Galway were coming off the back of a depressing defeat by Dublin in the Leinster semi-final while Clare suffered a three-goal loss to All-Ireland champions Tipperary in Munster after producing a spirited performance.
The home fans were concerned if Galway’s always fragile psyche was so badly damaged by their last outing that they would be vulnerable to defeat from a rising Clare, while the Banner faithful were anxious about a backlash from the Tribesman still raw from that Dublin defeat.
Galway manager John McIntyre summed it up best: “I don’t know if a few people came expecting to see a wedding or a funeral or something like that!”
They saw both, a fact reflected in the reaction of the respective managers to what, in reality, had been something of a slaughter.
McIntyre admitted: “There are a lot of genuine Galway supporters who haven’t lost faith in this Galway management or in this Galway team. They know that the Dublin match wasn’t a true reflection of form. It was a great result for Dublin, I’m not for one minute taking away from their victory. But Galway showed their true colours tonight.
“They stood up, it was a big test of character because people would have anticipated that they would see a dispirited, disorganised, head-down Galway team going through the motions. These guys have too much pride for that to happen. And I’m thrilled for them.”
For Clare’s Ger O’Loughlin, despair, tempered slightly by hope. For the fourth game in a row his side leaked four goals, the rock they perished on.
He said: “We were totally exposed in the first half. We were at sixes and sevens for the first 20 minutes, playing into a strong breeze. We were again very naive in that a lot of goals were conceded. All we can do now is go back and pick up the pieces, try and learn from it. We’re playing the best players that are available to us, we just need to get a bit more savvy about what we’re doing at the back. In fairness to Galway they were a class apart tonight and it shows the work we have to do to get there.”
On an evening when — as usual — there was a strong downfield breeze in Pearse Stadium, Clare could badly have down with winning the toss, perhaps apply some early pressure and compound some doubts that may have been lingering in Galway heads.
Instead it was new Galway captain Damien Hayes getting the nod from the referee and instantly pointing with the wind. He was also pointing the way, because Damien led this one from the front, hitting Galway’s opening 1-1 after free-taker Nicky O’Connell had put Clare ahead inside a minute.
Soon it was the returning Ger Farragher getting into the goal-scoring act, before points from the on-fire Joe Canning had Galway ahead 2-4 to 0-1 after 15 minutes.
“We were hoping to win the toss,” continued O’Loughlin. “But even that didn’t go our way. They were always going to come at us and try to finish us off early. Sometimes with young lads on board — like we have — you need 20 minutes to settle, to realise you can win the game. But we were on the back foot from the start. A small bit of panic set in — we were all over the place. It is very hard to fix one problem because there were so many problems.”
In the 29th minute came Galway’s third goal, a stupendous effort by the powerful Canning when he simply brushed Nicky O’Connell from his path, stepped inside Patrick Donnellan, some sublime stick work, before beating Phillip Brennan off his left side.
At half time it was 3-13 to 0-12, six minutes after the restart Clare were down to 14 men after wing-back James McInerney got a straight red card for a terrible pull on goal-bound Canning.
Alan Kerins added Galway’s fourth major in the 54th minute.
Ultimately it was men against boys.
Scorers for Galway: J Canning 1-9 (0-3f, 0-1 65, 0-1 sl); G Farragher 1-4; D Hayes 1-3; A Kerins 1-2; I Tannian 0-2; J Gantley 0-2; A Smith, D Burke, J Regan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Clare: N O’Connell 0-6 (5f, 1 65); C McGrath 0-5 (3f); C Morey 0-3; J Conlan 0-2; C McInerney, F Lynch, J Clancy, L Markham 0-1 each.
Subs for Galway: C Donnellan (Tannian 57); B Daly (Burke 65); J Regan (Gantley 65); A Harte (Farragher 67); K Hynes (Cullinane 71), D Joyce (Barry 64 blood).
Subs for Clare: B Bugler (Vaughan 35); L Markham (Clancy 44); S Collins (Lynch 48); C O’Donovan (McMahon 57); G Quinn (Donnellan 63).
Referee: D Kirwan (Cork)