Galway and Clare can't be separated after epic All-Ireland semi-final
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship semi-final: Clare 1-30 Galway 1-30
HURLING. Bloody hell. The 2018 Championship is the Championship that keeps on giving.
This baking hot summer has been one, long, unforgettable adrenaline rush - and it's not over yet.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, Clare and defending All-Ireland champions Galway served up another jaw-dropping spectacle befitting of this year's brilliant Championship.
After 90 breathless minutes of end-to-end hurling, the two sides could not be separated and will meet in Thurles next Sunday to resume their wonderfully riotous All-Ireland semi-final affair.
Saturday was one of those noble occasions where neither team deserved to lose.
Clare definitely didn't deserve to exit the All-Ireland series for the way in which they weathered an early Galway storm, kept biting at the champions' heels, finally edging in front after 82 minutes only to come from behind again to snatch a draw deep into stoppage-time of extra-time.
Twenty-one-year-old Jason McCarthy from Inagh-Kilnamona, introduced in the second period of extra-time, grabbed the equalising score for Clare in the last desperate seconds of Saturday's enthralling clash.
David Fitzgerald, another game-changing sub for the Banner County, did all the spadework by making another penetrating run through Galway's middle before off-loading to McCarthy who took his chance with both hands.
The Clare supporters among the 54,191 went ballistic.
Clare's warrior spirit was a sight to behold.
There were no more precious seconds left on the clock for Galway to launch another attack.
They mightn't realise it now, but both sets of players will be bonded by this day for life.
Many teams would have folded under the pressure of the opening 15 minutes. But Clare didn't.
Galway played virtually perfect hurling and stretched their lead out to 1-7 to 0-1.
It was bordering on humiliation for Clare.
Another couple of scores for the Tribesmen and this All-Ireland semi-final would have been over. But that's the thing about classics.
They take unexpected twists and heroes emerge.
Joe Canning strutted around Croke Park in those early minutes like he was playing in his own back garden.
In that first quarter, Conor Cooney was unstoppable. In the seventh minute, he caught a high ball above David McInerney and fired over Clare's bar.
Eight minutes later, he pick-pocketed Patrick O'Connor and lashed the ball past Donal Tuohy from close range to raise a green flag.
The Galway attack was rampant and their back six were all over their opposite numbers like a cheap suit.
Allstar full-back Daithi Burke, passed fit after suffering a hairline fracture in his ankle, had placed Clare's talisman John Conlon under house arrest on the edge of Galway's square.
But there were self-inflicted wounds too. Clare's short puck-out strategy was malfunctioning and their defenders were spilling balls left, right and centre
They didn't look fit to be on the same field as the classy champions. An early Peter Duggan free was Clare's paltry offer of resistance in those nightmare 15 minutes.
It was much too easy for Galway - to such an degree that Michael O'Donoghue's players seemed to take the foot off the pedal.
Their shooting became erratic and as the wide count began to climb (11 by half-time), the Clare forwards fought like dogs for possession.
David Reidy fired over from under the Cusack Stand to register Clare's second point of the game after 18 minutes.
Clare's 2013 All-Ireland hero Shane O'Donnell, leaving for Harvard University next year, did unbelievably well to win a low ball and break free of John Hanbury to split Galway's posts.
In all, Clare hit five points without reply to claw their way back into the game.
During that dramatic revival, midfielder Tony Kelly was outstanding.
The 24-year-old Ballyea ace hit back-to-back scores to reduce Galway's lead to four points [1-7 to 0-6].
Cathal Mannion broke Clare's stream of scores before man-of-the-match contender Peter Duggan converted two frees and added another incredible score from play just before the interval.
Galway still held a four-point advantage at the break – but it was Clare who were celebrating that score-line as they looked dead and buried after a quarter of an hour.
The Clare players took an eternity to emerge for the second half but making Galway wait only made Joe Canning angry as he sent over a ridiculous sideline at the Canal End.
Despite Galway's early intentions after the restart, Clare had settled into the task.
Colm Galvin was exceptional in the sweeper's role as the Banner defence drew the early sting out of Conor Cooney and Jonathan Glynn at full-forward.
At the other end, Conlon began to motor, scoring the first of his four second-half points in the 37th minute.
Duggan, who had amassed 3-104 before Saturday's semi-final, converted every scoreable free and briefly drew Clare level [1-17 to 0-20] after 55 minutes.
Captain David Burke and Canning kept the scoreboard moving for the champions before Duggan hauled the Banner men level again with seven minutes of normal time remaining.
Surrounded by maroon jerseys, the Clooney Quin forward grabbed the best score of the evening, striking the ball in mid-air.
Both benches improved their team's fortunes. Clare's substitutes mined a combined 1-4 with David Fitzgerald and Ian Galvin energising the Banner men in the closing stages of normal time.
Niall Burke, desperately unlucky not to start Saturday's semi-final, provided more sharpness to a wilting Galway attack, while Jason Flynn again played his part from the bench, scalping over three points after his 63rd minute introduction.
Despite Niall and David Burke finding their range to push Galway 1-23 to 0-23 ahead, Clare hit the last three scores of normal time through Tony Kelly (sideline), Conlon and Duggan, the latter's 10th free of the day.
Johnny Coen, though, will have nightmares about his scuffed effort that dropped into Donal Tuohy's grateful arms that should have settled this semi-final in Galway's favour.
As the rain fell, extra-time still couldn't separate them. Canning grabbed three more points to bring his tally to 0-12 before he limped off on 83 minutes.
Clare finally edged in front after substitute Aaron Shanagher blasted to the net a minute before Canning's exit to leave the scores 1-27 to 1-26.
Even though Jason Flynn responded immediately for Galway, Clare pushed their lead out to two points through Duggan (free) and O'Donnell but within two minutes they were pegged back by a pair of Jason Flynn scores.
The sides were level entering stoppage-time of extra-time and Johnny Coen gained some redemption for his miss in normal time by putting the Tribesmen 1-30 to 1-29 ahead.
With time against them, nobody in the stadium truly believed Clare were finished.
For the umpteenth time, Fitzgerald galloped down the centre and dropped the ball into Jason McCarthy's hand who levelled the game for the final time.
Nobody could begrudge Clare another shot at Galway next weekend. It can't be this good again, can it?
Clare: D Tuohy; P O'Connor, D McInerney, J Browne; S Morey, C Cleary, J Shananhan; C Galvin (0-1), C Malone; P Duggan (0-14, 0-11 frees), T Kelly (0-3, 0-1 sideline), D Reidy (0-1); P Collins, J Conlon (0-4), S O'Donnell (0-3) Subs: D Fitzgerald (0-1) for C Malone (48), C McGrath for P Collins (58), I Galvin (0-2) for D Reidy (61), A Shanagher (1-0) for S O'Donnell (67), S O'Donnell for C McGrath (80), J McCarthy (0-1) for J Shanahan (81)
Yellow cards: C Cleary (45), D McInerney (45)
Galway: J Skehill; A Tuohey, D Burke, J Hanbury; P Mannion, G McInerney, A Harte; J Coen (0-2), D Burke (0-3); J Cooney, J Canning (0-12, 0-6 frees, 0-2 sidelines), J Glynn (0-1); C Whelan (0-3), C Cooney (1-1), C Mannion (0-4) Subs: N Burke (0-1) for J Cooney (52), P Killeen for G McInerney (53), J Flynn (0-3, 0-1 free) for C Cooney (63), S Loftus for A Tuohey (71), J Cooney for David Burke (80), C Cooney for C Whelan (81), D Glennon for J Canning (83)
Referee: J Owens (Wexford)