At the end of the match yesterday, I shook hands with Michael Lyster. It may be my last time doing a live TV game with Michael, who retires from RTÉ at the end of this year, and I wanted to acknowledge his help to me, and his absolute professionalism, over the years.
I think Michael appreciated the gesture but his handshake was also warmed by the graciousness of a Galway man towards this Clare team. “That group of players never know when they are beaten,” he said.
It’s never easy to lose an All-Ireland semi-final.
Yesterday’s defeat was heartbreaking for everyone from Clare but it is slightly easier to take when it’s from a county with no history of animosity towards each other.
When Eddie Brennan and I stepped outside the RTÉ box at the town end goal on a couple of occasions, the Galway supporters in the terrace below were having great craic with us.
At the end of the match, there was no jingoism or gloating from the Galway supporters because, apart from the respect shared between the counties, Galway knew they were lucky to escape against a team which left every drop of blood and sweat they had on that hallowed turf.
There was a huge Clare crowd in the ground and the atmosphere was just electric. The tension was dripping from well before the throw-in.
It wasn’t the epic of last weekend, especially the first half, but the second half more than compensated for any deficit in entertainment in that first half. It was enthralling and dramatic down to the last blow of Fergal Horgan’s whistle.
I’ve used the line hundreds of times before but it was apt again yesterday: ‘Victory has a thousand fathers while defeat is an orphan.’
Galway will look at all the key scores, decisions and tactical moves and declare each one a significant factor while the bottom line of the result for Clare will just blur this match into one giant ball of agony over a long winter.
Galway got a lot right. Their tactic from the outset was to run at the Clare defence as opposed to hammering the ball down Colm Galvin’s throat as the sweeper.
They got most of the match-ups spot on. They made the switch with Adrian Tuohy and John Hanbury when it looked like Shane O’Donnell was going to town on Hanbury.
They really nullified Tony Kelly. Galway didn’t designate anyone in particular to mark him but when Kelly went to certain areas, everyone seemed to know their particular role on Kelly in those circumstances.
Too many of Clare’s big guns didn’t fire; Kelly, John Conlon, Podge Collins, David Reidy, Colm Galvin. Daithí Burke did a huge job on Conlon but too much of the ball played into him was to no real advantage to John, especially with a gang of defenders around him.
Setting up with Galvin as the sweeper allowed Galway to pull more bodies deeper but it took Clare too long to get going — again.
Clare only converted six of 19 scoring chances in the first half. Only three of those scores came from play, with a slight wind. Clare did get the scoreboard moving in the second half, mostly through the brilliance of O’Donnell.
As well as scoring his superb goal, Shane set up Peter Duggan’s goal and created the opening for Aron Shanagher’s late chance. In fairness to James Skehill, he stopped the shot but when the ball rebounded back to Shanny, his shot came off the post. Heartbreak.
I don’t want to be in any way critical of the Clare management but you’d wonder why it took them so long to bring on Shanagher.
He was was such a menace when he came on that you’d love to know what more damage he could have done in another seven or eight minutes.
Galway had some massive performances from key men; Joe Canning, Pauric Mannion, Joseph Cooney, Dathí Burke.
Joe may have been lucky to get the official RTÉ man-of-the-match but you still have to give it up to him for the leadership he showed when the real heat came on in the second half.
Three points from play was a huge return in such a tight game but the resilience Joe showed in the face of such physical struggles with his injured knee was a massive testament to his character.
It looked like he was about to come off two or three times but both Joe, and the management, realised the importance of having him on the field in the face of that Clare storm.
It was a disappointing end to a really positive and energetic summer for Clare and, while Clare will agonise over this defeat for a long time, the future is bright.
If you go through both squads, Clare have a younger age profile. They also introduced a couple of young players during this championship.
Rory Hayes came on yesterday and did pretty well. Mikey O’Malley has got game time this summer.
Shanagher is still only 21. Ian Galvin, who is only 22, really stepped up as impact sub throughout the championship and was productive again yesterday.
Plenty of guys in their mid-20s had good championships too; Jack Browne, Conor Cleary, David Reidy, Peter Duggan, Séadna Morey.
The manner in which the team responded to the disappointing second-half performance of the Munster final, with three excellent displays, further underlined how much the players are buying into the management.
And the Clare public need to continue to back and trust this management with the huge level of support they showed the group yesterday.
Galway move on now to the final in two weeks. I often think of the old Duracell ad, where different batteries are inserted into a group of bunny teddys.
The one with the Duracell batteries keeps going long after the other bunnies have stopped working and I thought of that image when I looked at Galway yesterday. Except they remind me of one of the other bunnies, not the Duracell one.
Galway deserve huge credit for getting the job done but they are lacking energy. They could be in all sorts of trouble when they run into a Limerick side that seem to have Duracell batteries inside every individual ribcage.
Limerick will give Galway huge headaches if they start well and force Galway to chase them but semi-finals are for winning and this group of players now know what it takes to get the job done on the biggest day of all.
Eddie Brennan made a very important point yesterday. He played in 10 All-Ireland finals and he said that Noel Hickey was always brilliant in how he approached the biggest game of the year, and in how he transmitted his message to everyone else in the squad.
‘Shut up about tiredness, shut up about nerves, forget it’s the All-Ireland final, throw yourself into it, and just go at it.’
Ideally, that is what Limerick will want to do but Galway have been there before. A lot of these Galway players will be playing in their fifth All-Ireland final, if you include the 2012 replay.
Apart from Seamus Hickey, who is now only an impact sub, no other Limerick player has been through an All-Ireland senior final. And that Galway know-how – which was fully evident again yesterday - cannot be underestimated in two weeks.
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