Home » Sports » Clare set for Wexican stand-off
Keith Smyth of Clare and Conor Foley of Wexford meet following their Allianz Hurling League game at Chadwick's Wexford Park. Photograph by John Kelly

Clare set for Wexican stand-off

The distinctive stench of turpentine has permeated around the county in the last two weeks as slates have been cleaned and canvases blanked ahead of Clare’s senior hurling championship resumption in Thurles this Saturday.
Following the heartbreak of a third consecutive Munster Final reverse to trophy hoovers Limerick at the same venue last time out, picking up the pieces has never been more important as they look to regather self-belief, confidence and momentum once more in the All-Ireland series.
While earning the unwanted record of being only the second team ever to lose three Munster deciders to the same opposition was harrowing enough, the despondency surrounding the below-par performance made it arguably the most disappointing of all three provincial final clashes.
After all, Brian Lohan’s side had exceeded all expectations to push Limerick all the way to extra-time in a Munster Final for the ages in 2022 while the Banner subsequently almost took down the champions in their own home patch last year only to be controversially denied an equalising free at the death.
However, John Kiely’s team were full value for their latest provincial crown which copperfastened their latest record of becoming the first county to win six Munster titles in a row at the expense of their nearest and dearest neighbours.
Increasingly compared to that famous Clare side of the 1970s that could win back-to-back National League silverware but simply couldn’t overcome Cork in Munster, at least the current crop do have the glorious opportunity to make amends and perhaps even gain retribution on both Kilkenny and Limerick provided they can clamber over the first perilous hurdle this Saturday (3.15pm).
Labelled the second best team in Ireland after being beaten by the Rebels in both the 1977 and ’78 finals, that Clare side which included the likes of Ger Loughnane, Sean Stack, Johnny Callinan, Mick Moroney, the O’Connor brothers Pat and Enda, and Colm Honan to name but a few never got a chance to justify that tag.
However, Conor Cleary and Co. do and it’s about making the most of that opportunity now as there is a danger that this side could break up if there was to be an early championship exit.
It certainly won’t be easy as Wexford, under new manager Keith Rossiter, recovered from a nightmare start to the championship to really catch fire when it matters most.
An opening draw against Dublin and a painful Round 2 defeat to Antrim were admirably put behind them as the Slaneysiders put Galway to the sword by eight points and also beat Carlow before running Kilkenny to a point in their final group outing.
Three weeks later, the Leinster third placed side resumed with a twelve point triumph over Joe McDonagh Cup finalists Laois and will carry that propulsion into another winner-takes-all showdown with Clare.
Indeed, all of Clare and Wexford’s previous championship clashes have been knock-out, with only the pocmark of that memorable 2014 All-Ireland Qualifier series halting the Banner’s dominance in the fixture.
Clare had beaten Wexford, thanks in the main to a first half brace of Cathal McInerney extra-time goals in a dramatic final qualifier in 2013, a scare that steeled the Banner to eventually soar to only their fourth All-Ireland title.
However, the knives were inevitably out twelve months later as first the Yellowbellies forced a replay in Cusack Park before finally completing their first ever championship win over the Banner on home soil a week later, again after extra-time to dethrone Davy Fitzgerald’s side.
Roles were completely reversed in 2018, 2020 and ’21 as Clare mananged to see off Wexford, now managed by Clare native Fitzgerald, on all three occasions.
However, the tie that is most relevant to Saturday’s must-win encounter is their last meeting two years ago as it came in eerily similar circumstances. Clare, off the back of a mentally and physically draining Munster Final derby with Limerick found it difficult to replicate that form and soon found themselves in real peril as Wexford carved out a six point cushion nearing the final ten minutes.
Lohan’s side did rally just in time though, with a spectacular Aron Shanagher cameo goal inspiring a 1-6 unanswered blitz that floored Wexford and catapulted Clare into a last four meeting with Kilkenny.
That memorable fright should be to the forefront of Clare’s minds this Saturday as they know that Wexford will throw everything at them, especially early on as they look to extend Clare’s Munster final hangover and hang-ups.
A large Wexford support have got in behind their side once more, with Lee Chin (0-11) and Conor McDonald (0-5) the form players against Laois but Rory O’Connor is another potential match-winner for the Leinster side.
Clare will enter as favourites simply due to their vast experience which will be required if they are to prevail over Wexford once more. There is no need for wholesale changes either as this was the side that got them to a third Munster decider, it’s just that the final itself was an off-day.
It’s unquestionably a prerequisite for Clare to prove that the Limerick display was a mere blip and prove the naysayers wrong that they are still legitimate All-Ireland contenders.

About Eoin Brennan

Check Also

Dominant display drives Blues to record 26th Clare Cup title

Newmarket-on-Fergus 1-19 Inagh-Kilnamona 1-11 The victor wasn’t a surprise but the manner of Newmarket-on-Fergus’ 26th …