Maroon swoon as Davy's men depart
Galway 2-17 Clare 0-17
Did it really take one cruel barb from Ger Loughnane to coax the best out of these incorrigible Galway hurlers?
Not according to their manager, Mícheál Donoghue, who declined the opportunity to launch any retaliatory pot shots in Loughnane's direction in the wake of yesterday's emphatic six-point victory over Clare in Semple Stadium.
Instead, he let his players do the talking. If Galway were "gutless", as the former Clare boss-turned-pundit had alleged after their latest Kilkenny fadeout, you'd never have guessed from watching.
Last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists are back in the last-four arena, and gearing up for a repeat of last year's semi-final thriller against Tipperary. They are there after a victory built on defensive defiance; on a voracious work ethic right through the pitch; on the tactical smarts of their manager; and also because of two killer goals, the second of which deserves favourable mention in that growing collector's list of classic Joe Canning net-bulgers.
Try as they might, Clare appeared drained and bereft of ideas to break down the maroon wall. Colm Galvin was a sole beacon of attacking promise until Conor McGrath's introduction - and even he snaffled his five points from midfield.
Davy Fitzgerald was defiant afterwards about the progress made this year in winning the Allianz League and reaching the All-Ireland quarter-finals ... yet the glorious high of 2013 has become an ever-more-distant memory.
Galway, though, can keep on dreaming. Tipp will be favourites on August 14; that will suit them nicely.
As for the critics who had questioned their manliness, O'Donoghue kept his pistol holstered.
"Any day you get to a provincial final, there are always people who are going to have comments and analysis of that," he began, to the inevitable question. "With respect, the only people that matter are people that we have respect for - family and friends and stuff."
"We haven't made any big deal out of it," he added. "When a team loses there's always a bit of criticism, and Galway seem to get the lion's share of it from some of you guys. We know when it's coming. We've worked really hard and I'm proud of the lads."
No one worked harder than Canning, who responded to some of his own recent critics with a performance of real substance. Often operating out around midfield, he even finished up as a de facto 'sweeper', showing a selfless commitment to the collective cause. Don't be fooled, either, by his 'failure' to point from play: Canning's free-taking (eight from eight) was flawless and he could claim 1-3 in assists.
His clean catch from a Clare puckout started the 15th minute move that would end with Conor Cooney winning possession, bursting beyond Cian Dillon and bouncing a low angled shot beyond Andrew Fahy. Could the 'keeper have done better? Perhaps. But Galway never looked back.
The talk all week was about one manager following Fitzgerald's minor heart surgery and the debate about whether the Clare boss would be passed fit for touchline patrol; but it was another who got his tactics and match-ups on the money.
Dáithí Burke was detailed to man-mark Aaron Shanagher and, after some fleeting early foul trouble, recovered to deliver a high-fielding tour de force from full-back. It was almost Lohanesque - whereas Clare had far too few players on the front foot or displaying that kind of gung-ho attitude.
Meanwhile, as the first half progressed, Aidan Harte grew ever more influential as their defensive sweeper.
With Galvin doing his damage from midfield, Clare's attacking travails were summed up by the fact Tony Kelly was their only starting forward to score from play: indeed they had only two scorers before McGrath struck the first of his brace, in the 55th minute.
Even Kelly was having a mixed afternoon: his 23rd minute free, skewed wide from inside 25 yards and just a slight angle, was inexplicable; and soon after he escaped for a rare Clare goal chance only to be hooked by Adrian Tuohy.
That left the Banner seven adrift at half-time (1-10 to 0-6) and with their defensive alignment in disarray, that became a ten-point chasm inside ten seconds of the restart when Johnny Coen burst through the middle and fed David Burke. His pass seemed to push Canning too wide; but with one deft flick-up and murderous execution, the net was dancing.
Clare now had the wind and riposted with three quick points, but Fitzgerald feared the worst. "They walked the second one all the way from the middle - that shouldn't happen," he lamented.
"That killed the game, because we brought it back to seven within three minutes ... so if we hadn't conceded that, I'd have fancied our chances."
As Galway's scoring became more sporadic, Clare brought it back to four points on the hour ... but a couple of half-chance goal attempts came to nothing.
What now for Davy Fitz? "They've given me another year, so I'll see. I'll sit down and talk with the family. Health is number one, and we'll see," he demurred.
"We have a massive bond together, myself and the lads. We'll chat and we'll see, whatever the story is. But I'm going to take a small bit of a breather now."
He concluded: "National league champions, went to the All-Ireland quarter-final - for a county like Clare, not so bad, but there'll be better days ahead from them."
For Galway, the better days might come even sooner.
all-ireland shc quarter-final: galway 2-17 clare 0-17
SCORERS - Galway: J Canning 1-8 (6f, 2 '65s'), C Cooney 1-0, J Cooney, David Burke 0-2 each, J Coen, P Mannion, C Donnellan, C Mannion, A Harte 0-1 each.
Clare: T Kelly 0-7 (6f), C Galvin 0-5, C McGrath, C Ryan (2f) 0-2 each, D McInerney 0-1.
GALWAY: C Callanan 7; J Hanbury 7, Daithí Burke 9, A Harte 8; A Tuohy 7, P Mannion 7, G McInerney 7; David Burke 7, J Coen 6; J Flynn 5, J Cooney 7, J Canning 9; C Mannion 6, C Cooney 6, C Whelan 6. Subs: C Donnellan 7 for C Cooney (47), D Glennon 6 for Flynn (53), F Moore 7 for Coen (60), A Smith for Whelan (67), S Maloney for J Cooney (73).
CLARE: A Fahy 6; O O'Brien 7, C Dillon 6, P O'Connor 7; B Bugler 5, D McInerney 6, J Browne 7; D Reidy 6, C Galvin 9; C Cleary 6, T Kelly 7, J Conlon 5; P Collins 5, A Shanagher 5, S O'Donnell 6. Subs: D Fitzgerald 6 for Bugler (42), C McGrath 8 for Collins (49), A Cunningham 6 for Shanagher (52), C Ryan 7 for Reidy (54).
WIDES: Galway 15 (7+8); Clare 11 (3+8)
YELLOW: Galway 3 (Flynn 20, McInerney 22, Daithí Burke 69); Clare 1 (O'Brien 65).
REF: B Gavin (Offaly).
MAN OF THE MATCH: Dáithí Burke (Galway).
all-ireland shc quarter-final