By Mark Jones
The Clare hurlers peered over the cliff and clearly didn’t like what they saw in last Sunday’s thrilling Guinness All-Ireland hurling quarterfinal at Croke Park. Nine points down with 20 minutes to go, Clare were feeling the full force of Galway’s might, but they refused to be pushed the final inch.
Instead, Clare summoned on all their reserves of courage and conviction to plot a safety route that eventually earned them a second chance in Croke Park next Monday, scoring 3-15 to Galway’s 2-18.
The final scoreline tells a graphic tale of a breathtaking spectacular that was the best game of the year so far.
Galway, who went into the game as 2-to-1 outsiders, were bitterly disappointed at the finish as they had allowed Clare back into a game that had seemed to be drifting away from them. Not only that, but all the signs were that Clare would leave Croke Park after taking a terrible hammering. Trailing by 2-13 to 0-10 in the 50th minute, Clare looked a beaten side.
Their vaunted defense was being stretched and teased by the speed and positional excellence of the Galway , where Ollie Fahy, who scored 2-2 off Brian Lohan, Alan Kerins, who posted 0-5 off Liam Doyle, and Kevin Broderick were superb.
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Clare had sent on Jamesie O’Connor 10 minutes after the interval in a desperate bid to regain some attacking momentum. O’Connor had been out with a broken arm since the replay against Tipperary last month, but he quickly settled in and his speed and guile began to raise questions of a Galway defense that had been weakened by injuries to fullback Brian Feeney and to his replacement, Fergal Healy.
Both had departed the scene by the 45th minute, leaving third choice fullback, Peter Huban, to man the No. 3 position, and while he worked hard, gaps began to appear in front of the Galway goal. Clare poured into them with great enthusiasm and they scored 3-3 in an incredible burst between the 51st and 60th minutes to open a 1-point lead.
Stephen McNamara, Niall Gilligan and Alan Markham scored the goals, while Seanie McMahon (2) and Ollie Baker added the points. It was looking bad for Galway, but they held their composure and three points from Ollie Canning, Alan Kerins and Rory Gantley put them two clear. However, two late points from frees by Seanie McMahon, who was Clare’s top scorer with 0-7, earned Clare a replay.
They had a let off three minutes from the end when Galway’s Ollie Canning was straight through on goal, but his blistering drive came back off the crossbar. It was that sort of day: dramatic, action-packed and very, very interesting.
Galway led for most of the way. Fahy first goal, in the 28th minute, put them on their way to an interval lead of 1-9 to 0-8, and when he booted in their second goal 15 minutes into the second half to extend the lead to 2-13 to 0-10, a Galway win looked a formality. They will feel that they should have won, but Clare deserve enormous credit for the manner in which they fought back when all seemed lost.
Indeed, Clare had a very late chance to snatch a dramatic win, but McMahon’s long-range free drifted to the right of its target, much to the relief of Galway fans, and indeed neutrals, in the crowd of 34,122. After such a splendid game, everybody wanted a second helping and an even bigger crowd is expected to enjoy the bank holiday action next Monday.
Offaly 4-22, Antrim 0-12
Offaly won the day but were more worried about what the future held after their demolition of Antrim in the Guinness All-Ireland hurling quarterfinal at Croke Park on Sunday.
Centerback Hubert Rigney suffered a nasty leg injury that will rule him out of the All-Ireland semifinal against Cork a week from Sunday. There is also a serious doubt about Kevin Martin’s availability after he took a nasty bang on the finger.
Those problems aside, it was the plainest of sailing for Offaly, who were never extended by a desperately disappointing Antrim effort. Antrim went into the game in confident mood, having actually beaten Offaly in the National League in March, but they were on their way to a severe hiding after just 4 minutes when John Ryan scored Offaly’s first goal.
Two more goals by Johnny Pilkington and John Troy helped Offaly to a comfortable lead, 3-8 to 0-6 at halftime. The second half was no more than shooting practice for the Offaly forwards, who scored some excellent long-range points, embellished by a Billy Dooley goal in 58th minute.
In the end, it was embarrassingly easy for Offaly, who are now back on track to defend their All-Ireland crown after losing badly to Kilkenny in the Leinster final.