Galway and Clare must do it again after epic All-Ireland semi-final
All-Ireland Senior Hurling semi-final
GALWAY 1-30 CLARE 1-30 (after extra-time)
By John Harrington at Croke Park
This was the greatest match yet of the 2018 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, and that’s saying something.
Galway and Clare served up pure, undiluted drama and in the end the only fair result was the one we got – the draw after extra-time that ensures both teams will battle it out again in Semple Stadium next Sunday at 2pm.
It was fitting too that the last-gasp equaliser from Clare substitute Jason McCarthy was as epic as the match itself.
The allotted three minutes of injury-time in the second-half of extra-time were up when Clare goalkeeper Donal Tuohy took a puck-out, but rather than blast it down the field as far as he could he picked out Colm Galvin with a short-pass.
With the whole stadium a high-pitched frenzy of noise, Clare somehow kept their cool as they worked the ball patiently downfield through Galvin, Conor Cleary and David Fitzgerald until it came to McCarthy who held his nerve and shot the sliotar between the posts.
Early in the match this sort of epic climax would hardly seemed likely because it looked like Galway were going to swat Clare aside with impressive ease.
They had opened up a 1-7 to 0-1 lead by the 16th minute and up to that point were completely dominant in all facets of the game.
As much as anything else the contest was a physical mis-match.
Clare were smashed backwards in the tackle, and whenever there was a ruck for possession a man in a maroon jersey emerged with the ball more often than not.
Conor Cooney’s goal after 15 minutes was a vivid illustration of just how much Clare were struggling in the physical exchanges.
As Patrick O’Connor attempted to collect a loose-ball around the square he was leveraged aside by Jonathan Glynn who managed to get his hurley to the ball first and direct it into the path of Cooney who finished from close-range.
A minute later Joe Canning landed a point from play and Galway were nine to the good and seemingly in total control.
It was then that the Clare management made a tactical switch that had a huge impact on the game, as they detailed Colm Galvin to drop deep and playing in front of his beleaguered full-back line as a sweeper.
Clare were suddenly transformed. Galvin began hoovering up the long Galway deliveries that until then had been causing wreck in the Clare defence, and his accurate distribution put the Banner on the front foot.
Tony Kelly and Peter Duggan thundered into the game as Clare outscored Galway by 0-8 to 0-1 between the 18th and 33rd minutes to leave just two points between the teams.
Galway had scored the last two points of the half to lead by four at half-time, but considering how fast they had started and the fact that they also hit 12 wides in the first half, they surely had mixed emotions going to the dressing-room.
The longer the game went on, the better it got.
Clare’s confidence was growing all the time, and they were given another surge of momentum by John Conlon in the second-half.
He’d come off second-best to Daithi Burke in the first half, but now it was the Clare man coming out on top in a ferociously physical battle that was worth the price of admission on its own.
Held scoreless in the first-half by Burke, he would score four points in the second, all of them quality.
Shane O’Donnell was also now posing a fresh threat to the Galway defence, and when Clare closed to within one point of the Tribesmen by the 41st minute, they looked like the team with the momentum.
As would soon become apparent though, this match would ebb and flow constantly and you could never be sure about what was going to happen next.
Galway captain David Burke decided it was his turn to take the game by the scruff of the neck, and he scored two of a four-point Galway salvo that pushed them five points clear.
Not for long, just four minutes in fact, because Clare then hit the afterburners to score five points in a row and level the game up for the first time since the throw-in.
Clare looked like the team with greater energy, but there’s a self-assurance that comes with being a reigning All-Ireland champion and Galway stuck implacably to the task.
Joe Canning, especially, was having a major influence on the game.
Two points from play from him steadied Galway again, and as the match ticked into the final ten minutes it looked like the Tribesmen’s survival instincts would see them home.
They did well to capitalise on a couple of Clare errors to move 1-23 to 0-23 ahead after 66 minutes, but we should have known by now that there was more drama to come.
Tony Kelly produced yet another brilliant touch in a match of many when he spun over a sideline cut from a tight angle, and then Conlon reduced the deficit to the minimum.
The sliotar pin-balled all over the place in injury time until eventually that man Kelly came up trumps for Clare again when he won a free that Duggan converted to bring the match to extra-time.
Clare smelled blood, but in the first half of extra-time it was as if they didn’t know how to go in for the kill as they hit seven wides in that ten minute period alone.
Galway were on the ropes, but somehow led by 1-26 to 0-27 at the end of the first period of extra-time.
By now they had lost two totemic figures to injury – Gearoid McInerney and Joe Canning – and they were struck another body-blow right at the start of the second period of extra-time when Clare sub Aron Shanagher struck for brilliantly taken goal to put the Banner into the lead for the first time in the match.
Galway gritted their teeth, stuck to the task, and when they scored three points in a row in the dying minutes of extra-time it looked as though they had somehow found a way to win.
But then came that late, great equaliser from McCarthy that ensured this epic match ended in a fitting climax.
Scorers for Galway: Joe Canning 0-12 (6f, 2 sidelines), Conor Cooney 1-1, Cathal Mannion 0-4, David Burke 0-3, Conor Whelan 0-3, Jason Flynn 0-3 (1f), Johnny Coen 0-2, Jonathan Glynn 0-1, Niall Burke 0-1
Scorers for Clare: Peter Duggan 0-14 (11f), John Conlon 0-4, Aron Shanagher 1-0, Shane O’Donnell 0-3, Tony Kelly 0-3 (1 sideline), Ian Galvin 0-2, David Fitzgerald 0-1, David Reidy 0-1, Jason McCarthy 0-1, Colm Galvin 0-1.
GALWAY: James Skehill; Adrian Tuohey, Daithi Burke, John Hanbury; Padraig Mannion, Gearoid McInerney, Aidan Harte; Johnny Coen, David Burke; Cathal Mannion, Joe Canning, Joseph Cooney; Conor Whelan, Conor Cooney, Jonathan Glynn. Subs: Niall Burke for Joseph Cooney (52), Paul Killeen for Gearoid McInerney (54), Jason Flynn for Conor Cooney (63), Sean Loftus for Adrian Tuohey (70), Joseph Cooney for David Burke (82), Conor Cooney for Conor Whelan (82), Davy Glennon for Joe Canning (83).
CLARE: Donal Tuohy; David McInerney, Patrick O’Connor, Jack Browne; Seadna Morey, Conor Cleary, Jamie Shanahan; Colm Galvin, Cathal Malone; Peter Duggan, Tony Kelly, David Reidy; Padraic Collins, John Conlon, Shane O’Donnell. Subs: David Fitzgerald for Cathal Malone (47), Conor McGrath for Padraic Collins (59), Ian Galvin for David Reidy (60), Aron Shanagher for Shane O’Donnell (67), Shane O’Donnell for Conor McGrath (82), Jason McCarthy for Jamie Shanahan (82).
Ref: James Owens (Wexford)