IT LOOKED LIKE a day to lift the pressure and tension that hangs over Clare hurling circles.
A winter of sparring over issues off the pitch concerning the health of the game in the county provided the background to the commencement of the 2021 season.
As starting points go, last Sunday in Corrigan Park in Belfast was not desirable. The second day out, and first on home soil, arrived yesterday when Wexford landed in town.
And for the bones of an hour it was the type of response Brian Lohan would have asked for all week. Clare set the tone early as they rattled over the first three points of the game. They were in front by five at the break and pushed on to be eight clear at various stages in the second half.
The last time was in the 60th minute, teenage debutant Shane Meehan wriggling clear of the defence and despite seemingly being off-balance, he managed to loft over a brilliant point. To go from that position to an eventual one-point loss was not easy to digest.
If it was heartening to lead 1-19 to 0-14 after the red card shown to defender Liam Corry moments previously, it was the last time Clare would feel as comfortable. Wexford exploited the advantage of an extra man to devastating effect as they fired 2-4 without reply and even when a draw looked on for Clare again, they were caught by Rory O’Connor’s winner.
“Disappointed with how we finished the game,” admitted Lohan as he gathered his thoughts after.
“Very positive for 63, 64 minutes but certainly the last ten minutes was poor. We looked a bit open, a possession team like that, once they get possession it’s very hard to get it off them and then they had the extra space in our defence in getting those goals.”
If there was solace for Clare, it lay in the fact that the late collapse could be traced to the setback of the dismissal and that there were a bunch of positives to take from their earlier form. They played with energy and purpose from the start. Diarmuid Ryan was terrific, particularly in the first half. Cathal Malone popped over some good points. Aron Shanagher was a superb target man, his aerial abilites hurting the Wexford defence as he struck 0-3. John Conlon looked solid at centre-back, showing good defensive instincts to hassle Lee Chin on a few occasions.
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And they created what looked a winning platform, despite being shorn of their talisman Tony Kelly who limped off in the 29th minute. His injury is not serious, just a dead leg as Lohan confirmed afterwards, and while Aidan McCarthy had an impressive scoring day with 1-8, it was still a setback for Clare to lose the man who ripped Wexford apart last November with a haul of 1-15.
“Last week was terrible,” said Lohan.
“There was a bit of spirit there, we’ve a good bunch of lads there. We’d prefer to be winning games and the game is all about winning. But it is about trying to strengthen up the panel as well and introduce new guys. We introduced two 19-year-olds last week and the same again this week so look we’ll see how things go.”
That reference to youth was a nod to Cian Galvin and Paddy Donnellan lining out last week, while Mark Rodgers and Meehan made their bows yesterday. In Scariff player Rodgers from the off and The Banner clubman Meehan when drafted in, there were flashes of promise that offered signposts for the future.
But they need experienced stalwarts around them. Lohan is hopeful of having Colm Galvin and Patrick O’Connor back soon but David McInerney ‘did a bit of damage to his quad’ as he suffered a setback last week.
Down the sideline from Lohan at the Ennis venue stood Davy Fitzgerald. The animosity between the pair has been well-documented but there was no interactions to spark flashpoints here.
Fitzgerald was calm and satisfied after, buoyed by the manner in which his team reeled in Clare. They had limped out of the 2020 championship race by seven points to the Banner. This game looked like unfolding along similar lines until that quickfire run of scores, underpinned by goals from Simon Donohoe and Lee Chin, completely changed the outlook. Shifting Rory O’Connor closer to goal was a ploy that worked noticeably as he was superb in the closing passages.
“We shouldn’t have been in that position,” reckoned the Wexford manager.
“We had a lot of bad wides today and I am happy with the fighting mentality. We changed up tactics a small bit but we found a nice bit of room in there. The one thing I would like to think about, even when I was manager of Clare, is that we never give in. We fight to the bitter end.
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“That is very important for me. Never ever give in and they didn’t do that today. Clare were fighting hard and their attitude was very good. Obviously, TK (Tony Kelly) going off was a loss to them as well. He’d be a loss to any team.”
Fitzgerald made the valid point that while they outscored Clare 2-5 to 0-2 after Corry’s dismissal until the Matthew O’Hanlon red card put the teams on equal numbers again, earlier during Joe O’Connor’s sin bin it was Wexford who had suffered in losing that period by 1-4 to 0-1 on the scoreboard.
One glaring issue in the game was Wexford’s problems with free-taking. Lee Chin missed four and saw an effort from a ’65 also go wide while Rory O’Connor spurned another really good chance but their manager will be keeping the faith.
“That was Chinners (Lee Chin) first game in five months, or five and a bit, same Aidan Nolan. A lot of them hadn’t played much. Clare popped their frees, we didn’t pop ours. We created the opportunities, I can’t wait to see how many bad wides we had.
“I can’t expect them to be nailing everything, normally Chinner would put those frees over in his sleep and he will be going back on the frees, 100%. I have massive confidence in him and I will put him back on them again.
“But fair play, Rory got one tight angle at the end and he made it count.”
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