McIntyre ‘proud’ as Tribesmen restore tarnished reputation
GALWAY 4-25 CLARE 0-20
Tapping into the general air of pessimism earlier in the week, the Connacht Council advised the locals on a crowd of no more than 6,000 for Pearse Stadium.
However, by the time the turnstiles had stopped clicking on Saturday night more than 13,000 had made their way through the snarled-up Salthill traffic to watch this second-phase qualifier unfold.
Why had they come to a venue they haven't always flocked to in such numbers before? A proper, decent wake perhaps?
"People would have anticipated tonight that they would see a dispirited, disorganised, head-down Galway team going through the motions," suggested the Galway manager John McIntyre afterwards.
But by the time the last of the stragglers had come through those turnstiles the result had already been left in dispatch.
From the moment in the second minute that Joe Canning stepped on the gas and stretched his legs past the immediate cover, when a routine point from 40 metres was the more viable option, the intent was obvious.
Canning's subsequent shot crashed off the crossbar and back into play but in that instant the Clare defence knew that the luxury start enjoyed two weeks earlier in Limerick would not cushion them here.
And so it transpired as they were ruthlessly put to the sword by a team on a mission to clear their heads.
This was a night of impressive redemption for Galway hurling and they buried some demons in the process, rifling 4-20 from play as all six forwards and two midfielders made the scoresheet before the end of the third quarter.
McIntyre spoke of some primal instincts being drawn upon over the last fortnight. And in the number of letters and text messages he received he knew a "genuine" body of support still had faith in them.
"We went back to basics on the training ground over the last two weeks, there were less cones and less discs and there was more hurling," he said. "Every session we have had since the Dublin game has been hurling matches.
"We were all extremely disappointed with the performance against Dublin and I knew we would have a much sharper Galway hurling team tonight.
"I didn't know if it would get us over the line but the reputations of the management and in particular the players were on the line and I'm really proud of the players."
Stripping away the relief of putting the last two weeks behind him, McIntyre added a sober qualification to the night's outcome.
"None of us are going to lose the run of ourselves," he said. "At the beginning of the year Galway would have been expected to beat Clare if their paths crossed in the championship."
The result was pretty much in tune with how the same fixture went in Ennis two years ago.
And that's the thing. Until Galway land the scalp of one of the 'big two' in the championship they'll continue to feel the slings and arrows of doubt. They appreciate that obstacle exists.
For now, though, this was as much as, and more than, the All-Ireland champions did to the same opponents two weeks earlier. Yet it will be couched a little differently. More will be made of the 20 points Galway conceded here than the 19 conceded by Tipperary in Limerick.
And for 30 minutes they had an extra man after Clare wing-back James McInerney's straight red card. It's a question of perception.
The quality of the goals, however, cannot be diluted. It was captain Damien Hayes who got the ball rolling from David Burke's ball over the top on six minutes and when Ger Farragher finished from close range six minutes later, after a weak Canning shot wasn't dealt with, Galway were already feeling cleansed of the Tullamore grime in the system.
Hayes had Conor Cooney stretched early on and as Galway rotated their attackers Clare, who had lost the toss to play against the wind in the opening half, sat Nicky O'Connell back as a sweeper.
The extra body hardly mattered in the 29th minute when Canning (pictured below left) picked up possession close to the end line at the city end on the stand side. As he stood up he had only one thing on his mind.
Brushing off the challenge of O'Connell far too easily, he then stepped inside Cian Dillon and drove straight at goalkeeper Philip Brennan, who had no chance to react.
It was a goal that underlined the best in Canning and the worst in Clare's attempts to defend as a 3-9 to 0-7 lead was established.
Their heads visibly went down after that as it had been a little embarrassing, like being bought for a three-card trick at a fair. In two championship matches they have coughed up eight goals. Their manager Ger O'Loughlin spoke of naivety and a need to get more streetwise in their defensive approach.
"The bottom line is that we're actually scoring 20 and 21 points in most games but we're conceding three and four goals in every match," he said. "That's what we have to try and remedy. It's not easy, we're playing the best players that are available to us.
"We just need to get a bit more savvy about what we're doing at the back."
By the break, Clare were 3-13 to 0-12 adrift, though O'Connell's consistent stream of frees and some enterprising play from Conor McGrath had ensured their case wasn't completely hopeless.
But when McInerney was dismissed for a dangerous tackle on Canning five minutes after the restart, it became hopeless. To their credit, they kept battling. Caimin Morey and John Conlon picked off decent points.
But Galway had them at arm's length and once again that defensive naivety was exposed when Farragher found Alan Kerins with another ball over the top. The control and finish by the Clarinbridge man were out of the top drawer.
For O'Loughlin there is much to ponder. He took the job for two years and in that time he has seen progress, if not results.
"I think we've made progress, even though the results are poor," he said. "We actually have a nucleus built now to go forward."
Will he go forward with them? "I'll have a very serious think about it."
McIntyre can be satisfied with the reaction from the players, the revised team selection and the restored sharpness in the play of Burke, Canning, Hayes and Farragher.
Significantly, they appeared to thrive in the air at times, one of the chief criticisms levelled at them in recent weeks, but it was their scampering on the ground that was much more impressive. They were hungry and determined.
In the future, Tullamore may be looked upon as the darkest hour before the dawn.
Scorers -- Galway: J Canning 1-9 (0-3f, 1 s-l, 1 '65'), G Farragher 1-4, D Hayes 1-3, A Kerins 1-2, J Gantley 0-3, D Burke, I Tannian, J Regan, A Smith 0-1 each. Clare: N O'Connell 0-6 (5f, 1 '65'), C McGrath 0-5 (3f), C Morey 0-3, J Conlon 0-2, C McInerney, F Lynch, J Clancy, L Markham all 0-1 each.
Galway -- J Skehill 7; F Moore 7, S Kavanagh 7, D Collins 8; D Barry 6, T Og Regan 7, A Cullinane 7; A Smith 6, D Burke 7; J Gantley 6, G Farragher 9, J Canning 8; D Hayes 9; I Tannian 6, A Kerins 7. Subs: C Donnellan 6 for Tannian (57), B Daly for Burke (65), J Regan for Gantley (66), A Harte for Farragher (67), K Hynes for Cullinane (70).
Clare -- P Brennan 6; P Vaughan 5, C Dillon 6, C Cooney 5; P O'Connor 6, P Donnellan 5, J McInerney 4; N O'Connell 6 J Clancy 5; J Conlon 7, F Lynch 6, D McMahon 6; C McInerney 6, C Morey 7, C McGrath 7.Subs: B Bugler 7 for Vaughan (h-t), L Markham 6 for Clancy (43), S Collins 5 for Lynch (48), C O'Donovan for McMahon (57), G Quinn for Donnellan (63).
Ref -- D Kirwan (Cork)