Galway 2-17 Clare 0-17: Their guts were for garters had they lost but upon inspection Galway located the moral fibre it was claimed they lacked.
A six-point All-Ireland quarter-final win won’t convince their sternest critics that they are yet ready to leave Kilkenny’s shadow.
Only when they manage to quell Brian Cody’s charges in a second half and beat them in championship fare will satisfy the naysayers.
For now, though, beating Clare will do Galway. And they didn’t just beat them. Clare may have finished within two scores of them but the margin didn’t tell the true story of just how dominant the Leinster runners-up were for almost the entirety of the game watched by a 31,690-strong crowd in Thurles.
In the build-up, it was expected Clare would be able to play around Galway, in doing so taking away from their physical edge. But Galway were so forceful that Clare weren’t able to either go through or around them.
Admittedly, Clare may have thrown more caution to the wind but then it may have exposed them to more punishment.
The actual wind played just a small part in Micheál Donoghue’s side accumulating a seven-point lead by the interval. The elements had no say in how Galway made life torrid for the Clare forwards, none of whom scored from play in the first half until Tony Kelly’s point in additional time.
No breeze could legislate for the number of turnovers Galway forced or the diligence they showed on the Clare puck-outs.
Conor Cooney’s 15th-minute goal, beating Andrew Fahy on his near post, was a classic example of just how Galway compelled Clare to play their game.
From a long Fahy restart into the wind, it was Joe Canning who delivered to Cooney and he was able to round his man to strike to the bottom corner.
The goal put Galway four up. By the first minute of injury time, they had doubled that advantage when Canning struck over a third consecutive placed ball without reply.
It may not have been so bad for Clare had Kelly not missed an easy free in the 23rd minute or been hooked less than two minutes later when he was about to face down Colm Callanan.
But the half-time scoreline, 1-10 to 0-6, was a fair reflection of proceedings.
Galway still managed seven wides but they were operating smoother and when Canning finished emphatically to the net 11 seconds into the second half to cap off a move involving Johnny Coen and David Burke, Galway looked set to put all their Leinster final second-half blues behind them.
For Clare, it was a reminder of the Division 1 final replay against Waterford when they were caught cold by Patrick Curran’s goal after just 17 seconds.
For manager Micheál Donoghue, the goal was a bonus after a first half when they were satisfied they had played to their potential.
“It was huge. We didn’t realise how strong the breeze was until we got to the ground. I suppose we were fortunate to get it in the first half, to build up the lead, and that goal then gave us the cushion that we needed.
“It was inevitable that a Clare onslaught would come but once we chipped in with a few scores I felt we’d be okay.”
Clare had leaders in Kelly and Colm Galvin, who helped himself to five points, and they had cancelled out Canning’s goal by the fourth minute of the new half but they continued to struggle.
Brendan Bugler’s difficult day on Canning finished in the 41st minute after he had fouled the Portumna man and was quickly called ashore.
By the hour mark, Clare had cut Galway’s lead to four but the rate at which they were doing so wasn’t convincing. Conor McGrath’s points from the right-hand sideline weren’t going to be enough to make Galway honest. And goals, although John Conlon and Kelly had half-chances near the end, weren’t forthcoming.
Much of that had to do with the no-nonsense security provided by Aidan Harte as sweeper and Daithí Burke and Johnny Hanbury but Clare weren’t asking the right questions.
High balls were like manna from heaven for the aforementioned trio, with just two Clare men to mark.
“Listen, they just wouldn’t allow us run at them,” explained Davy Fitzgerald. “We couldn’t get a run at them. We got in once or twice in the first half. I think Tony was unlucky, they crowded him out fairly quickly. I’d have liked us to run more in numbers than we were running.
“We were running in ones, I’d like us to have been going in threes or fours. We didn’t get that opportunity today.
“But Galway didn’t get a whole pile — they got the two goal chances, the one after half-time was an opportunistic one. Other than that, Andy Fahy wasn’t troubled all day. On both sides, I wouldn’t say there was a whole pile of chances.”
Galway took theirs, though.
And because they did they’re not the ones feeling gutted this morning.
Scorers for Galway:
J Canning (1-8, 0-6 frees, 2 65s); C Cooney (1-0); J Cooney, David Burke (0-2 each); J Coen, P Mannion, C Donnellan, C Mannion, A Harte (0-1 each).
Scorers for Clare:
T Kelly (0-7, 6 frees); C Galvin (0-5); C McGrath, C Ryan (frees) (0-2 each); D McInerney (0-1).
C Callanan; Daithí Burke, J Hanbury; A Harte; A Tuohy, P Mannion, G McInerney; J Coen, David Burke (c); J Flynn, J Canning, C Cooney; C Mannion, J Cooney, C Whelan.
Subs for Galway:
C Donnellan for C Cooney (47); D Glennon for J Flynn (53); F Moore for J Coen (60); A Smith for C Whelan (67); S Maloney for J Cooney (70+3).
A Fahy; O O’Brien, D McInerney, P O’Connor; C Dillon (jc); B Bugler, C Cleary, J Browne; C Galvin, D Reidy; J Conlon, T Kelly (jc), P Collins; S O’Donnell, A Shanagher.
Subs for Clare:
D Fitzgerald for B Bugler (41); C McGrath for P Collins (49); A Cunningham for A Shanagher (52); C Ryan for D Reidy (54).
B Gavin (Offaly).
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