GALWAY 0-12 CLARE 0-9 FAST timber and a slow whistle enlivened this peppery neighbours' convention in Ballinasloe yesterday where an un-naturally profligate Galway secured their first win in Division 1A of the Allianz Hurling League.
Noel Lane's team spilled 21 wides en route to this muddy triumph, their success built more on resolute defence than any sweet-moving union in attack. Soundly trimmed a week earlier in Birr, there was an edge of business to the maroon movement here. And they needed it.
For Clare came to town with the hard, implacable deportment of old, their team-talk no doubt touching on the imminent proximity of a well-known publican from Scariff. As it happened, a family bereavement kept Mike Mac away but having hit the ground running Clare were not inclined to steal glances at the Galway dug-out.
They should have had a goal in the opening minute when Galway goalkeeper Ciarán Callanan batted a long Colin Lynch delivery onto his own crossbar; deflected a follow-up drive from Conor Clancy onto the same piece of hardware; then watched Jamesie O'Connor's third-phase bullet jack-knife to safety off Ollie Canning's ribs. Thereafter, the exchanges settled but never calmed.
Some of the first-half hurling billowed on the edge of meanness, referee Michael Wadding not exactly helping with a tendency to blow so late he could have been monitoring action replays from the RTE truck by the stand.
With the pitch inevitably glue-like and Wadding playing catch-up, the potential for lawlessness was rife. But, mercifully, most players engaged brain in tune with their lust for battle.
The Clare central spine of Brian Lohan and Seanie McMahon certainly offered evidence that they are far from sated by old glories. Both hurled with powerful majesty in the way we have come to expect of them on searing, Munster, summer Sundays.
Lohan was a bit of a slow-burner, conceding two early frees (each from which Galway scored), but soon grew into the weave of the game, that red helmet acting as a kind of pilot light for the Banner boiler.
Galway, too, looked formidable down their defensive middle, captain-for-the-day, Liam Hodgins, hurling at number six with an easy calm that may well extend his stay there long beyond this grimy spring. Admittedly, he seems faintly reticent about the prospect.
"I like the position but, at county level, it's relatively new to me," confessed the Abbey-Duniry man. "I've maybe played a few Oireachtas games there. But with the pace 'twas played at out there, I don't know if I'd still like it come Championship-time. 'Cos that was fairly fast!"
Fast and hard and oppressively tight with goal chances at a premium. Alan Kerins did find the Clare side-netting after Liam Doyle hesitated close to goal in the seventh minute but, from Christy O'Connor's puck-out, the peerless McMahon bounced impassively off three shoulders to launch the visitors' opening score from fully 70 yards.
David Forde and PJ O'Connell soon followed with sublime efforts and 15 minutes in the game was tied at 0-3 each. Then PJ pulled high on Hodgins and Markham swung wildly on Gregory Kennedy, both perpetrators booked.
Cyril Lyons had already lost Richard Woods to apparent hamstring trouble when, half an hour in, Jamesie hobbled off with a similar ailment. Without Jamesie, Clare's attack became increasingly threadbare of pattern, Clancy working manfully to bore holes in the maroon wall.
Galway's defensive discipline ensured that Alan Markham's first free-taking opportunity of the day arrived just 30 seconds before half-time and he duly converted, leaving scores tied 0-6 each at the mid-point.
Within eight seconds of the resumption, Alan Kerins had Galway in front and soon the quick, directness that Lane seems to favour became apparent in their delivery. David Tierney was growing increasingly prominent in midfield and his 40th minute score from the right wing ought to have been framed and transported to the Croke Park museum.
Tierney looks a beautiful athlete and scored again this time jinking infield onto his left-side to push Galway three clear (0-10 to 0-7) with 20 minutes remaining. Clare's dander, by now, had dulled and only Markham's free-taking looked to be keeping them in touch.
In fact, ultimately, the contest petered out fairly limply. Clare needed a goal but lacked the movement to mine one. They did come close, admittedly, eleven minutes from time when O'Connell's relatively tame right wing shot trickled away from Callanan, hit the butt of the upright and bounced off the nervy goalkeeper's chest for a '65', which McMahon duly converted.
But that proved the last score of the game, Galway racking up six more wides to their opponents' one in a kind of tepid conclusion.
"I think most of the players have enough cop-one to realise that performances like the one we gave against Offaly aren't going to get us anywhere this year. We had to improve," Hodgins said. "But, in fairness, it didn't need much effort from Noel and the boys to get us stoked up for this game. There's a fair oul rivalry between ourselves and Clare. We wouldn't appreciate them coming up here and beating us on our own ground in the same way they wouldn't appreciate it if we did it to them in Ennis."
MAN OF THE MATCH David Tierney (Galway).
SCORERS Galway: D Tierney 0-3, O Fahy and A Kerins 0-2 each, R Gantley and C Moore 0-2 (frees) each, D O'Shaughnessy 0-1. Clare: A Markham 0-3f, PJ O'Connell and D Forde 0-2 each, S McMahon 0-2 (1f).
GALWAY C Callanan; G Kennedy, M Healy, O Canning; F Gantley, L Hodgins, C Moore; D O'Brien, D Tierney; R Gantley, O Fahy, G Glynn; K Broderick, M Kerins, A Kerins. Subs: F Healy for Broderick (32), D O'Shaughnessy for R Gantley (ht), P Walsh for O'Brien (53), D Forde for F Healy (67).
CLARE C O'Connor; L Doyle, B Lohan, B Quinn; R Woods, S McMahon, F Lohan; C Lynch, G Malone; PJ O'Connell, D Forde, G Considine; A Markham, C Clancy, J O'Connor. Subs: G Quinn for Woods (24), E Flannery for J O'Connor (30), K Ralph for Considine (45), S Ryan for Clancy (67).
REF M Wadding (Waterford).