By Kevin Egan
Lethargic and disjointed for the first 25 minutes of this encounter, Galway exploded into life at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park in Tullamore this afternoon in the second half of the All-Ireland quarter-final clash with Clare, gradually undoing the early damage sustained before going on to record a comfortable seven-point win.
The victory means that all provincial winners will contest next month’s All Ireland semi-finals, with Galway set to face off against Meath while Kerry will play Monaghan.
The Tribesmen will start as favourites for that clash with the Royal County but much will depend on which team shows up, based on this Jekyll and Hyde performance.
A deceptively strong breeze blew down the ground at the Offaly venue but that was only one factor as Clare grew into the game quickly, realising their opponents hadn’t brought their Connacht championship form into this tie.
Thomas Kelly kicked a couple of good early scores, Shane Meehan was on form from dead balls and with Clare edging the key battles in the diamond sector, the Banner county moved 0-7 to no score in front by the 25-minute mark.
Clare also had a glorious chance to put real distance between the sides when Keelan Guyler played in Joey Droney and the Michael Cusacks man duly skinned his marker and drove at goal, only to flash his shot across the posts and wide.
Still, a 0-7 to no score lead with five minutes to go before halftime looked like a significant advantage. Crucially, however, the Galway forwards worked their way into the game and won three frees that were kicked over by Ryan Monaghan.
While the advantage was still very much with the Banner County at the break, 0-8 to 0-3 in front, the foundations were there on which Galway could build their comeback.
They did exactly that, in fine style. Once the ball was thrown in at the start of the second half captain Conor Raftery got his team going with an inspirational score from range, and substitute Oisín Gormley more than justified his introduction with the first of three excellent points from play.
While star forwards Daniel Cox and Matthew Cooley never really got going, Cox kicking just one point and Cooley striking the foot of the post with his only real chance, Galway’s penetrating runs from deep positions started to poke holes in the Clare defence, while a general increase in work rate resulted in a completely different landscape for the Clare forwards at the other end of the field.
All across the field, Donal Ó’Fatharta’s side took control of the game and once Conor Raftery kicked them in front after 45 minutes with another magnificent strike, they never looked back.
Eoghan Tinney kicked a couple of points and Tomo Culhane and Niall Cunningham got on the scoresheet to make it a total of 0-5 from the Galway bench.
Tadhg Lillis and Shane Meehan kicked points to try and keep Clare in the game, but their challenge faded as Galway continued to go from strength to strength right up until the final whistle.
Galway: Ryan Monaghan 0-6f, Oisín Gormley 0-3, Conor Raftery& Eoghan Tinney 0-2 each, Aidan Halloran, Tony Gill, Daniel Cox, Tomo Culhane & Niall Cunningham 0-1 each.
Clare: Shane Meehan 0-4f, Thomas Kelly & Keelan Guyler 0-2 each, Joey Droney, Emmet McMahon (f) & Tadhg Lillis 0-1 each.
Galway: Donie Halloran; Ethan Walsh, Seán Black, Cian Deane; Ryan Monaghan, Tony Gill, Cathal Sweeney; Conor Raftery, James McLoughlin; Liam Judge, Aidan Halloran, Éanna McCormack; Eoghan Tinney, Daniel Cox, Matthew Cooley.
Subs: Conor Halbard for Black (24), Oisín Gormley for McCormack (HT), Tomo Culhane for Cooley (59), Niall Cunningham for A Halloran (60), Seán Horkan for McLoughlin (60)
Clare: Michael Garrihy; Jack Reidy, Darragh Connelly, John Murphy; Gavin D’Auria, Cillian Rouine, Adam O’Connor; Chibby Okoye, Emmet McMahon; Thomas Kelly, Cian McDonough, Conor Carrig; Keelan Guyler, Shane Meehan, Joey Droney.
Subs: Gearóid O’Grady for O’Connor (33, BC), Tadhg Lillis for Carrig (41), Pádraic O’Donoghue for D’Auria (50), Kevin Keane for Guyler (57), Robin Mounsey for Droney (59), Damian Lynch for Cian McDonough (60)
Referee: Padraig O’Sullivan (Kerry)