All Ireland SHC Quarter Final: Galway 2-17 0-17 Clare

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“Galway are made of absolutely nothing. You can forget about this Galway team — they have no guts whatsoever” – Ger Loughnane.

Ever think of a comment that you make and then want to take it back immediately knowing full well that it might bite you in the rear end eventually. Former Clare hurler and managerial supremo Ger Loughnane must be pondering the timing of the above quote tonight after his native county meek exit from this season’s championship.

Galway’s dressing room was probably like a scene from Criminal Minds, the quotes from a certain Clare man put on every corner of the dressing room to motivate all concerned. The amount of abuse and flak received by the Galway players in the aftermath of the Leinster final defeat has being over the top. Player’s character has being questioned; it was time for the Tribesmen to put up or shut up and they produced a performance full of energy, hunger and determination.

The first fifteen minutes set the tone for the rest of the contest. Galway’s sheer tenacity and hunger to get to the ball first in all line units was to the fore. Galway back line played with supreme confidence and drive. Daithi Burke commanding in the middle of the defense aided by Hannesbury, Harte and debutant Tuohy who had a dream debut. Galway’s midfield switch of Johnny Coen paid dividends as the Loughrea man provided David Burke with the time and space to distribute quality ball into the forward line where Conor Cooney reveled in the opening exchanges.

Joseph Cooney at half-forward was causing Clare massive issues defensively with his direct running style and with Joe Canning in the mood, an early goal was not far off. Cooney exploiting plenty of space in the Clare full back line putting the ball into the back of the net (question marks over the Clare keeper positioning) to give Galway a 1-4 to 0-3 lead. They did not look back thereafter.

Clare’s performance should not have come as a surprise. The side peaked way back in the NHL and that thundering performance against Kilkenny in the NHL semi-final. The NHL final fixtures have caused fatigue and their performances in this championship have fallen well below the standards produced earlier in the year. A miserable Waterford loss and then victories against Laois and a wretched Limerick side did not inspire confidence.

Today exposed massive Clare leadership issues in the players today; no-one in the Clare jersey apart from Colm Galvin drove the team on. Tony Kelly apart from a few cameos was a remote figure. Shane O’Donnell inside was an isolated figure. Cian Dillon was put under pressure on the puckout and several balls were lost in the process. This was as disjointed a performance from Clare all year. Was it because of the absence of Davy Fitzgerald in the lead-up to the fixture? With the hurling brains of Cusack, Kinnerk and Mulqueen in the Clare managerial ranks, this was surely not the case.

Galway hurled with great vigor and determination with Conor Whelan in the full forward line using his physique to win ball. The performance of Beagh’s Tuohy set the tone; the unheralded player from the Galway parish nestled between Gort and Crusheen was pivotal to all that was good for the Tribesmen. His hook on Tony Kelly in the opening period was sensational and his 50/50 ball winning ability allowed his colleagues to launch attack after attack. Great decision from Michael O’Donoghue to make given the apparent pressure on him after that Kilkenny loss. A seven point lead was more than merited as all units were well on top. Canning chipped in with a couple of scores, his game awareness was a joy to watch. Galway were in the mood.

A key criticism of Galway in recent years has being their inability to go for the throat. However, the first thirty seconds of the restart would make pundits to look at these words as Galway’s mercurial Canning struck for a decisive second goal. A barnstorming run from David Burke and awareness that a goal was on with a gorgeous pass to Canning opened up a ten point gap while try as Clare might was insurmountable. Galvin tried to stoke a comeback with some excellent long range points but Clare lacked the nous and skill set to unlock the Galway defense which deployed Harte to the sweeper role after forty minutes. Harte’s adapted well to the role, sensing the danger and clearing numerous ball. Callanan in the Galway goal when called upon was a brick wall and his puck-out strategy was on point throughout identifying that Clare were not pushing up and finding Harte with ease.

Clare did try hard but their attacking moves were predictable – diagonal ball into a congested Galway full back line was never going to reap rewards. The delay in moving John Conlon to the square also did not help. It was a day where nothing went right for Clare and exposed yet again that when physicality is applied, Clare have no answer. David Burke’s emphatic point with eight minutes left sealed the contest. The six point gap was never going to be dragged back as Harte scored one point and had time to miss two more point opportunities to confirm Galway’s dominance.

Galway have produced a performance full of work rate and hunger. Can they repeat again? Who from Tipperary is brave enough to question Galway’s credentials. For Clare, a long winter of discontent will begin. A NHL title will bring little solace, another year where a talented squad on paper has failed to reach Croke Park in August is a damning indictment of Clare management and players. Leadership is in small supply in the panel; joint captains in the starting lineup says it all. Where are the leaders in this group? That is the question for Davy Fitzgerald to answer in the months ahead while he recuperates from stent surgery. His bravery and determination cannot be questioned but his players need to look at themselves on those traits. Will Davy have the likes of Kinnerk and Cusack to assist next season? Time will tell.