The reason? Wexford did the obvious and did it well. They shut down Tony Kelly, played the sweeper, used the ball efficiently and exposed the weaknesses in the Clare full-back line.
Putting a man-marker on Kelly meant the chief threat was under constant pressure when he got on the ball, with the sweeper heading his way and often a third man too. But Kelly still tried to run through the brick wall. It wasn’t working.
But after 50 minutes he figured out the key to those situations. If there’s two lads marking you, it means there has to be someone else free.
Just before it was too late, with Wexford six up, Clare started exploiting that. In the last 15 minutes they scored as much as they had in the previous 50. Kelly realised he couldn’t do it all on his own.
He got two balls, handpassed them out, and it led to two scores. What usually happens in such scenarios is that when you don’t think so much about scoring, and become more of a team player, the ball starts falling right for you. That was the case for Kelly in the last 10 minutes.
The comeback goes to show the class that’s in Clare. When their backs were to the wall, Kelly and Shane O’Donnell put the jigsaw together, figuring out how to win.
I think that steel came from how they performed in the Munster final. When you lose a game like that, knowing you were good enough to win, it should give you fierce belief, aggression and energy.
The next team you play should always pay the price and Wexford, in the end, paid it.
They got close to the upset, but the reason they fell just short was Clare had the scoring forwards when it counted. It got them through on a day when things were going wrong.
As for Cork and Galway, before the game I expected Galway to prevail because they tend to have two good performances out of every three. Cork’s hit rate was closer to one in two. As it turned out, both sides had an off-colour day.
Somehow, after being completely outhurled for 25 minutes, Galway went in ahead: 2-6 to 0-7. That was more to do with Cork’s finishing being closer to the colour of their white jerseys than what’s expected from Rebel forwards.
Cork threw this match away. They had no conviction. They had 12 wides, with three goal chances wasted. In my experience, when it’s not flowing for a team – conceding soft goals with the wide count mounting – they have to revert to the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Stupid.
Stop shooting from 90 yards. Stop going for side-line cuts.
Cork didn’t do that, and as a result they were five down instead of being six ahead at half-time. Ultimately, that decided it.
Galway, to their credit, worked hard throughout. But Conor Whelan continues to carry too much of the burden in their forward line. They won but, apart from Whelan, they didn’t really deliver.
What we do know is that in Jack Grealish, Pádraic Mannion, Gearóid McInerney and the Burkes, they have physical, solid, experienced defenders who do deliver. Daithí Burke’s intervention to stop Séamus Harnedy when through on goal was match winning.
It’s onwards for Galway, but questions remain.
Yesterday’s action leaves us down to four in the race for Liam MacCarthy. But Clare and Galway can’t relax just yet. We have to wait for The Sunday Game tonight to decide who is to be suspended for the semi-finals.
In a startling coincidence, the big, cuddly, injured innocence that is Dessie Cahill was speaking to the
Irish Independent earlier this month about his “utter frustration” and saying how The Sunday Game “has to change.”
Poor Dessie and the producers are under so much pressure with so many matches and so little time.
Well, remarkably, the self-appointed custodians of the values of hurling in the production team found time to show completely out-of-context, magnified clips in slow motion of Rory Hayes and Peter Duggan following the Munster final – the Claremen given a week in the dock, only to be released on a technicality on Thursday. Dessie’s solution to the issues he addressed was to have two Sunday Game programmes.
But there is another solution: Have one fewer than there is right now.
As my fellow Thurles man Pat Shortt once said in Killinaskully: “If there’s one thing worse, it’s that crowd above in RTÉ.”