CLARE were never really troubled as they made it four wins from four league outings in Division 1B of the 2012 National Hurling League last weekend. As a result of this victory, Clare are through to the Division 1B final, irrespective of the result of their final group game against Offaly at O’Connor Park in Tullamore on Sunday.
Clare will face either Offaly, Limerick or Antrim in that final, the winners of which will gain a place in the league semi-final proper.
In beautiful conditions at Cusack Park on Sunday, Davy Fitzgerald’s outfit was always in control against Wexford, who are now battling to avoid a drop to Division 2 of the league for next season.
The home side set the tone from the start and had three points on the board by the fourth minute, two from Conor McGrath and one from John Conlon. They were six ahead by the end of the opening quarter and the writing was on the wall for the visitors, who had to wait until the 20th minute for their opening score.
Clare made two changes in personnel from the side that started against Laois a week earlier. Seadna Morey came in at wing-back for Enda Barrett, while Conor McGrath returned from illness to take his place in the full-forward line and Caimin Morey was the player to lose out.
The game’s first goal should have come as early as the sixth minute, when Conor McGrath broke past his marker but Wexford captain Keith Rossiter did enough to prevent John Conlon from getting possession and the ball went wide.
Points from Nicky O’Connell and McGrath followed before a foul on John Conlon led to a 20m free in front of goal. Clare called on centre-back James McInerney to go for goal but his effort was saved. Nine scoreless minutes followed before O’Connell extended Clare’s lead to six points at the midpoint of the half.
The goal Clare had been threatening came less than a minute after Diarmuid O’Keeffe opened the visitors’ account in the 20th minute. John Conlon cut in from the right corner and fired past Niall Breen in the Wexford goal to put Clare eight points clear.
In the next five minutes Clare conceded a number of frees and Jack Guiney converted four to cut the home side’s lead to four points with nine minutes remaining in the half.
An excellent move involving Jonathan Clancy and Conor McGrath ended with Sean Collins scoring Clare’s second goal with six minutes remaining in the half. It was to be their final score in this moiety, while Wexford went on to add three more from the game’s top scorer Guiney, leaving the half-time score at 2-8 to 0-9.
The Slaneysiders returned with Diarmuid Lyng, their captain of a few season’s ago, in the team in place of Stephen Banville, while Clare also made a change, bringing in Cathal McInerney in place of Fergal Lynch.
Both sides had bad misses in the opening minute but Clare struck first again and a Conor McGrath goal, following a Brendan Bugler delivery, left the Banner men eight points clear five minutes into the half.
Points were exchanged between the respective freetakers, Guiney and McGrath, before Wexford were reduced to 14 men. Full-back Matthew O’Hanlon picked up his second yellow card in the space of seven minutes and this ended his involvement in the game.
While Clare were never in danger, they struggled to capitalise on the extra-man advantage.
As the three-quarter stage approached, they extended their lead to 11 points and the outcome wasn’t in doubt. Both sides made a number of changes in the remaining time as Clare continued to dominate and run out comfortable winners.
Brendan Bugler was prominent throughout in the Clare defence, while Seadna Morey got through a lot of good work. Up front John Conlon, Sean Collins and Conor McGrath caused problems for the Wexford defence.
Keith Rossiter, Jack Guiney and Diarmuid O’Keeffe did best in a disappointing Wexford performance.
Clare: Patrick Kelly; Eamonn Glynn, Cian Dillon, Conor Cooney; Brendan Bugler, James McInerney, Seadna Morey; Nicky O’Connell, Pat Donnellan (captain); Jonathon Clancy, Sean Collins, Fergal Lynch; Colin Ryan, John Conlon, Conor McGrath.
Subs: Cathal McInerney for Lynch (half-time), Liam Markham for Glynn (50 minutes), Aaron Cunningham for Ryan (53 minutes) and Colm Galvin for Donnellan (68 minutes).
Scorers: Conor McGrath (1-7, 4f), John Conlon (1-2), Sean Collins (1-1), Nicky O’Connell (0-3, 1f), Liam Markham (0-2) and Fergal Lynch (0-1).
Frees for: 14; wides: 14
Bookings: John Conlon (42 minutes).
Wexford: Niall Breen; James Tonks, Matthew O’Hanlon, Keith Rossiter; David Redmond, Darren Stamp, Ciarán Kenny; Eoin Quigley, PJ Nolan; Jack Guiney, John Leacy, Harry Kehoe; Rory Jacob, Stephen Banville, Diarmuid O’Keeffe.
Subs: Diarmuid Lyng for Banville (half-time), Ritchie Kehoe for Kenny (50 minutes), Paul Morris for Nolan (55 minutes), Bobby Kenny for Tonks (55 minutes) and Jim Berry for H Kehoe (65 minutes).
Scorers: Jack Guiney (0-12, 10f, 1 65’), Harry Kehoe (0-2), Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Diarmuid Lyne, Ritchie Kehoe and Jim Berry (0-1 each).
Frees for: 16; wides: 11; 65s: 2
Bookings: Darren Stamp (29 minutes), Stephen Banville (36 minutes), John Leacy (37 minutes) and Matthew O’Hanlon (38 minutes and 45 minutes).
Sent off: Matthew O’Hanlon (45 minutes).
Referee: Alan Kelly, Galway.
Fitzgerald highlights team’s progress
THE fact that Clare have booked a place in the final of Division 1B of the National Hurling League is a sign that progress has been made. That’s the view of team boss Davy Fitzgerald, who didn’t hide his delight when he spoke after the team’s latest win.
“I am happy to be in the league final. This is a way tougher group than in the last few years. We have made progress already by being there. Whoever we meet it’s going to be tough but it’s great to know we are there,” he said.
According to the Sixmilebridge man, the fact that Wexford had a man sent off early in the second half didn’t help them. “We weren’t going to lose today. They probably gave up after we went six or seven points up. They brought out a third man to midfield to try and stop the play in the middle of the field. We were getting through them too easily.
“Seven points was favourable to them. They had only one goal chance near the end. We had two or three chances, which we didn’t take but it’s half the battle that we are creating them.”
The manager warned, “It’s a work in progress and that’s all it is. We have a lot of stuff to learn and please God we will learn.
“We gave a few more the opportunity to play today. We have about 25 or 26 players used in the league this year. I am happy with that. We are blooding fellas and we will see what happens next week,” he said.
Reminded about the Clare involvement in the Offaly management team this weekend, he said, “We have to do our job”.
He confirmed, “Aaron (Cunningham) will be part of our panel. We played a match yesterday and he showed fantastic form. That’s why he came on today.”
In conclusion, the Clare manager said “It will be interesting. It’s all up for grabs now.”