(Clare 1-21 Wexford 2-18 at full time)
CLARE LIVE TO fight another day but the All-Ireland champions were given a massive scare by Wexford in a thrilling SHC round 1 qualifier in Cusack Park.
The Banner looked dead and buried when they trailed by four points with two minutes remaining in normal time.
But substitute Séadna Morey smashed in the rebound when Tony Kelly’s late penalty was saved, and then Conor Ryan pointed a last-gasp equaliser to save their summer.
Man of the match Conor McGrath then looked to have struck a decisive blow with a goal early in extra time, but Wexford never relented and Paul Morris found the final score to force a replay.
It was no more than Liam Dunne’s side deserved. They raced out of the blocks against a static Clare and led by 10 points inside 16 minutes thanks to goals from Conor McDonald and the impressive Liam Óg McGovern.
Clare keeper Pa Kelly, back in the starting XV in place of Donal Tuohy, should have done better with McDonald’s shot which beat him at his near post in the ninth minute but was helpless when McGovern — who finished with 1-4, all from play — skinned his marker and kept his shot low.
Wexford were their own worst enemy in that first half, and a mixture of wasteful shooting and indiscipline gifted Clare their lifeline. Colin Ryan pointed five frees in that first half, leaving the gap at just five points at the break, 2-9 to 0-10.
Clare’s comeback suffered a serious setback when Podge Collins was shown a straight red card in first-half stoppage time for pulling David Redmond’s face guard.
By the letter of the new rules, referee Cathal McAllister had no other option. The All-Star forward was visibly upset, consoled by team-mate Shane O’Donnell in the dugout.
And when the action resumed, it was Wexford who stretched further in front thanks to points from substitute Jack Guiney and Andrew Shore.
Among a cast of strong performers, Shore in particular stood out with what was one of his most influential Championship performances to date.
Wexford couldn’t press on though, and as the wides racked up, Clare chipped away at their lead and were back within two points as the game entered its final 15 minutes.
A fine stick save by Pa Kelly denied O’Keeffe what would have been the winning goal and kept Clare in the hunt.
But when McAllister awarded a controversial penalty with two minutes to play, the All-Ireland champions looked down and out. McGovern went to ground but the replays showed that there was no contact from Brendan Bugler, who in fact got his hurl across to flick the ball cleanly away.
After a moment’s consideration, Morris pointed the free instead of going for goal, putting the gap at four and leaving Clare in need of a goal of their own with time fast running out.
That chance came seconds later when sub Darach Honan did some Trojan work and played in McGrath who was dragged to ground in front of goal.
You would have put your house on Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly converting but his shot was blocked on the line. Morey was the first to react, bundling the ball home through the crowd, and when Conor Ryan pointed the game looked set for extra time.
Both sides still had chances to win it though and had Honan or Garrett Sinnott shown a little bit more composure at either end, the end of the tale would have had a sharp sting.
With Clare back to their full complement of 15 in extra time, McGrath left Matthew O’Hanlon for dead and slotted his shot past Mark Fanning. After more than 74 minutes of action, it was the first time in the entire game that they led.
Having come this far Wexford were undeterred and a Paul Morris free and then a fine score from dual star Lee Chin brought the sides level again.
Clare did manage to go two points in front again but the gap was never bigger and although McGrath looked to have won it with a point in the final minute, Morris had the final say to force the replay.
Scorers for Clare: Colin Ryan 0-12 (9f), Conor McGrath 1-5, Tony Kelly 0-4, Seadna Morey 1-0, Cathal McInerney 0-2, Cian Dillon, Conor Ryan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Wexford: Paul Morris 0-10 (6f), Liam Óg McGovern 1-4, Conor McDonald 1-1, Lee Chin 0-3, Andrew Shore, Eoin Moore (1f), David Redmond, Rory Jacob, Jack Guiney, Diarmuid O’Keeffe, Ian Byrne 0-1 each.
1. Patrick Kelly
2. Cian Dillon
3. David McInerney
4. Jack Browne
5. Brendan Bugler
6. Conor Ryan
7. Pat O’Connor
8. Colm Galvin
9. Pat Donnellan
10. John Conlon
11. Tony Kelly
12 Colin Ryan
13. Podge Collins
14. Conor McGrath
15. Cathal McInerney
Substitutes: Peter Duggan for Donnellan (50), Darach Honan for Conlon (56), Seadna Morey for Galvin (65), Shane Golden for Morey (FT), Morey for McInerney (81), Paul Flanagan for O’Connor (87).
1. Mark Fanning
2. Liam Ryan
3. Matthew O’Hanlon
4. Keith Rossiter
5. Eoin Moore
6. Lee Chin
7. Ciaran Kenny
8. David Redmond
9. Harry Kehoe
23. Andrew Shore
11. Podge Doran
12. Liam Óg McGovern
13. Paul Morris
14. Conor McDonald
15. Rory Jacob
Substitutions: Jack Guiney for Jacob (30), Garrett Sinnott for Kehoe (HT), Diarmuid O’Keeffe for Redmond (45), PJ Nolan for Doran (47), Richie Kehoe for Shore (63), Ian Byrne for McDonald (FT), Jacob for Sinnott (83), Conor Devitt for Chin (87).