Jason Flynn holds his nerve as Tribe 'spirit' prevails
Galway 2-15 Clare 1-17 (Allianz NHL Division 1A)
Galway have won far too many of these first round league matches in Pearse Stadium to take the wrong impression from a result like this.
On Anthony Cunningham's watch, this was a fourth successive win on the opening afternoon, following on from the double success over Dublin, split by their 2013 dismissal of Kilkenny. It's a habit they have become accustomed to but one they will also be wary of.
Still, you got the impression from Cunningham that this may be one he might take something extra from above the others.
Two years ago they were fuelled by three first-half goals to power their win over Kilkenny, while Dublin's approach was "half-baked" in the words of their then manager Anthony Daly.
But success here was built on something Galway have been accused of being deficient of so often in the recent past - character. And Cunningham was quick to reference it afterwards.
They twice found themselves three points down in the second half, having dominated for much of the opening 35 minutes with Joseph Cooney in top form at midfield. But nine wides before the break eroded their momentum with Jason Flynn missing as many frees (three) as he scored.
It was fitting then that Flynn should drive the dagger into Clare at the end, his 55 metre free from the stand-side sideline cruising over the city-end goals, two minutes into injury-time.
The award of that free provoked some controversy, happening right in front of the Clare management as Jack Browne was penalised for picking clean off the ground. On a surface that made lifting the ball by legal means a hazardous task, Browne's error was excusable in the circumstances.
But referee Brian Gavin was well placed despite the protestations of the Clare management, whose displeasure was compounded when Galway appeared to switch sliothars.
In the great democracy that is the Clare hurling management, selector Michael Browne was once again dispatched to bat on their behalf afterwards, Davy Fitzgerald sticking to his spring sabbatical from such speaking engagements.
How would Fitzgerald have viewed that late free awarded right under his nose? For Browne, it wasn't a free though his qualification that "I'm a Clare man and surely I wasn't going to think it was a free anyway" weighs in behind Gavin's decision.
For Clare, with 11 of their 2013 All-Ireland winning team starting, it automatically leaves them under pressure in Division 1A with a trip to Pairc Ui Rinn next Saturday night to face a chastened Cork. They were outplayed in the first half, the policy of playing Colm Galvin at wing-forward clearly not paying dividends.
In his place, Pat O'Connor and Colin Ryan struggled against the imposing Cooney who really looks like he can move his game up another level in the months ahead.
Equally imposing for Galway was Johnny Glynn at centre-forward who created both goals, scored two points himself and made sure his physical presence counted at centre-forward. If Galway are to present themselves as more forceful in 2015, Cooney and Glynn will have to be the catalysts in that.
Clare lost Tony Kelly to a hamstring injury from the selected team but his replacement, Bobby Duggan, served notice again of his potential with three first-half points to keep a struggling Clare in touch. The surface didn't help. Recent drainage work made the control of the ball impossible at times.
Galway were fluid in attack with James Regan and Cathal Mannion operating in a two-man full-forward line. But the wides hurt them, preventing them stretching any further than four points clear.
Clare eventually switched Galvin back to midfield and it coincided with a period of recovery. Shane O'Donnell looked lively throughout and won a free for Colin Ryan to convert before a Ryan free was guided past Colm Callanan by a deft John Conlon touch on the edge of the square to bring the sides level, 1-5 to 0-8 on 29 minutes.
Clare subsequently led by two points and looked to be taking control but when Glynn caught an Andy Smith free and was fouled, Gavin's decision to give an advantage presented an opportunity for Mannion, which he didn't spurn for their opening goal. It was smart finishing but equally smart refereeing.
Galway took a 1-9 to 1-8 lead in at half-time but it was instantly under threat after the break with O'Connor dropping back to sweeper to good effect. O'Donnell cut loose to set up a Conlon point and score one himself as Clare pushed three clear by the 40th minute, 1-12 to 1-9.
Conor McGrath's introduction as a substitute energised a flagging Clare attack even more and two of his three points helped preserve that three point lead by the 55th minute, 1-15 to 1-12.
But Glynn's influence was growing and his storming 58th minute run through the heart of the Clare defence and lay-off to Cooney, whose swivel and finish was sublime, drew the sides level again. Cooney might have had a second goal just two minutes later but this time his control was poor.
Flynn twice had Galway ahead in a tense finish with a free and a 65 before holding his nerve by the sideline at the end. With eight players missing through injury and unavailability, and Fergal Moore crying off before the start, there was satisfaction to draw on for Galway.
"We showed our fighting spirit there in the finish that we were looking for and it's what we want to bring into the championship this year," said Cunningham. A post match stand off with Fitzgerald and other members of the Clare management, a follow-on from the free just seconds earlier, was "nothing" he said. "I went over to shake hands and said 'we will see you one of these days'. There was no comment from Davy or from anyone."
Man of the Match: Johnny Glynn
Scorers - Galway: J Flynn 0-9 (6fs, 1 65), C Mannion 1-1, J Cooney 1-0, J Glynn 0-2, J Regan, P Brehony, G McInerney all 0-1 each. Clare: C Ryan 0-6 (5fs), J Conlon 1-2, B Duggan, C McGrath 0-3 each, B Bugler, S O'Donnell, C Galvin all 0-1 each.
Galway - C Callanan 7; J Coen 6, J Hanbury 6, R Burke 5; G McInerney 7, D Collins 7, I Tannian 8; A Smith 6, J Cooney 8; P Brehony 5, J Glynn 8, D Higgins 6; J Regan 6, C Mannion 7, J Flynn 7. Subs: G Lally 6 for Burke (45), A Harte 6 for Higgins (52), B Molloy for Regan (64), P Killeen for Brehony (65).
Clare - P Kelly 7; C Dillon 7, D O'Donovan 7, J Browne 6; C Cleary 6, Conor Ryan 6, P O'Connor 7; Colin Ryan 6, B Bugler 7; P Donnellan 6, B Duggan 7, C Galvin 7; J Conlon 7, S O'Donnell 7, D Reidy 5. Subs: C McGrath 8 for Reidy (44), A Cunningham 7 for Donnellan (54), S Morey for Cleary (65).
Ref - B Gavin (Offaly).