A last gasp winner, a bit of a row over a dry ball being slipped in for the crucial free and a tight struggle between neighbours would suggest the Allianz League started with a bang in Pearse Stadium yesterday.
But for long periods this was a struggle between two sides who crowded the middle sector of the field and sought, with only limited success, to exploit extra space in attack.
However, in a league structure of such tight margins, all that will matter to Galway is that they won their opening game, while Clare know the task facing them in Pairc Ui Rinn next Saturday when themselves and Cork battle it out for their first league points.
The hero of the day for Galway was full-forward Jason Flynn, one of five U-21s from last year to start for the understrength Tribesmen, but for long periods it seemed he would be the villain, having shot half a dozen of Galway’s 13 wides.
But the Tommy Larkins man, who hit 0-11 in the Walsh Cup final win over Dublin, held his never to first land a 65 to tie the match in the dying moments and then deep into stoppage time hit a free from 50 metres on the right touchline to win it.
“He’s a brilliant marksman,” said Galway manager Anthony Cunningham.
“He’s a young player coming through, a great stick man. He showed great bottle there but he has the talent so it’s great to see it on a stage like this.
“We showed a lot of character with five minutes to go. It looked like a draw or that we were slipping slightly but we showed that little bit of fight in the finish and that’s what we want to bring into the championship this year.”
Galway, who had to make two late changes as Fergal Moore and Padraig Mannion cried off, had started the better despite playing against the wind and raced into a 0-5 to 0-1 lead after just nine minutes.
Bobby Duggan, a late call-up for the injured Tony Kelly, was Clare’s most dangerous forward and he kept them in the game with three top class points, with the Bannermen also drafting in Conor Cleary from the outset in place of another injured All-Star David McInerney.
Clare still trailed by double scores, 0-8 to 0-4, nine minutes from the interval when Colin Ryan got his second point from a free and then John Conlon flicked home long range free from him to tie the match after half an hour.
Clare hit the front shortly after for the first time when Colm Galvin pointed and Ryan put them two in front with another free.
Padraig Brehony and Ryan traded points but Galway struck a telling blow just before the interval when Mannion blasted home a goal into the bottom left corner after good work by the impressive Jonathan Glynn to lead by 1-9 to 1-8 at the break.
Points from Ryan, Conlon, Shane O’Donnell and Brendan Bugler pushed Clare 1-12 to 1-9 ahead after 41 minutes but Joseph Cooney tied the game with Galway’s second goal 12 minutes from time to set up the dramatic finish.
He should have got a second shortly afterwards but failed to make a clean connection and Patrick Kelly saved.
Flynn and Conlon, with one of the scores of the match, traded points for Clare to lead going into the closing stages but then Flynn stepped forward to level from a 65 before Jack Browne was penalised for lifting the ball off the ground and Flynn landed the winner from the right touchline.
Clare selector Michael Browne said they know there will be a lot at stake when they travel to Cork next Saturday, but stressed they would not panic.
“It’s a work in progress lads, we’re only in the middle of February yet. We’re bitterly disappointed. We didn’t come up here to lose this game, we came up here to win it.
“Cork are obviously going to be really up for that game because they lost their game last night by a point or two I think as well so that’s the way it’s going to be. The margins will be very, very small. One day you’re lucky and the ball hops the right way for you,” added Browne.
Galway: C Callanan; J Coen, J Hanbury, R Burke; G McInerney (0-1), D Collins (capt), I Tannian; A Smith, J Cooney (1-0); P Brehony (0-1), J Glynn (0-2), D Higgins; J Regan (0-1), J Flynn (0-9, 0-7 frees), C Mannion (1-1)
Subs: G Lally for Burke (48 mins), A Harte for Higgins (52 mins), B Molloy for Regan (64 mins), P Killeen for Brehony (66 mins)
Clare: P Kelly; D O’Donovan, C Dillon (capt), J Browne; C Cleary, Conor Ryan, B Bugler (0-1); P O’Connor, Colin Ryan (0-6, 0-4 frees); P Donnellan, B Duggan (0-3), C Galvin (0-1); J Conlon (1-2), S O’Donnell (0-1), D Reid
Subs: C McGrath (0-3) for Reid (45 mins), A Cunningham for Donnellan (53 mins), S Morey for Cleary (65 mins), C O’Connell for Colin Ryan (68 mins)
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly).