Forget altogether about the prospect of Division 2 hurling. A season that began on such a high — a 100% record of a very different kind in January, as Clare powered their way to victory in the Waterford Crystal tournament — has since seen expectations well and truly crushed.
“Again we’ve got no goal in a league game,” said manager Mike McNamara. “That means we got a total of one goal from a member of the starting 15 for the whole campaign — that’s an alarming statistic. There wasn’t a big difference between the sides today, but goals win matches.”
Indeed they do, and if we were to be very simplistic here, we could say that the real difference between Galway and Clare yesterday was in the respective full-forward lines. From Niall Healy, Iarla Tannian and Damien Hayes, Galway got a combined return of 3-13, 1-6 of that from frees, but then most of the fouls were on themselves. From Mark Flaherty, Tony Griffin and Jonny Clancy, Clare got eight points, three from play, and barely a sniff of a goal.
By way of excuse, Clare did have a makeshift full-back line, Conor McMahon the only regular fit for the fray, but then again Galway managed to score those four goals without Joe Canning, the youngster given a break after a pretty hectic start to his season.
For Clare, then, the signs are ominous; for Galway manager John McIntyre, an altogether happier prospect: “I was tired of people telling me all week that this game meant nothing; obviously it doesn’t change anything in terms of league position or of qualifying for the final, but any time you win is a good day. There’s nothing like a win for building confidence. You can train like dogs ten weeks in a row, but one win is worth all that. We have a lot of work to do, but this gives us momentum going to the championship.”
In a game that lacked any bite, the sides were level at the break, 1-8 to 0-11, the Galway goal coming in the 8th minute after Damien Hayes found Tannian, who gave Patrick Kelly no chance from close range. There was still very little in it after a further quarter of an hour, Galway leading by just a point (1-13 to 0-15) when we had the second goal, and the first of three yellow cards for the Clare men in a period of less than five minutes. Bearing down on goal, Galway wing-forward Aongus Callanan was hauled unceremoniously to the deck inside the large parallelogram; corner-back Michael Hawes saw yellow, Niall Healy crashed the resultant penalty low and to the net — four-point Galway lead.
Within a minute, David Barrett had joined Hawes in the stand, a yellow-card foul on Lynch, and shortly afterwards they were joined by centre-back Brendan Bugler, who was probably relieved to be removed from the environs of Galway centre-forward Kevin ‘Chunky’ Hayes. Chunky didn’t score but he was especially effective, one of a few to impress manager McIntyre. “He moved the ball. Galway need to play direct hurling, and we haven’t always done that in this league. Chunky doesn’t mess with the ball on the 40, he gets it and delivers, very effective in the first half especially.”
Seven minutes after their second major, still four points ahead, Galway struck again and really finished this match as any kind of spectacle. A bustling solo from the impressive Tannian, intelligent cross to the waiting Niall Healy, simple tap to the net, and it was over as a contest.
“I know more now than I did at the start of the campaign,” said McIntyre. “We’ve been cursed with injuries, and the Portumna players only came on board halfway through, so it’s been difficult to get a settled formation. We had a couple of bad days, Kilkenny and Dublin, but there’s nothing we can do about it now. We have to improve 40% between now and championship.”
The reality for Mike Mac and Clare? “There’s a great passion for hurling in Clare, it’s up to those players now to lift that, ignite it, come out with all guns blazing in June. Realistically our league performance deserved about six points, games we had in the bag but let slip. The big challenge now is to break the losing sequence we’re in.”
Scorers for Galway: N. Healy 2-8 (1-0 peno, 0-6 frees); I. Tannian 1-2; A. Callanan 1-1; D. Hayes 0-3; F. Healy, M. Kerins (free), 0-1 each.
Clare: M. Flaherty 0-6 (0-5 frees); D. Barrett 0-3; A. Markham 0-3 (all frees); T. Carmody 0-2; C. McMahon, G. O’Connell, T. Griffin, J. Clancy, G. Arthur, 0-1 each.
GALWAY: J. Skehill; D. Joyce, S. Kavanagh, O. Canning (c); R. Murray, E. Lynch, A. Cullinane; K. Hynes, F. Healy; N. Hayes, K. Hayes, A. Callanan; N. Healy, I. Tannian, D. Hayes.
Subs: E. Forde (Hynes 65); M. Kerins (N. Healy 65); A. Coen (Cullinane 65); J. Gantley (Callanan 68); B. Costello (Murray 69). Blood sub: C. Donnellan (Tannian 34/35).
CLARE: P. Kelly; M. Hawes, J. McInerney, C. McMahon; P. Donnellan, B. Bugler, A. Markham; B. O’Connell (c), G. O’Connell; T. Carmody, D. Barrett, D. McMahon; M. Flaherty, T. Griffin, J. Clancy.
Subs: E. Barrett (Hawes y/c 52); C. Ryan (D. Barrett y/c 53); E. Glynn (Bugler y/c 58); M. Óg Murphy (Carmody 68); G. Arthur (Griffin 69).
Referee: J. Sexton (Cork).