By Michael O Connor
A six point start for Galway after two minutes action, Clare looking out of sorts for twenty minutes of the first half suggested that the Intermediate final place on offer was going northwards. Clare revved up and with a devastating last 40 minutes blitzed the visitors as a combination of youth, experience and raw determination saw them reach the All Ireland final.
Local Rivalries, friendships and even households in the South Galway, Clare border were recently for 60 minutes under pressure as a novel pairing went into combat for a place in the All Ireland final against Kilkenny. Clare made two changes from the starting side that won the Munster championship with Mark Earley on for Marty Regan and Padraig Hickey replacing the injured Daire Keane which was bemoaned by Clare supporters as a major loss for Clare as he averaged five points a game in the run to the Munster title. Galway for their part fielded an experienced side. Galway exploded into action and it appeared disaster was looming for the home side as after ninety seconds they had conceded two goals. Firstly Kevin Keehan set up Brian Murphy to score from in front of goal and then Keehan capitalised on mistakes aplenty by the Clare backs for the second goal. Clare however rallied within two minutes as Padraig Hickey blasted a much needed goal to settle the home side nerves. Kevin Dilleen pointed from play as amazingly Galway could not despite all their pressure and a measure. High fast ball as was expected by Galway to hit Keehan was occurring with regularity as Pat Kelly and Alan Brigdale were in the eye of the storm. Keehan and Kevin Dilleen exchanged scores before a penalty was blasted over the bar by Kevin Keehan as Galway punters who had backed their side early on at 9/2 were sitting comfortably on their bets.
After seven minutes Clare had stifled the Galway onslaught and were amazingly only four points in arrears, (2-2) to (1-1) and holding their own. Seven minutes elapsed before a brace of Niall Gilligan frees as opposed to a fine score from Kevin Keehan left Galway (2-3) to (1-3) ahead after 17 minutes. Clare were slowly coming into the game as Galway were already making personnel changes showing that not all was right. Brian Murphy, Keith Kilkenny and Shane Golden exchanged scores by the 23rd minute as Galway once more went four points clear as the Clare half back line were under pressure as the full back line after a poor opening quarter has closed the route to Andrew Fahy’s goal. Niall Gilligan and Tony Carmody switched roles with ten minutes remaining in the first half and it brought the clare sharpshooter more into the game with astute passes and general holding of the ball winning frees. Gilligan pointed a 65 in the 26th minute before Barry Murphy and Padraig Hickey who exploded into life in the second half signalled his intentions with a well taken score from an impossible angle were on target. Kevin Keehan (free) and Ronan Keane from 45 yards after being set up by the hardworking Martin Duggan rounded off the first half scoring as Galway retired only a goal clear (2-7) to (1-7) as Clare were showing why their dogged resistance all over the park was now beginning to the turn the game in their favour.
A crucial switch at the start of the second half saw Mark Earley going into full back as Pat Kelly who had unusually struggled after a brilliant Munster campaign settled into corner back and was superb as was Earley in the second half. Alan Brigdale also settled into the game and Andrew Fahy was hardly threatened bar one fine body block early in the second half. Niall Gilligan and Joe O Leary swopped scores after three minutes of the new half before an official attendance of 3,554. Ironically the attendance at the Munster final appeared greater but only 3,168 was the official attendance on that historic day. The impetus had definitely switched the way of the home side despite Kevin Keehan pointing a free in the 38th minute.
Gilligan hit a pointed free as Clare won a free after Galway goalkeeper Kevin O Grady upended Tony Carmody to gift Clare a penalty in the 43rd minute. Gilligan blasted the ball over the bar and when Padraig Hickey hit two narrow angled scores in the 45th and 46th minutes the sides were level and Galway looked a beaten side. Clare went ahead for the first time in the 48th when once again Gilligan from a 65’ and a free three minutes later left Clare confident two point leaders . Galway did not score from the 38th minute and indeed after their two goal opening salvo managed only nine points in the intervening 60 plus minutes including injury time. Padraig Hickey rounded off his efforts with his fourth point in the 54th minute. Tony Carmody (2) and a well deserved score from Martin Duggan left Clare (1-18) to (2-9) clear with three minutes of normal time remaining. Joe O Connor ended the scoring when he doubled to the net that saw Clare manager Kevin Kennedy belie his years to jump his height up in the air as Clare now could look forward to Thurles on this Saturday and a joust with Kilkenny.
Clare rebounded with supreme confidence after a shaky start and were well served by Mark Earley, Pat Kelly in the second half, John Fennessy, Shane Golden, Ronan Keane, Niall Gilligan, Martin Duggan, Padraig Hickey and Tony Carmody in the last quarter. Galway lacked pace when the game matured and the hard Munster games helped Clare when the pressure was at its greatest. Galway were served well by Damian McClearn, Kevin Keehan, Brian Murphy early on, David Hayes and Pat Holland.
CLARE: Andrew Fahy, Mark Earley, Patrick Kelly, Alan Brigdale, Kevin Moynihan, Michael Hawes, John Fennessy, Ronan Keane (0-1), Shane Golden (0-1), Martin Duggan (0-1), Tony Carmody (0-2), Kevin Dilleen (0-1), Declan O Rourke, Niall Gilligan (0-8), Padraig Hickey (1-4). Subs: Joe O Connor (1-0) for O Rourke
GALWAY: Kevin O Grady, Alan Leech, Damian McClearn, Pat Holland, Joe O Leary (0-1), David Hayes, Brian Mahoney, Kevin Brady, Niall Callanan, Fergal Healy, Keith Kilkenny (0-1), Enda Concannon, Conor Kavanagh, Kevin Keehan (1-5), Brian Murphy (1-2). Subs: Joe Cooney for Concannon, Barry Hanley for Kavanagh, Kenneth Burke for Callanan, Martin Corcoran for Hanley, Rory Gantley for Kilkenny
Referee: Tony Carroll (Offaly).