was the result of some awful shooting — they accounted for 10 wides in that second-half — and the brilliance of Tony Kelly whose excellence from dead balls in the first half was buttressed by a growing influence from open play as the clock wound down.
“We are very happy with the spirit of the lads,” said Lohan whose side was ultra-economical with their efforts on target all afternoon. “Very happy with the intensity. We worked really hard all over the field. I couldn’t be happier.”
Fitzgerald shouldn’t really lose much sleep after this one. He has players of real calibre still to come back, Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Lee Chin, and Matt O’Hanlon among them, and a dressing room imbued with the extra confidence that should come with being Leinster champions.
That said, you can imagine him squirrelling this one away for future use too. “I’m a fella that wants to win every game. I went out to win today ... and I felt we were good enough. We had our chances. I just take it a game at a time. You never know. We might get to meet later on in the year.”
J O’Connor (0-5, 4 frees); R O’Connor and C McDonald (both 0-2); P Foley )-0-2 frees); M Fanning, L Og McGovern, A Rochford and P Morris (all 0-1).
T Kelly (0-12, 0-10 frees); D Fitzgerald (0-3); R Taylor 0-2); S O’Donnell (0-1).
M Fanning; S Reck, L Ryan, J O’Connor; D Reck, S Murphy, P Foley; K Foley, J O’Connor; L Og McGovern, R O’Connor, C Dunbar; A Rochford, C McDonald, P Morris.
A Nolan for McGovern (61); B Keogh for S Reck (64).
D Tuohy; J Browne, C Cleary, E Quirke; A McCarthy, P O’Connor, S O’Halloran; D McInerney, T Kelly; I Galvin, D Fitzgerald, D Reidy; R Taylor, J Conlon, S O’Donnell.
D McMahon for Galvin (46); S Morey for Taylor (55); C Malone for Reidy (60); L Corry for Quirke (69); A Shanagher for O’Donnell (72).
S Cleere (Kilkenny).
The game in 60 seconds
Davy Fitzgerald highlighted the last five or six minutes of the first-half when, having been reduced to 14 men, Clare pinged off five unanswered points to leave them with an eight-point lead for a second-half they would play against the elements. He's right. It was enough of a lead. Just.
What are we to make of the new league format? This was diverting enough but the rejigging of the structures, again, has the potential to drain much of the intensity and pressure from this competition.
Brian Lohan was tight-lipped when Davy Fitzgerald's name was mentioned afterwards but this had to be that bit more sweet given the recent rancorous history that has been in evidence between the two former county colleagues.
There's never a good time to be sent off but being captain when it happens must make it even worse. John Conlon didn't seem to have any malicious intent when he caught Kevin Foley high in the 29th minutes but the GAA have been clear in their determination to crack down on any contact around the helmet area.
Yet again, Wexford struggled against a side playing a huge chunk of the game with 14 men. It cost them a place in the All-Ireland final last year when Tipperary came from behind when a man down and it's something they need to get right.
Tony Kelly. It's easy go for the guy who scored 12 points, even if ten were from frees, but some of his dead ball striking from distance was wondrous and he grew in influence from open play after the interval when Clare needed to pull through.
Wexford are at home again on Sunday, February 16 when Kilkenny make the hop across the border. Clare welcome Laois to Ennis that same day.