Galway answer critics in style as they see off Clare to book semi-final spot
Galway 2-17 Clare 0-17
Galway bounced back after their Leinster final loss to comfortably brush aside the challenge of Clare to reach their second All-Ireland semi-final in a row.
It seems the more things change in hurling the more they stay the same - the semi-final pairing in the race for the Liam MacCarthy Cup is exactly the same as it was 12 months ago.
Galway will bid again to repeat their 2015 win over Tipperary; while title holders Kilkenny clash with Waterford as they did last August.
The Tribesmen took the lead in the sixth minute of the contest and never subsequently relinquished it.
Goals in either half from Conor Cooney and Joe Canning effectively sealed the win and frankly the League champions never looked capable of launching a comeback after falling ten points behind early in the second half.
They had the advantage of the wind – but they failed to create one clear cut goal chance as the magnificent Galway defence repelled their mostly feeble efforts. It wasn't until Davy Fitzgerald cleared his bench that Clare finally got some traction.
But they lost too many of their individual battles against a Galway side who answered their critics – particularly their ex-boss and former Clare All-Ireland winning manager Ger Loughnane, who had questioned their intestinal fortitude after their loss to Kilkenny.
The pressure will now mount on the extensive – and presumably expensive – Clare backroom team assembled by Davy Fitzgerald. They were fortunate to beat Waterford in the League final replay and were since their form has been increasingly patchy.
They lost to Waterford in the Munster semi-final and struggled to beat Limerick in the last round of the qualifiers. There was no zip in their performance and although Galway might have been more motivated, it doesn't fully explain Clare's systems failure.
As expected Galway recalled Jason Flynn and also introduced Adrian Touhy to a new look defence which featured Aidan Harte sweeping in front of the full back line. Despite his heart surgery earlier in the week Clare boss, Davy Fitzgerald was patrolling the sideline as usual.
Clare won the toss but opted to play against the breeze and even though they took an early lead they struggled to get into the game. Harte was cutting out their diagonal balls into the full forward line and Padraic Mannion was keeping tabs on their play-maker Tony Kelly.
The poverty of the Clare attack in the first half was reflected in the fact that Kelly's 37th minute point was their first score from play by a forward; midfielder Colm Galvin scored the other two – he was one of the few Clare players who shone in the first half - and there was a 21 minute gap between Galvin's second point and Kelly's effort.
The latter missed a straight forward 20m free in the 22nd minute and none of their forwards won their individual battles and ultimately only Galvin – who scored five points from play – emerged from the contest with his reputation enchanced.
Galway were more aggressive, sharper, better in the air and carried a more potent threat up front even though they did hit seven wides in the half – three more than Clare.
The key first half score came after 15 minutes when Joe Canning – who was policed by Brendan Bugler – caught a puck out and sprayed the ball forward to Conor Cooney on the right flank and he beat Andrew Fahy on his near side.
Canning was immaculate from placed ball converting four frees and two 65s and with referee Brian Gavin ignoring a significant number of fouls it suited Galway's no frills style of defending.
But they key question at the break was whether Galway's interval lead of seven points (1-10; 0-6) would be sufficient to see them home given the strength of the breeze and their penchant for second half fade-outs.
In the event, the Tribesmen had a dream start to the second half. The Clare defence looked surprisingly disorganised after the throw-in and defenders were still picking up their men when Galway struck after 18 seconds.
David Burke raced through the middle channel before linking up with Joe Canning who blasted the sliotar to the Clare net.
In fairness, Clare responded hitting the next three scores – two Kelly frees and a third point from play from Galvin to bring the margin back to seven again after 40 minutes.
Clare introduced David Fitzgerald to mark Canning and Conor McGrath replaced dual player Podge Collins before the 50th minute in an effort to kick start their revival but it was still an eight point game with 20 minutes left.
Amazingly Galvin and Kelly were still the only Clare players to score but they finally got some traction and three points in a row from Kelly, substitute McGrath and McInerney left it a five point game with 15 minutes left.
Galway steadied their fans' nerves when after the intervention of Hawkeye, substitute Cyril Donnellan was credited with a 58th minute point; Clare hit the next two scores as their bench began to make an impact. But then Cathal Mannion nicked a crucial point for Galway in the 62nd minute to leave the margin back at five points.
John Conlon had a goal chance but Colm Callanan saved with some difficulty; Clare eventually won a close in free but Joe Canning saved his effort and Galway – despite hitting four wides in the five minutes of injury time comfortably saw out the game.
The heroes of the Galway defence were mostly where their rejigged full back John Hanbury, Daithi Burke and sweeper Aidan Harte were magnificent; David Burke was outstanding at midfield and while Galway's point scoring dried up in the second half – they managed just seven – their two goals gave them sufficient cushion to see them home.
The official attendance was 31,690
Clare: A Fahy; O O'Brien, C Dillon, P O'Connor; B Bugler, D McInerney (0-1) J Browne; C Gavlin (0-5), D Reidy; J Conlon, T Kelly (0-7, 6f), C Cleary; P Collins, S O'Donnell, A Shanagher. Subs: D Fitzgerald for Bugler 41m; C McGrath (0-2) for Collins 49m, A Cunningham for Shanagher 51m; C Ryan (0-2, 2f) for Reidy 54m,
Galway: C Callanan; Daithi Burke, A Harte (0-1), J Hanbury; A Tuohy, P Mannion (0-1), G McInerney; J Coen (0-1), David Burke (0-2), J Flynn, J Cooney (0-2), J Canning (1-8, 6f, 2 65); C Whelan, C Cooney (1-0) C Mannion (0-1). Subs: C Donnellan (0-1) for C Cooney 46m; D Glennon for Flynn 52m F Moore for Coen 60m; A Smith for Whelan 68m; S Maloney for J Cooney 73m.
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly)