Yesterday in Cusack Park was a pick ‘n’ mix of everything the league can give you. High scores and stirring comebacks, spectacular goals, and lapses in concentration. Something for everyone in the audience.
For the home support among the 4,245 in attendance, there were players back from injury, improved discipline, 2-22 scored, and a league win.
For the visitors there was a spirited recovery, a contender for goal of the season, 1-22 scored and enough spirit shown to warm the car journey home.
The league can be good like that.
Clare joint-manger Donal Moloney was happy with his side’s display of scoring power: “Generally we have a lot of lads who can put the ball over the bar, we’d be delighted with that and with the two goals as well.
“We’d still be unhappy with some of the frees we conceded, but we left the game in Cork after us because of the frees we conceded there.
“It’s a lot better today but we still have a bit of a road to travel, definitely, we still conceded a few soft ones. I don’t know what the free count was like for the first 40 or 45 minutes, but it definitely wasn’t in our favour.”
The game was entertaining rather than becoming locked in sterile attrition, both teams showing an ability to move past each others’ spare men at the back, and the scores flowed as a result.
Not that both spare defenders had a similar role. Early on David McInerney was the loose man for Clare but stayed in a covering role, while in the Wexford half of the field Kevin Foley clearly had the freedom to range upfield, and did.
Not all of the tactics were intricate, either. It’s no revelation to point out John Conlon’s power in the air, and Clare sought out his left hand more than once — and more than once it caused problems for the Wexford defence, too.
The home side were a tad more clinical in the first half and had a better spread of scorers, seven in all. Their goal — which came as referee John Keenan was (metaphorically) readying to blow for the half-time cup of tea — was a subtle creation. Tony Kelly disguised a beautiful pass to the onrushing Diarmuid Fitzgerald, who found Conlon in turn. 1-15 to 0-11 was a fair reflection of Clare’s first half.
And of Wexford’s, oddly enough. Both management teams acknowledged Wexford were in control either side of half-time, which meant the concession of goals in that period was all the more puzzling.
Peter Duggan won the penalty and dusted himself off to crash it home.
He, Ian Galvin, and Diarmuid Ryan added points to make it 2-18 to 0-11, and with Wexford hitting four wides early in the second half, it looked like being a long, long second half.
Credit Jack O’Connor and Diarmuid O’Keeffe, who were in the vanguard of the fightback. Wexford hit six points on the bounce and when a Lee Chin effort ricocheted into the air, Shaun Murphy connected beautifully for a goal: Wexford added two more points and it was 1-20 to 2-20.
The game ended with Wexford knocking on the door and almost grabbing the goal that would have levelled the game — Davy Fitzgerald said he “didn’t know where the hurley came out of” which saved Clare from conceding that goal in Wexford’s last attack — but the Banner held out for the win.
“Clare dominated well and we lost our shape completely,” said Fitzgerald afterwards.
“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 totally in control of that second goal, it shouldn’t happen. It was our mistake completely, we know.
“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.”
Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor have concerns, such as the second-half fade-out when Wexford took the initiative — linked to the breakdown of the Clare puckout strategy — and with Limerick on the horizon a greater efficiency in restarts is an imperative in training this week.
The visitors can take heart from their comeback, but their manager correctly identified travails with their team shape as an issue in their first half. Davy Fitzgerald didn’t agonise too much over the two goals his side conceded either, focusing instead on the positives — their refusal to be hammered, and their spectacular goal.
See? The league has something for everyone.