Tony Kelly hit seven points from play, with Colm Galvin registering four in the second half, as the Banner men won an entertaining contest by six points. A crowd of 15,081 watched as Wexford were denied a first crown at this grade since 1965.
Kelly ran the show in the first half, blasting over five trademark scores as the Banner men led by 1-8 to 0-6 at the break. He was one of six survivors from the team that started last year's final against Antrim while two more who lined out from the start last night, Jarlath Colleran and Aaron Cunningham, appeared as subs against the Antrim 12 months ago.
The sides were level twice in the early exchanges but Clare hit the front with a brilliant 13th minute goal, created by Shane O'Donnell and finished by David Reidy. At the other end seconds earlier, Kevin Foley rapped a shot off the Clare crossbar but the Munster champions made no mistake when their own opportunity presented itself at the Killinan End. Still, O'Donnell had a lot of work to do when he gained possession tight on the left touchline but showing huge strength, the Éire Óg man knifed through a number of would-be tacklers before offloading the killer handpass to Reidy, who couldn't miss. A Jack Guiney free and Gary Moore from play reduced the deficit to just a point but Clare managed to keep Wexford comfortably at arm's length for the remainder of the first half. Last year's Hurler of the Year, Kelly was really enjoying himself, picking off points off either side and dictating the play. Wexford had just two points from play on the board by half-time, both scored by Moore, with Clare contributing their entire first half tally from play.
Wexford opened the second half with intent as Guiney popped over a pair of points, including his first from play. Clare responded through Colm Galvin but Wexford midfielder Conor Devitt replied with a fine point from play, before Bobby Duggan registered Clare's first score of the game from a placed ball. Wexford were still very much in the game at that stage, trailing by 0-9 to 1-10, but Cunningham's goal was a hammer blow to the Slaneysiders. Galvin tagged on his second point and the gap was suddenly stretched out to eight points. Wexford were handed a lifeline when Rhys Clarke was adjudged to have been fouled 20 minutes from time but Guiney's penalty was saved on the line by Clare full-back Jack Browne, who had the better of his key duel with Conor McDonald. Guiney pointed the resultant 65 but Wexford were reeling from that massive psychological blow as Gearóid O'Connell bombed forward from wing-back for Clare to resume normal service. Just when it seemed that Wexford were down and out, back they came with a goal from substitute David Dunne and it was game on again. Clare held their nerve to keep the scoreboard ticking over but late goals from Dunne, his second, and McDonald made for an edgy finish for Clare. But during this remarkable three-year spell, the champions have dealt with everything that was thrown at them and they did enough to keep a grip on the Cross of Cashel Cup.
Scorers - Clare: T Kelly 0-7, A Cunningham 1-2, D Reidy 1-1, B Duggan 0-4 (3f), C Galvin 0-4, G O'Connell & J Shanahan 0-1 each.
Wexford: J Guiney 0-8 (6f, 1 65), D Dunne 2-0, C McDonald 1-0, G Moore 0-2, C Devitt 0-1.
Clare: K Hogan; J Colleran, J Browne, S Morey; G O'Connell, C Cleary, J Shanahan; C Galvin, E Enright; B Duggan, T Kelly, P Duggan; S O'Donnell, A Cunningham, D Reidy. Subs: C O'Connell for G O'Connell (49), A O'Neill for O'Donnell (54), S O'Brien for Colleran (60+1).
Wexford: O O'Leary; A Kenny, L Ryan, E Conroy; J White, S O'Gorman, J O'Connor; A Nolan, C Devitt; J Guiney, G Moore, P Foley; R Clarke, C McDonald, K Foley. Subs: D Dunne for O'Connor (35), J Cash for White (41), C O'Leary for G Moore (52), P Sutton for Cash (59).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork)