TWO STATISTICAL anomalies at the end of this game, one as baffling as the other.
The first, an announced attendance of 14,551, drew hoots of derision from the bumper crowd who packed every corner of Cusack Park.
The second – how did Clare win this by just two points? Because in truth, and as claimed by manager Tony Considine afterwards and accepted by Galway’s Ger Loughnane, there was much more than that between the teams.
"It wasn’t a great match, but it was a tight game, and a great win," said Considine. "It was a big game for Clare, we gave it everything. Overall, we were much better on the night."
Spot on, agreed Loughnane. "I felt we were lucky to escape with a two-point loss – there’s no argument about who were the better team. Our big disappointment is with the performance, the slowness in front of goal, the slowness in decision-making, the slowness in striking, just taking the simple score – I just can’t understand it."
There wasn’t a whole to understand, really. After the disappointment of defeat against Cork in the first round in Munster, all the controversy that followed, after going to Belfast and taking Antrim in round one with a depleted side, Clare were up for this game.
David Tierney did open the scoring for Galway, but the opening quarter belonged to Clare. "I don’t think any switches or any tactical moves during the game won it," reflected Loughnane. "The difference was the supreme heart Clare showed. They hurled from the soles of their feet to the top of their heads, went out and gave it everything in the good old-fashioned Clare way, the Clare way that’s been established for the last ten or 12 years."
They did all that, but Ger was wrong about one thing – this was also a win for tactics.
"We hit them hard, beat them tactically as well, we man-marked their danger-men," Considine explained. "Kevin Dilleen marked Damien Hayes — everywhere Damien went, Kevin followed, even to midfield; Iarla Tannian went from wing-forward to full-forward, Brendan Bugler followed him; Eugene Cloonan went to wing-forward, Frank Lohan followed him. I told the lads, they had to be able to play any part of the field, because everywhere their man went, they went.
"Our defence was very good, and wasn’t Phillip Brennan outstanding. That save... and he showed real leadership in the dressing-room as well. As for Colin Lynch – that point in the second half, crucial. And the hook, to save the goal – fantastic."
So yes, this one can be chalked down to Clare heart, Clare soul, Clare spirit, but it’s also down to Clare tactics, to Clare thinking. "I think we completely bamboozled them with the big man at full-forward, the big men all over the field," said Considine. "Our fellas were able to catch the ball, and that upset them."
Chalk Clare’s first goal down to that, Fergal Lynch ghosting in from the wing to field a high centre from Diarmuid McMahon, hold off a couple of would-be tacklers, power off the shot from close range. That goal gave them a cushion to the break, when the scores were tied, 1-5 to 0-8. It was a scoreline that flattered Galway, who were clearly stuttering, not co-ordinated, didn’t look at all, in fact, like what you’d expect from a team coached by Loughnane.
The only time Galway produced anything like the hurling of which the whole country knows they’re capable was in the opening ten minutes of the second half, three unanswered points into the wind (Cloonan free, Tannian and Murray) putting them in good position to take control of what was a low-scoring, low-quality contest. That was it, however; back they went to their foostering and flustering, while Clare continued to hurl with control, dominating their lines, dominating the game. The outstanding Gerry Quinn went off, injured; Clare didn’t miss a beat as Brian O’Connell dropped back, took charge of the 40.
Worryingly for Clare, however; they struggled to put scores on the board. They took until the 60th minute for them to tie the game, Lynch with two points from play, but it took an opportunist strike from Niall Gilligan, Clare’s second goal, for them to put a bit of daylight between the teams. Even then, and bad as they were playing, Galway brought it back to a point again, before Diarmuid McMahon, with a superb solo effort, finally ended it.
Let no-one be fooled by any of the statistics from this one. The buzz is back in Clare, evidenced by the huge turnout in Ennis, but both teams still have an awful lot of work to do if they’re to beat any of the big guns.