Wexford fall short after a rousing revival
Allianz Hurling League Division 1A: Clare 2-22 Wexford 1-22
One could sense the sigh of relief around Cusack Park in Ennis as Clare supporters saw their side survive a stirring closing 20 minutes as Wexford surged back from a 13-point deficit, only for the home side to come through an enthralling finish to this Allianz Hurling League Division 1A game on Sunday.
The compact ground housed 4,245 supporters, and the home contingent sat back once their side built that cushion as they expected their side to push on to a comfortable victory.
However, they were awoken from their slumber, as suddenly they began to voice their disapproval towards their side. And Wexford took a firm grip on the game during this closing period, a spell in which they outscored the Banner county.
Having trailed by 2-19 to 0-12 after 50 minutes, Wexford still found themselves 2-19 to 0-14 adrift 18 minutes from the end, but suddenly they assumed control.
They were spurred on by a tremendous Shaun Murphy goal after 60 minutes, while in the end it took a goal-line clearance through the efforts of both 'keeper Donal Tuohy and corner-back Jack Browne to keep out what looked like goal-bound a Rory O'Connor ground strike.
That would have given Wexford what would have been a dramatic equalising goal, three minutes into the four of additional time.
After the previous weekend's victory over Tipperary, one did not expect Wexford to find themselves in such a situation in the second-half, but goals either side of half-time really decided the final outcome.
With the goals giving the home side such confidence, they went on to play some explosive hurling, and it took some sterling defending from Darren Byrne, Liam Ryan and Matthew O'Hanlon to curb the free-flowing home attack.
Conlon's major deep into first-half additional time, with the second-last stroke before the break, was rough justice on Wexford as they did not deserve to go in seven points down at the interval.
Wexford also started the second-half in attacking mode, but shot two successive wides, before disaster struck just three minutes into the second period.
Matthew O'Hanlon lost possession, leading up to a trip on Peter Duggan who picked himself up to dispatch the resulting penalty low into the net beyond the despairing dive of 'keeper Mark Fanning, a huge blow to the visitors as they suddenly found themselves eleven points adrift.
The two majors were rough justice on Wexford who deserved to be getting more from the game, but the home side grew in confidence as the result of those two goals.
They went on to pick off some wonderful long-range points, with Wexford having to wait until the 49th minute for their opening second-half score, a fine Rory O'Connor point off the left wing.
Played under a dark sky with no wind, Wexford opened the game with points from Rory O'Connor and Cathal Dunbar inside the opening two minutes, while in between it took a piece of brave defending from Darren Byrne to halt the surge of John Conlon who was eventually penalised for over-carrying.
Even early in the game Clare were making some eye-catching breaks out of defence, leading to a point from midfielder Shane Golden, while a Peter Duggan pointed free had the sides level (0-2 each) after five minutes.
The classic blend of open hurling coupled with a real physical approach soon became evident in the Clare play, as Duggan pointed his side 0-3 to 0-2 in front from a 70-metre free, with Tony Kelly availing of a breaking ball in the centre of the Wexford defence to send over a delightful long-range point.
Now finding themselves 0-4 to 0-2 adrift, Wexford produced some attacking play of their own, leading to a neat Liam Og McGovern point, but Clare responded with three successive points through Diarmuid Ryan, Duggan (free) and John Conlon to lead by 0-7 to 0-3 after 15 minutes.
There was little Wexford were seemingly able to do to curb the attacking play of Clare wing-back David Fitzgerald, who bounded forward to fire over a 60-metre point, while midfielder Colm Galvin picked up a ball in midfield to shoot a further long-range point.
Suddenly Wexford found themselves 0-9 to 0-4 adrift after 18 minutes, with Ian Galvin adding a further point, while Ian Byrne managed a point in between this period of Clare supremacy.
Wexford sent a series of efforts wide before two Byrne pointed frees kept Wexford in touch, while a great Rory O'Connor run looked like producing a much-needed goal, but a desperate piece of late defending from centre-back Conor Cleary saw him get his hurley inside the Wexford attacker to somehow flick the ball back to his 'keeper as he was about to pull the trigger.
This left Aidan Nolan to pick up the ball from this ensuing period of play to point, reducing the deficit to two points (0-9 to 0-7).
Had Wexford got the goal it could have changed the complexion of the game, but Clare responded with points from Duggan (free) and midfielder Shane Golden to once again stretch into a four-point lead.
When further points from Podge Collins and a Duggan free saw Clare move into a 0-13 to 0-7 lead after 29 minutes, Wexford looked to have problems, particularly when in between Aidan Nolan blazed a great chance across the face of the goal and wide having picked up a Diarmuid O'Keeffe crossfield ball.
Probably what Wexford needed was a goal at that stage to settle their challenge, but they still managed to keep their composure by responding with points from Ian Byrne (free) and Cathal Dunbar, having been set up by good approach play involving both Liam Og McGovern and Lee Chin.
Defender Liam Ryan surged forward to pick up a Matthew O'Hanlon ball into space and fire over a point, but it was still Clare who responded with points from Fitzgerald and Ryan, while Ian Galvin also got in on the scoring act.
Wexford did manage a response through a fine Liam Og McGovern run and point, but it was in additional time that disaster struck.
Tony Kelly, who was having little impact, suddenly burst into the game to pick out David Fitzgerald with a pass. The big wing-back powered forward before finding John Conlon in front of goal, and the ace attacker made no mistake with a low shot to the net despite the efforts of advancing 'keeper Fanning and the recovering Lee Chin (1-15 to 0-11).
Wexford opened the second-half in attacking mode, but Rory O'Connor was narrowly wide with a 50-metre free off the sideline, while Conor McDonald, introduced as a half-time substitute, was wide with his opening attempt on goal. These were scores which the visitors could have done with to set up an early second-half challenge.
Then just two minutes in, Clare broke down the left and Tony Kelly pointed from an acute angle, while one minute later came the penalty, dispatched by Peter Duggan, giving his side a 2-16 to 0-11 lead.
When Podge Collins and Diarmuid Ryan picked off further points, to extend their lead to 2-18 to 0-11, Wexford looked in real trouble, particularly when they had to wait until the 49th minute for their opening second-half score - a Rory O'Connor point.
At this stage it was going to take something special if they were to haul themselves back into this game, particularly as Clare responded with a John Conlon 50th-minute point to extend his side back into a 13-point lead.
But credit to Wexford as they never lost their composure, keeping their shape, while the introduction of Damien Reck to the defence brought a new lease of urgency at the back, as they restricted Clare to a further three points in the closing 20 minutes.
Probably what influenced Wexford's recovery was the fact that Diarmuid O'Keeffe and Lee Chin now began to make an impact on midfield, while Kevin Foley became more dominant coming out of the half-back line.
And with Rory O'Connor and Conor McDonald beginning to cause problems up front, suddenly the game took on a whole new lease of life.
O'Connor fired over a point, while McDonald, having been given a great pass inside by O'Connor, was unable to retain control with the home defence managing to smother the goal chance, leaving O'Connor to pick up the pieces and point.
Suddenly Wexford began to storm all over Clare, with Diarmuid O'Keeffe pointing off the wing having been picked out by a McDonald pass, while Jack O'Connor, just on as a substitute, immediately got in on the scoring act with a fine point.
When Foley sent over a long-range point, suddenly the deficit was back to two points (2-19 to 1-20), with the goal being something special, arriving on 60 minutes.
Wexford attacked down the left wing, with Conor McDonald having worked hard to win possession, before picking out Lee Chin with a reverse pass.
Chin linked up with Aidan Nolan, before going on to take the return pass, but his attempt for goal was blocked high across the face of the goal.
With the danger seemingly averted, wing-back Shaun Murphy stormed forward to meet the dropping ball with a first time strike to power a superb shot to the roof of the net.
With Wexford just two points adrift going into the closing five minutes, substitute Paul Morris was wide with a point attempt, before Duggan (free) and Morris exchanged points. With just two points once again separating the sides, substitute Harry Kehoe saw his point attempt drift just wide.
With the Clare players no doubt beginning to sense unrest in the home crowd, they struck back for points from Kelly and Conlon, but Wexford were by no means finished as they responded with a Jack O'Connor pointed free.
Then in additional time, Lee Chin was fouled, but from the resulting 21-metre free to the right of goal, Jack O'Connor saw his shot beat a packed goal, only for 'keeper Tuohy to knock the ball clear along the endline as Wexford forced a '65.
Wexford still managed to work the ball into the danger zone but somehow the Clare defence held firm as they sought an equaliser, but it still took a despairing goal-line clearance in those dramatic closing minutes to deny Wexford a draw.
The game ended with Wexford searching for an equalising goal, and manager Davy Fitzgerald said: 'We deserved it. I don't know where the hurley came out of,' referring to that clearance from Rory O'Connor.
'Clare dominated well and we lost our shape completely,' he added. 'I honestly think we could have got a result at the end, we deserved it, we were coming so strong at the end of it.
'We gave away two of the sloppiest goals you could give away. We were in total control of that second goal, it shouldn't happen. It was our mistake completely, we know it.
'I thought our goal was as good as you will see in a game of hurling, five passes, and a score that was unreal. I'm very proud of the lads, 13 points down and we came back and we gave ourselves a chance to win it.
'The easiest thing to do would have been to put up the white flag.'
Wexford: Mark Fanning; Liam Ryan (0-1), Darren Byrne, Shane Reck; Kevin Foley (0-2), Pádraig Foley, Shaun Murphy (1-0), Matthew O'Hanlon; Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1), Aidan Nolan (0-1); Rory O'Connor (0-5, 1 free), Liam Og McGovern (0-2), Ian Byrne (0-4 frees); Cathal Dunbar (0-2), Lee Chin (0-1). Subs. - Conor McDonald for McGovern (HT), Paul Morris (0-1) for Byrne (HT), Damien Reck for S. Reck (53), Jack O'Connor (0-2, 1 free) for Dunbar (55).
Clare: Donal Tuohy; Rory Hayes, David McInerney, Jack Browne; Patrick O'Connor, Conor Cleary, David Fitzgerald (0-2); Shane Golden (0-1), Colm Galvin (0-1); Peter Duggan (1-6, 0-6 frees, 1-0 pen.), Tony Kelly (0-2), Diarmuid Ryan (0-4); Ian Galvin (0-2), John Conlon (1-1), Podge Collins (0-3). Subs. - Cathal Malone for Fitzgerald, inj. (55), Ryan Taylor for Golden (61), Jason McCarthy for O'Connor (65), Aidan McCarthy for Ryan (68), Paul Flanagan for Conlon (68).
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).