Clare fall just short of repeating the trick
All-Ireland SHC semi-final replay: Galway 1-17 Clare 2-13
IT'S a big ask to come from nowhere and win an All-Ireland. It's a bigger ask still to find yourself disarmed after 20 minutes and have to fight your way into it bareknuckle. To do it twice?
Clare almost did what most would have felt impossible. The venue might have been different, the sea of bodies that packed the Killinane and Town Ends of Thurles might have been as yellow as the sun, but the air was unmistakably similar after the first quarter as it had been eight days previous.
Clare went with the sweeper from the start this time, and Galway were ready. They were rampant. Twenty minutes gone and they were 1-9 to 0-3 ahead.
Galway's goal was all Jonathan Glynn's own work, putting the boulder in front of David McInerney before touching deftly down for himself and lashing home off his left side.
Colm Galvin had been non-existent as the extra man, while Pádraic Mannion was a colossus in the same role at the other end. Conor Whelan was the one causing most consternation for the Clare defence, with four different markers taking him at some point or another. Six different scorers helped chalk up that 1-9.
The Banner were fidgety, unsure and weaponless in attack. Their delivery was aimless and their shooting even moreso, racking up 11 wides by the break. Having seemingly unleashed their trump card last weekend, there looked to be nothing left.
But then we should have given this championship more credit, for it hasn't let us down yet. Even though the gap was only six at the break, there was a definite stemming of the tide.
Galway didn't score at all for the rest of the half, and Shane O'Donnell was starting to sparkle. McInerney began to get a handle on Glynn, and would go on to dominate in a brilliant second half. The sweeper disappeared, off which Clare weaned themselves very quickly and started to win their own battles.
“It's not a slow start, it's nothing to do with a slow start,” said Banner joint-boss Donal Moloney afterwards.
“Galway have a level of capability they hit. That's three weeks running. They're not really slow starts.
“We always reckon it's better to finish strong, it's helped us this year to finish big, but we just ran out of time and space, and our efficiency was a bit short.
“I don't think there were any major tactical changes, players started winning their individual battles and the momentum shifts. Then it's Galway on the back foot and they're hanging on, and they did, fair play to them. They're magnificent champions,” he said before saying the future of himself and Gerry O'Connor was a matter for another day.
Perhaps a bit of deflection there. Galway came ready for them again, pressurising the Clare puckout and winning too many of their own uncontested. It was all the same stuff in different clothes.
But when the adaptation came, those magnificent champions struggled once more to meet it. Ian Galvin's introduction, albeit harsh on David Reidy, was a spark and when Shane O'Donnell bustled his way in past Burkes Daithi and David, and Johnny Hanbury, and pulled the hopping ball beyond James Skehill, it was 1-11 to 1-7. Finally we had ourselves a game.
Niall Burke and Joe Canning (free) settled the winds briefly but they whipped up into an almighty storm when O'Donnell made great work to recycle the ball and Peter Duggan broke the tackle to lace it into the roof of the net from just beyond the 21'.
Canning had some big plays in the final quarter, not least on the following puckout, racing on to the break off Glynn and drawing a free when a goal was on had Conor Cleary not taken the booking.
The margins were down to the paper-thin variety. Or post-thin, perhaps.
Aron Shanagher laced over with his first touch to slice the gap to one again, and then the chance to maybe win it came. Shane O'Donnell cut the hole down the middle and timed the pass to perfection. Shanagher's first swipe was held up by the body of James Skehill. The second, from a tight angle, was turned out by the frame of the goal and ran through the legs of O'Donnell, who gave an early leap of costly celebration.
Canning landed a beauty from a sideline cut before John Conlon landed one with what seemed like his first touch on a day when he seemed hampered by injury and got nothing out of Daithi Burke.
That was it back to one and it will live with Peter Duggan forever that, 50 metres from goal, he drilled a free into the first man. It would have levelled it, and they never got it back.
“I've said it many a time, you're not going to dominate a game for 70 minutes,” said Galway boss Michéal Donoghue.
“Testament to Clare, savage team, massive players, they took their opportunities wonderfully. Our boys showed massive heart and resilience to come back. Those qualities are never doubted with them.”
The last few weeks have shown Galway not be infallible, but that's what keeps us entertained. Limerick have promised they're not coming to Croke Park just to march behind the band.
How this summer, of all summers, deserves a great ending.
Galway: J Skehill; A Tuohy, Daithi Burke, J Hanbury; J Cooney, P Mannion, A Harte; J Coen, David Burke (0-2); J Canning (0-8, 0-5f, 0-1 line ball), C Mannion (0-1), C Whelan (0-3); N Burke (0-2), J Glynn (1-0), C Cooney (0-1)
Subs: J Flynn for C Cooney (59), D Glennon for Glynn (72)
Blood sub: P Killeen for Daithi Burke (44-45)
Clare: D Tuohy; P O'Connor, D McInerney, J Browne; S Morey, C Cleary, J Shanahan; C Galvin, D Fitzgerald; P Duggan (1-6, 0-6f), T Kelly (0-1), D Reidy; P Collins (0-1), J Conlon (0-1), S O'Donnell (1-1)
Subs: I Galvin (0-2) for Reidy (34), C Malone for Fitzgerald (43), R Hayes for O'Connor (57), M O'Malley for Shanahan (61), A Shanagher (0-1) for Collins (63)
Referee: F Horgan (Tipperary)