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Hurlers’ brave stand falls shy. by Ronan Fagan, Photos Noel Reddy

Clare 2-25, Wexford 1-22

From eleven points down after 19 minutes to within a stroke of forcing extra-time, Wexford’s All-Ireland SHC ambitions for 2021 died despite a stunning fight-back in scorching hot Semple Stadium, Thurles on Saturday against Clare in the Round 1 Qualifier.

Although Conor McDonald pointed Wexford in front after a mere 15 seconds, they were quickly over-run as Clare zoomed out in front by 1-4 to 0-1.

But that tenth-minute Banner County goal only came after Rory O’Connor had been hugely unfortunate to find the side-netting before the resultant puck-out found Cathal Malone to complete a major twist seconds later.

There really seemed little scope for Wexford hope as Clare sauntered clear by 1-12 to 0-4 after 21 minutes.

And it would have been so easy for Wexford to have wilted in the intensely sapping conditions, with temperatures resting in the high 20s.

But Wexford knuckled down after the tremendous boost of Diarmuid O’Keeffe latching on to a breaking ball and netting in the 23rd minute (1-12 to 1-4).

A run of five unanswered scores to cut the gap to 1-15 to 1-10 at half-time extended to another three points without reply on the resumption as Wexford closed to within 1-15 to 1-13.

The surge certainly lifted the voices of Wexford’s passionate support amongst the 4,500 attendance.

Indeed, although Clare responded to extend ahead by 1-19 to 1-13, Wexford remained committed, and the inspired Cathal Dunbar contributed along with lead-shooter Lee Chin as the Model County got within 1-21 to 1-17 at the last water-break.

In fact, such was the heat that referee Fergal Horgan had sought permission to allow two hydration breaks during the second-half having encountered the particularly energy sapping nature of the opening period.

Regardless, Wexford displayed exemplary defiance.

But, with ten minutes of normal-time remaining they coughed up easy points at the expense of trying in vain for goals.

Chin from a ‘65, Rory O’Connor from play, Chin again from two frees and Dunbar maintained the push though (1-25 to 1-22) as Wexford closed in on possibly facing extra-time for the second game running on the back of their Leinster semi-final clash with Kilkenny.

Such thoughts suffered a blow when Clare sub Gary Cooney latched on to long delivery to tip home a goal a couple of minutes into the four added-minutes (2-25 to 1-22).

Huge-hearted Wexford kept chasing and Chin flashed to the net from a Conor McDonald rebound four minutes into lost-time.

But it just wasn’t to be as the frustrating slow start cost them.

 

Clare: Eibhear Quilligan; Paul Flanagan, Conor Cleary, Rory Hayes (0-1); Diarmuid Ryan (0-1), John Conlon, Páidí Fitzpatrick; Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly (0-9, 7 frees); Cathal Malone (1-1), David Reidy (0-3), Ryan Taylor (0-3); Aaron Shanagher (0-2), Aidan McCarthy (0-3), Ian Galvin.

Subs: David McInerney for Fitzpatrick (HT); Mark Rodgers (0-2) for I Galvin (48); Jack Browne for C Galvin (55); Aaron Fitzgerald for Conlon (66); Gary Cooney (1-0) for Shanagher (70).

Wexford: Mark Fanning; Matthew O’Hanlon (joint-capt.), Liam Ryan, Kevin Foley; Joe O’Connor, Simon Donohoe, Gavin Bailey; Shane Reck, Liam Óg McGovern (0-1); Diarmuid O’Keeffe (1-0), Lee Chin (1-12, 0-9 frees, 0-1 ‘65), Rory O’Connor (0-2); Paul Morris, Conor McDonald (0-2), Cathal Dunbar (0-5).

Subs: Damien Reck for Joe O’Connor (47); Jack O’Connor for McGovern (48); Aidan Nolan for Morris (53); Connal Flood for Bailey (59); Mikey Dwyer for O’Keeffe (66), also, Seamus Casey, Conor Firman, David Dunne, Harry Kehoe, Conor Hearne, Conor Devitt, Ross Banville, Shaun Murphy, Conor Mahoney, Ross Donohoe, Richie Lawlor, James Lawlor, Cian Molloy.

Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).