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Wednesday 18 October 2017

Rising Wexford still shy of Banner benchmark

all-ireland shc qualifier rd1

CLARE v WEXFORD

(Ennis, Today 3.30, live RTE1)

OVER the past fortnight, since the draw was made, you've doubtless heard reference to last year's qualifier between the same counties.

It went to extra-time. Ergo, Wexford were within tantalising reach of toppling the eventual All-Ireland champions? Eh, not quite.

Anyone in Thurles for that sweltering Saturday night will remember that Clare created a multitude of chances only to miss almost as many (20 wides) as they scored (3-24). They were patently the better side and, during the 70 minutes, in control almost everywhere bar the scoreboard ... they even led by five points as late as the 67th minute before a 1-2 Wexford salvo, crowned by Jack Guiney's injury-time goal, completed a hard-to-fathom comeback.

Shaken and stirred, Clare pressed the extra-time accelerator to run out ten-point winners, propelled by a brace of goals from livewire substitute Cathal McInerney.

The intention of this flashback is to reinforce the magnitude of the challenge facing today's visitors to Cusack Park.

Yes, after years of Wexford meandering, they have become a more resolute outfit under Liam Dunne and they have also improved from last year.

Yes, they troubled Dublin for most of the first half in Wexford Park and only some erratic shooting prevented them from leading at the break.

And yes, they have unearthed a diamond in their teenage tearaway full-forward Conor McDonald (who actually made his debut off the bench in last year's fixture, landing the point that came as a precursor to Guiney's equaliser).

But will all that be enough to quell a team of chastened champions with everything to prove all over again after their surprisingly tepid Munster exit to Cork? We suspect not.

Davy Fitzgerald has issues to address, arising from that Cork performance, but a home draw against Wexford offers his team scope to rebuild form and confidence.

ODDS: Clare 1/8 Draw 14/1 Wexford 11/2

VERDICT: Clare

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