St James’ were bidding to reach their first SFC final and looked poised to oust the champions when they raced 0-6 to 0-2 clear after 24 minutes despite playing into a strong wind at Pearse Stadium.
Full-forward Eoin Concannon caused huge problems for the Salthill defence and with Paul Conroy and Johnny Duane dominant out the field, the holders struggled.
But, not for the first time, Sean Armstrong rescued his side. He won a lot of hard ball and with Seamie Crowe — starved of possession for the opening 25 minutes — suddenly bursting on the scene at full-forward before the break, Salthill rallied. Armstrong and Crowe found the range to halve the deficit, which had been created thanks to four points from Concannon and one apiece from Conroy and David O’Connell.
Armstrong again pointed and then Crowe levelled with a superb effort from the right in first-half stoppage time before Armstrong landed a superb effort from 45m to edge the champions 0-7 to 0-6 in front at the break.
Crucially, Salthill were never trailed again. They perfected a strong running hand-pass game into the wind and wore down the St James’ challenge. Crowe pointed two minutes after the restart and Armstrong kicked two more in the next three minutes (0-10 to 0-6).
Concannon and Tommy Walsh reduced the margin going into the final quarter, but the hard-working Gary Cox responded for Salthill.
Two more Concannon points either side of an effort from Salthill wing-back Conor Halloran kept St James’ hopes alive but they never looked like getting the goal they required as the 2006 All-Ireland club champions drew on all their experience to book a place in the Galway final for the seventh time.
Scorers for Salthill-Knocknacarra: S Armstrong 0-6 (2f), S Crowe 0-4, B Conlon, C Halloran, G Cox 0-1 each.
Scorers for St James’: E Concannon 0-7 (5f), T Walsh, M Kelly, D O’Connell, P Conroy (1f) 0-1 each.
SALTHILL-KNOCKNACARRA: S Nallen; R McTiernan, F Hanley, C Begley; C Halloran, C Treacy, G Canavan; D Tierney, J Boylan; C Healy, S Armstrong, B Conlon; G Cox, S Crowe, A Kerins.
Subs: S Gavin for Begley (28); D O’Flaherty for Treacy (28); R Butler for Tierney (30); A Callanan for Kerins (54).
ST JAMES’: D Curran; S Coughlan, A Deacy, C Glynn; J Burke, J Duane, T Walsh; M Kelly, P Conroy; A Connolly, D O’Connell,S Donnellan; R O’Connell, E Concannon, A O’Donnell.
Subs: E Teagle for Kelly (36); S Rabbitte for Donnellan (42); E O’Regan for R O’Connell (50); S Glynn for O’Donnell (54); A Lee for C Glynn (56).
Referee: G Kinneavy.