In his own playing days with Tipperary in the 80s, John McIntyre was a strong, forceful, honest, totally committed hurler.
Saturday evening, Galway looked like a team of 15 John McIntyres; they simply crushed Clare, didn’t so much outhurl them as outwork them, outmuscle them – most un-Galway like. Everywhere a ball landed there was a Galway man in position, soon supported by one, two, even three. The effort so evident in the loss to Kilkenny was again on view but this time there was no let-up, no valley period, and from first whistle to last Galway were on top. 0-7 to 0-2 after the first quarter, 1-8 to 0-5 at the break, 1-11 to 0-6 after three quarters, 2-18 to 1-11 at the death – inexorable Galway progress.
In contrast, and stark contrast, there was Clare. From his time as trainer to the all-conquering team of the 90’s, big Mike McNamara has been something of a folk hero in the Banner county, the kind of unconquerable guy you’d imagine Brian Boru would have had by his side.
However, Cusack Park was no Clontarf as the home citadel fell to Galway, a meeker and weaker Clare crushed. Oh, they had their heroes, in defence especially. Phillip Brennan was superb in goal, defiant even in the face of the Galway onslaught; twice his line was breached but on neither occasion was he culpable, and on at least three other occasions he showed exceptional skill and courage in denying Galway goals.
The twin Galway/Portumna inside scoring threat of Joe Canning and Damien Hayes was held by James McInerney and Pat Donnellan, respectively, to just one point from play (Canning) and two from frees conceded (on Hayes), while the outer Clare wall of Brian O’Connell,
Brendan Bugler and Alan Markham also more than held their own. O’Connell did see a red card in the 58th minute for a reckless tackle on Cyril Donnellan, and that didn’t help Clare’s cause, but that offence was a reflection more of BOC’s commitment than his character because the Clare captain is not a dirty player. Centre-back Bugler was caught for the first Galway goal, scored in the 30th minute by the unmarked Donnellan to put his side 1-7 to 0-3 ahead, but this only because in the build-up, seconds earlier, Bugler had been taken out off the ball by a flying elbow from the same Donnellan, an offence unspotted by referee, linesmen or umpires but which left Bugler prone on the ground while the action continued.
It was from that half-back line forward, however, that the Clare effort flagged, champions hard to find. Diarmuid McMahon tried manfully all through, never gave up, and his kicked goal in injury time was fitting reward for that effort, albeit all too late. Jonny Clancy also worked hard, as did Niall Gilligan, Pat Vaughan and Tony Griffin, but none were very effective and all were well outplayed by their immediate opponents.
A team of Mike Macs? Hardly, and his disappointment at the effort was evident. “We had looked good for the last couple of weeks, the training was superb, going really well,” he said, “I thought something good was on the cards today, but we struggled in key areas, seemed to get the match plan wrong. We tried to adjust, as we did against Tipperary (Munster semi-final loss); the adjustments went well that day, didn’t go so well today.
“We have to have a look at the whole structure,” he continued. “Why our level of consistency is so poor, why so many fellas drop the heads so early, so easily. We have fellas who should be able to contest with the best, but they aren’t contesting with the best.”
And of course that was the key word, contest. While Clare could look to only about half their team as being truly competitive for the whole game, Galway were like tigers throughout the field, tenacious in their tackling, a fact reflected in a free count that went heavily against them – 10-2 at half-time, 14-5 ultimately. “I felt our players were being penalised for their total commitment,” McIntyre complained afterwards. “Kilkenny seem to get away with it but we were penalised; I felt our players were hounding the player in possession, doing what we told them to do and yet nine times out of ten it seemed to be free against them – that was disappointing, we were being penalised for total commitment, especially in the forward line.”
No, John, you shouldn’t complain; the free count was probably a fair reflection of what was happening on the field, Galway the ones hitting hardest and hitting most often, Clare the ones – for the most part – standing back. Fergal Moore, who dropped back to the corner from the wing very early in proceedings, alongside Shane Kavanagh and Ollie Canning, took no prisoners in the inside line; Damien Joyce, John Lee and Adrian Cullinane formed a fortress in the half-back line, Eoin Lynch and Kevin Hynes dominated midfield, while up front, the work-rate never flagged. Why, even the Canning/Hayes axis, while beaten, still managed to come up trumps at times, and it was a hook by Hayes on Bugler in the seventh minute of the second half that led directly to Joe’s only point from play, but a critical point it was, and typified the Galway effort.
“We knew the game wasn’t over at half-time,” said John McIntyre, “We knew we’d have to drive on. The work-rate was good all over the field, we did out best very quickly to win back lost possession, we hounded players, didn’t allow them settle on the ball. We did a lot of things right, though maybe we weren’t clinical enough, used the ball badly at times. But the commitment, the heart – you couldn’t fault it. If you have that, you have something to build on.”
McIntyre has that in spades, now Galway have it. Clare? With a relegation dog-fight about to commence, Mike McNamara has a major challenge on his hands.
Scorers for Galway: J Canning 0-7 (5f, 1’65’); N Healy 1-3; C Donnellan 1-2; A Callanan 0-2; A Smyth, K Hynes, E Lynch, J Gantley, 0-1 each.
Clare: D McMahon 1-1; N Gilligan, B Nugent, P Vaughan, 0-2 each; T Griffin, T Carmody, J Clancy, J Conlon, 0-1 each.
Galway subs: G Mahon for O Canning, 49; G Farragher for A Cullinane, 51; J Gantley for D Hayes, 65; E Forde for K Hynes, 70.
Clare subs: J Conlon for T Griffin, 38; C Morey for D Barrett, 43; B Nugent for T Carmody, 48; C McMahon for C Ryan, 63.
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).