Galway come of age at just the right time
Published 25/07/2016 | 02:30
Yesterday was this Galway team's coming-of-age moment and it could be the making of their season.
The players put themselves under pressure and now that they've thrown off the shackles and are hurling with much more freedom, they will go into the semi-final against Tipperary without any fear.
This is a real monkey off Galway's back and going forward, you cannot underestimate the importance of that.
All of Galway's leaders stood up when they needed to and that was the biggest difference.
Read more: Galway blaze back into title contention
You'd have to wonder where they were in the Leinster final when the chips were down but once again they've shown how good they can be and there's no reason why they can't hit the same heights for the rest of the year.
Seven points to the good at half-time, I was wondering whether or not they would push on or would this be another comfortable lead thrown away?
You could sense that from the Galway crowd when they went quiet and although it was understandable, Joe Canning's goal 22 seconds into the second half was the icing on the cake.
In these pages on Saturday, I stressed the importance of yesterday's game for Galway. They've made some brave decisions in the last year but they backed it up and silenced a lot of their critics.
Micheál Donoghue got his tactics spot on and he deserves credit. Plenty of people were criticising him but he is a great hurling man. He's a very quiet, inoffensive man and he goes about things in his own way.
Galway moved up on the Clare puck-outs, which forced them to go long, and they just weren't comfortable doing that.
It was clear that Galway had done their homework on Clare and they never looked in any trouble. There were a few minutes after Canning scored his goal where Clare showed glimpses of a revival but they were quickly shut down by a Galway side that wanted it more.
Aidan Harte had the game of his life in the sweeper role. Daithi Burke was a colossus at full-back and what can you say about Joe that hasn't already been said plenty of times over?
At times I can't understand some of the stick he gets in certain quarters but he is a team player and he showed that again in a selfless performance.
If you had 14 other Joe Cannings on the field, you'd win an All-Ireland. You can lose form but you can't lose class and that's what he is - class.
When Galway are all tuned in, they are devastating and I think some people forgot that because they were beaten in the Leinster final by the same brilliant Kilkenny team who repeated the trick from last year's All-Ireland decider.
Galway were far superior in the air and won all of the individual duels around the pitch. When they got their goal chances, they took them and that was crucial.
Canning stuck his away but it was a great run by David Burke. Tony Kelly found himself in a similar situation in the first half but he didn't pass when he should have. There was a slackness in Clare's play and Davy Fitzgerald won't be happy with that.
Colm Callanan did pull off two great saves but even still, I never really felt that Clare offered that much of a goal threat.
They had very little up front and seemed to be running into cul-de-sacs all game. It was all a bit headless.
Clare won the League and you'd have to question whether they put too much into that? They have a lot in common with Roscommon in the way they've badly faded as the year has gone on.
They've gone backwards since the League campaign but it must have been a tough week for them. Health is bigger than any hurling game and it was great to see Davy back on the sideline.
The Galway lads would have great time for Davy because a lot of them would have hurled with him at LIT.
Clare might have to look at the way Galway have thrown off the shackles and take a leaf out of their book and play straight-up hurling. They have the players and they'll be back.
For Galway, the biggest thing for them now is to prove that last year's semi-final win over Tipp wasn't a fluke. They're back where they want to be but they won't want the journey to end just yet.