By Michael O Connor.
Memories of the titantic 2009 clash that announced Clare on the national hurling stage were rekindled for spectators in Thurles as once again a place in the All Ireland decider was on offer. Only difference this time was the opposition and the fact that this Clare side were now the backbone of a well drilled senior outfit. For their part Galway had a solid team on paper that had defeated Clare in the 2011 minor semi final. The huge disadvantage however, was the lack of even a facile win in a quarter final game for Galway as they would not know how their side would perform until it might be too late. This did not affect Antrim as they became the first side from Ulster to reach the All Ireland under 21 decider. For their efforts the 33/1 outsiders to win the tie received a powerful round of applause from all present for creating another piece of GAA history.
Heavy rain earlier in the day allied to drizzle later in the run up to the game and a strong breeze threatened to play an evil part in what promised to be an entertaining hour’s play in the “field of dreams”.
In a low scoring tense game that was predicted by many due to both sides man marking each other and indeed to the credit of Galway they didn’t allow Clare dictate and indeed on a number of occasions in the first half the over elaboration of Clare cost them at least two scores. The opening score fell to a Cathal O Connell pointed free as Clare began to tag on wides with abandon before NUIGalway fresher Cathal Mannion who gave David McInerney some trouble in the first half opened Galway’s account from play. At the end of the first quarter the sides were level with Padraic Collins and Mannion with his second point on target as Cathal O Connell and Alan O Neill were off target with 60 metre frees. With scores at a premium it was left to corner forward Davy O Halloran to put daylight of sorts between the sides with two brilliant strikes from narrow angles in the 16th and 18th minutes. Conor Cooney now positioned at full forward responded in the 21st minute as they spurned three clear point scoring chances with Padraic Brehony, Cooney and Mannion unable to seize the opportunities afforded to them. Aaron Cunningham was forced off the field when he pulled up with a suspected hamstring injury to be replaced by Cathal Malone. The final score of the first half fell to Cathal O Connell who converted an injury time free to leave Clare (0-5) to (0-3) advantage.
What developed in the second half was one of the worst provided by a Galway team on the national stage in living memory. 13 minutes elapsed in the second half before the maroon and white’s hit a point. It was agreed by most that Clare were going to win the tie with an improved second half effort but still what emerged signalled that Galway hurling on evidence provided over the last month is now in major need of reappraisal as a top 4 rating.
The result defining score that broke Galway’s resolve and was worth twice it nominal value was Cathal O Connell’s 34th minute goal from a Stephen O Halloran delivery that broke off Shane O Donnell into O Connell’s path. O Donnell added a point that TV showed was probably wide a minute later. Conor Cooney, Cathal O Connell and Padraic Collins hit minors by the 38th minute as Cathal Keane came on for Thomas Flynn.
A tremendous score from Peter Duggan following a pass from Cathal O Connell signalled that the Galway challenge was now crumbling. Between the 40th and 50th minutes Clare outscored John Kelly’s men 4-2 with Davy O Halloran , Seadna Morey and two well taken efforts from Cathal Malone stretching their advantage (1-14) to (0-6). The final scores from Cathal O Connell (2) and Shane Moloney were played out before a rapidly emptying Semple Stadium as Sept 15th is now all Ireland final date with Antrim in Thurles which is quickly becoming Clare’s home from home.
Clare had little to do to achieve a place in the final when considering the Galway challenge bar avoid an implosion and their best included David McInerney, Seadna Morey, Stephen O Halloran, Peter Duggan, Cathal O Connell, Cathal Malone and David O Halloran. Galway tried hard but faded away despite the best efforts of Cathal Mannion, Conor Cooney, Shane Mannion, John Hanbury, Barry Keane, and Adrian Touhy early on
CLARE: Ronan Taaffe, Paul Flanagan, David McInerney, Jack Browne, Seadna Morey(0-1), Alan O Neill, Stephen O Halloran, Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly, Peter Duggan (0-1), Padraic Collins (0-2), Aaron Cunningham, Cathal O Connell (1-6), Shane O Donnell (0-1), Davy O Halloran (0-3), Subs: Daire Keane for O Donnell, Cathal Malone (0-2) for Cunningham, Mikey O Neill for Collins, Jamie Shanahan for Galvin, Enda Boyce for Kelly
GALWAY: Shane Mannion, Paul Barry Keane, Paul Killeen, John Hanbury, Paul Hooban, Darragh Burke, Matthew Keating, Adrian Touhy, Paul Claffey, Thomas Flynn, Conor Cooney (0-3), Jonathan Glynn, Padraic Brehony, Cathal Mannion (0-3), Jason Flynn. Subs: Shane Moloney for Flynn, Sean Sweeney for Claffey, Jack Carr for Mannion
REFEREE: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork)