Just when you thought the hurling bar couldn’t be raised any higher....

Over half a century ago Harold MacMillan reduced all of politics to those four words. Even now it’ll have to do as a description of Galway-Clare on Saturday evening.

Just when you thought the hurling bar couldn’t be raised any higher....

By Michael Moynihan, Croke Park

Events, dear boy, events.

Over half a century ago Harold MacMillan reduced all of politics to those four words. Even now it’ll have to do as a description of Galway-Clare on Saturday evening.

How else can you make sense of it?

For the last few seasons Galway and Tipperary have gone toe to toe at this stage of the season and served up thrillers that stayed alive to the final whistle — exhibit A, Joe Canning’s superb winner last year to send Galway to September.

After a wildly entertaining round-robin series at provincial level, were we asking too much for a repeat of that quality at the penultimate point of the championship?

Turns out we weren’t.

By teatime on Saturday everyone in Croke Park had reached the stage of delirium where tactics vanish into the gathering gloom along with anything like a sense of proportion.

Those in the stadium had entered the kind of trance state where the minutest vibration in momentum and the most outlandish flashes of skills were all being accepted with the same level of equilibrium.

Lads gone off who had to be brought back on, not to mention players brought on who were subbed back off? Why not?

Hurleys being thrown despairingly to block shots, and shots which didn’t have the strength behind them to crawl over the bar from 20m? Of course.

Sidelines being driven over the bar and points scored with the hurley held upside down? Naturally.

Yet those paled in comparison with a point so outrageous it’s already booked its slot on Reeling In The Years (2018 version).

Galway-Clare went on so long it outlasted the sun and ended, appropriately enough, in the kind of soft-teeming mist they specialise in west of the Shannon.

The sun then came out again to bathe the aftermath — the hand-shaking, the dropping to the haunches — in a golden sheen.

Before the start we had a lot of army personnel in Croke Park, but the camouflage uniforms in Croke Park were there to mark 60 years of UN peace-keeping.

Of course, given the shared border between Galway and Clare there was some speculation that maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have them, you know, loiter nearby in case there was anything more strenuous than banner-folding for them to do (There wasn’t).

Daithi Burke was the other imposing figure who caught the eye before the game. As you turned around Gill’s Corner on Saturday afternoon you heard about an array of injuries that would keep the Galway full-back out of the game.

A Wuthering Height of a defender, Burke’s absence would have been a huge boost to Clare: as it was, he lined out and dispossessed John Conlon’s very first foray upfield, and it took Clare’s key forward a long time to get a sight of goal.

That was of a piece with Galway’s opening on Saturday. They dominated Clare all over the field, and ‘bullying’ wouldn’t have been an exaggeration.

They were exemplary in their puck-out strategy, creating traps for Clare keeper Donal Tuohy and pressing sharply on his intended targets.

After 10 minutes Galway had four points, four wides including a good goal chance blazed wide, and three intercepted puck-outs.

Their alignment on Clare restarts kept the Banner pinned back and it was no surprise when they hit a goal. A high ball was contested by Jonathan Glynn, who occupied three defenders until reinforcements, in the form of Conor Cooney got up to him.

Cooney finished calmly: 1-7 to 0-1 after just 15 minutes and Clare gasping for air.

Credit to the Banner side, they turned it around. Tactical adjustments brought Tony Kelly deep and Colm Galvin deeper: The side from Munster got into the game, with Peter Duggan unerring from frees.

Clare’s shot selection, often a weakness, was very good in that second quarter, while Galway finished the half with a dozen wides.

They were still four up at the break, but given Clare’s opening quarter it was pretty positive for Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor’s side.

After that it’s fair to say the game became less a linear progression of events, or at least events linked to causes, than its own picaresque novel, stuffed with tangents and diversions.

A brief account of the second-half high points and decisive twists would include but not be limited to: Joe Canning beginning the half with a sideline cut driven over the bar and, soon after, Conor Whelan turning over a Clare defender to put his side five points up.

And maybe Colm Galvin and Peter Duggan’s long-range points to reel Galway in during the third quarter.

Along with perhaps the departure of Gearoid McInerney with an injury.

Or maybe the three fine Galway points between the 63rd and 66th minute to put them a goal ahead.

Don’t forget Clare still managing to level the game. Or Jason Flynn almost winning it.

If you’re keeping up, you’ll realise that this doesn’t cover a) extra time and b) Peter Duggan’s point.

Taking them in reverse order, Duggan’s score was the kind of ridiculous improvisation you’d expect at a Cúl Camp when the coaches are messing around, not as a leveller in an All-Ireland senior semi-final with seven minutes left in normal time.

I understand the score already has its own podcast and is in negotiations with Netflix about a limited-run series.

Can you take an investigation of extra time?

The bullet points include a butchered Galway goal chance, Aaron Shanagher’s superb strike for Clare’s goal, and the Banner’s five wides in six minutes, not to mention Joe Canning departing with an injury and Jason McCarthy’s nerveless equaliser.

P

erhaps unfairly, we asked Donal Moloney to make sense of the proceedings after the game. He began with Galway’s dazzling start.

“They obviously did that to Kilkenny in the Leinster final replay and we had planned for that and thought about it — but executing it is different.

“Galway were in full flow during that period. We had never had any real doubt we were going to bring this thing back though, we never had any doubt about our boys.”

His opposite number concurred on that opening spell.

“We started well,” said Micheal Donoghue. “Obviously we knew coming up that Clare were going to be a massive challenge and we got a good start and they came back well into the game and I think once they came back close to parity it just took a life of its own.

“Both teams probably had chances in normal time and similar in extra-time, but, I’m really proud of our lads, they worked really hard.

“Any time they got a setback they came back and got the scores when we needed them and, you know, we picked up a few knocks as well and the lads who came off the bench made a massive contribution.

“We just draw on our experience now and recover and go again next week.”

Who can improve most for next Sunday’s replay?

Despite his pride in his team, Donoghue will know Galway weren’t clinical enough in the first half of normal time in particular: Some sloppiness in execution deprived his men of two clear-cut goal chances, either of which would surely have gotten them over the line.

Improved efficiency will be a key issue for them to address this week.

Losing your centre-back and centre-forward to injury casts a shadow over those preparations.

Both Gearoid McInerney and Joe Canning looked uncomfortable leaving the field and their absence would be a serious complication for Donoghue and his backroom team next Sunday.

Clare had to come from behind to level the game but will draw sustenance from their ability to overturn a nine-point deficit without needing a goal.

Aaron Shanagher will also surely come into the reckoning as an extra weapon up front, with his goal a vivid reminder of what he offers.

Galway’s physical advantage remains, however, and the tactical realignment which worked so well for Clare last Saturday may not be as fruitful the next time, with Galway well warned about it now.

Bask in the afterglow a while, though. McCarthy’s calm finish made it 1-30 apiece — appealingly symmetrical scoreline and eloquent commentary on the quality of this season’s hurling, all at once.

The crowds rolling out of Croke Park on Saturday were already looking forward to Cork-Limerick the following day and Galway-Clare Part II in a week’s time, a conclusion appropriate to a magnificent season.

In the meantime, consider a simple description that wasn’t coined by a whiskered prime minister in the early sixties but deployed by a great hurling man about games played long before the early ’60s.

Will we ever forget it?

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