Galway now better briefed on the scale of Clare’s challenge
It’s difficult to see the champions being as wasteful as they were in Croke Park
Galway’s opening firestorm encouraged over-reliance on Johnny Glynn’s telescopic paw and they need to vary that approach. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
All-Ireland SHC semi-final replay Galway v Clare, Semple Stadium, Thurles, 2.0 [Live, RTÉ 2 and Sky Arena]
Go back 20 years to another All-Ireland semi-final replay in Thurles, featuring Clare.
As All-Ireland champions, they had been hot favourites to retain their title but gradually things became complicated and they ended up losing their way in a tangle of replays and lost players.
Galway aren’t a perfect fit for Ger Loughnane’s team back then but they have carelessly drawn a provincial final before proving themselves far too good in the replay.
They also ended up surprisingly failing to beat opponents who, despite having won the All-Ireland a few years previously, looked to have their best days behind them.
Just as Colin Lynch’s suspension deprived Clare of a key player and All Star in 1998, Galway take the field on Sunday likely to be missing All Star centre back and Hurler of the Year nominee, Gearóid McInerney although Joe Canning is considered likely to make the cut.
Could this year’s Clare be on the way to rediscovering their full range in a protracted All-Ireland semi-final just as Offaly did in the second replay 20 years ago before going on to win another All-Ireland?
There were positive signs in Croke Park last Saturday. The cool heads and tactical flexibility to defuse the early onslaught was impressively directed from the line and executed on the field.
In this new context there were fine performances from Colm Galvin as sweeper and Tony Kelly, restored to centrefield whereas in attack, the red helmets of John Conlon and Peter Duggan took the fight to Galway, as did Shane O’Donnell, all energy and probing as well as a new, point-scoring threat.
Another unexpected advantage was their bench. The earlier than expected return of Aran Shanagher has greatly added to the options available in the full-forward line and a total of 1-3 came from replacements. Galway’s replacements were needed to cover injuries rather than supplement performance and didn’t have the same impact.
Yet Galway didn’t trail on the scoreboard for virtually the entire match. They found the lead scores at the end of normal and extra time only to be pulled back. Their attacking threat remains significant. The opening firestorm encouraged over-reliance on Johnny Glynn’s telescopic paw and they need to vary that approach.
They have generally been very clever at coping with sweeper systems and were unusually inaccurate (23 misses – between wides and shots dropped short) with their shooting in the drawn match but 15 of those wides were into the Hill 16 goal and as Nicky English pointed out in these pages last week, the unusual wind in Croke Park at the weekend led to difficulties not just for those shooting but also for umpires, explaining the frequency of calls for Hawk-Eye at the Northern End.
In the Leinster final replay, also in Thurles, Galway had only half that number of misses. The champions will also be better briefed on the scale of Clare’s reinvigorated challenge.