Back in Croke Park after absence since 2013, Clare make their mark with heroic display

From nine points down, Clare salvaged a draw in remarkable fashion.

Jason McCarthy was Clare's scoring hero today.
Jason McCarthy was Clare's scoring hero today.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

TWO MONTHS SHY of the fifth anniversary of their All-Ireland winning dance under the lights, Clare finally got back to Croke Park for a marquee hurling occasion.

They returned this evening, largely cast in the pre-match role of the underdog. The consensus was that they would be the latest assignment Galway would pass in their Liam MacCarthy Cup defence and that consensus looked to be rooted in accuracy when Galway were 1-7 to 0-1 clear by the midway mark of the first half.

Clare were leaking scores at the back, struggling to gain a foothold elsewhere and simply grateful that Johnny Glynn blazed a shot careering across the goal from close-range, while Cathal Mannion fumbled the sliotar on another occasion and had to be content with recycling for a tap over point.

To consider they were nine points down and the outlook was so grim, it was some achievement by Clare to send this encounter into extra-time by posting the last three points of normal time. It was an even more admirable achievement to find a way to send this encounter to a replay.

The clock read 23:38 in extra-time when Jason McCarthy rifled over the point that brought Clare to 1-30 on the scoreboard, ensuring they matched Galway’s tally. McCarthy’s score may have been of the last-gasp variety but Clare deserve huge praise for the methodical manner in which they pieced together that move with such composure at a time when the minds of the supporters in the attendance of 54,191 were scrambled by the frenzy they were witnessing.

Donal Tuohy went for a short puckout rather than bombing the ball downfield. It was worked via Colm Galvin, Seadna Morey, Conor Cleary, David Fitzgerald and eventually McCarthy before the shot was taken on. Clare held their nerve and stuck to their gameplan. It was a point that was redolent of Domhnall O’Donovan’s effort to draw the 2013 All-Ireland final.

They will hope they can again finish the job on the second occasion this season. Considering how wretched that start was, they will be thankful to be still alive and grateful that Galway’s first-half shooting – amassing twelve wides with eight different players contributing – was so awry. The game was still within Clare’s grasp at half-time, rather than Galway having surged clear in the distance.

Clare seized the chance but they had put themselves in that position largely thanks to some in-game management. Colm Galvin was shunted back to patrol in front of the full-back line as they opted to stick with Conor Cleary shadowing Joe Canning. Tony Kelly roamed deeper around the middle, Podge Collins went racing around the half-forward line and it was left to Shane O’Donnell and John Conlon to fend as a two-man full-forward line force.

Galvin hit the world of ball, largely worked deliveries in favour of his team-mates and hit a glorious point in the 51st minute. Kelly thundered into the game at key junctures, his sideline cut near the close of normal time was stunning. The Conlon-O’Donnell axis yielded seven points from play with the Clonlara talisman giving Daithi Burke a difficult second-half. Clare’s arrowed supplies suited Conlon better in the second half and his 0-4 tally was registered in front of Hill 16 in that period.

And Clare got plenty from their bench. McCarthy was their ultimate hero, before that it looked as if it would be Aron Shanagher, cannoning the ball to the net in his first taste of action in 2018 after a long, lonely road to recovery since his cruciate snapped last November.

Jason McCarthy scores the equalising point to force a replay Jason McCarthy contributed that crucial late point for Clare. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ian Galvin, that goalscoring saviour against Tipperary in June, again scored off the bench as he weighed in with a brace. David Fitzgerald hit a point and showed serious pace to burn the Galway cover to set up another two scores. Those inputs were key for Clare.

Their defence looked in bother on occasions, they needed Donal Tuohy to smartly stop Conor Cooney from netting for a second time early in the second half. The distributions at the back broke down on occasions and resulted in them coughing up points. In the first-half of extra-time alone, Clare chalked up seven wides and their shot selection looked dubious.

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But largely this was a heroic Clare display. They battled and took the All-Ireland champions, who have been anointed as likely winners again several times this summer, to the wire. A draw with Galway is the latest positive result in a season that has already delivered wins over Waterford, Tipperary, Limerick and Wexford.

The absence from big days has hurt Clare since that famous 2013 triumph. They have endured plenty searching questions about their capacity to scale those heady heights again. This evening they made their mark on their return to Croke Park and their 2018 campaign will stretch into the August Bank Holiday weekend at least.

And that is something their fans will cherish.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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