Micheál Donoghue and the Gal­way man­age­ment will be might­ily relieved to have sur­vived, but con­scious too that there are wor­ry­ing signs of fa­tigue ev­i­dent in their side.

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - Jame­sie O’Con­nor

SEMI-FI­NALS are for win­ning. It doesn’t mat­ter how, or how pretty or ugly it looks, it’s all about the re­sult. Clare may have had Gal­way on the ropes in the sec­ond half last week­end, but they couldn’t land the de­ci­sive blow and paid the price for it. Credit to the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons. They hung in there, found a way to get it done and, it’s hard to be­lieve, are now just a week away from squar­ing off with Lim­er­ick in the cli­max to this year’s hurl­ing cham­pi­onship.

To say I was gut­ted com­ing out of Thurles seven days ago would be an un­der­state­ment, be­cause this was a game that Clare should have won. My dis­ap­point­ment ob­vi­ously pales into in­signif­i­cance com­pared to the pain the Clare play­ers and man­age­ment will have felt.

I have been there, as a player — the tril­ogy with Of­faly in ’98, Kilkenny in ’99 — and as a sup­porter, watch­ing many of the lads I sol­diered with lose to Cork in 2005. It’s a dark, dark place.

This was Clare’s eighth cham­pi­onship match this sum­mer, and af­ter all the ef­fort and com­mit­ment put in since last Novem­ber, the play­ers will feel they have noth­ing to show for it. That hurt will be com­pounded by the fact that they were within touch­ing dis­tance in both the drawn match and the re­play. To get so close, shoot­ing 19 wides, hit­ting the post with two min­utes left, and los­ing by a point, hav­ing trailed by nine at one stage in the first half, means this loss will haunt the play­ers for some time to come. I have no words to con­sole them. What I can do, is ac­knowl­edge the tremen­dous sum­mer they gave their sup­port­ers, and the pride all Clare peo­ple felt in the brav­ery, re­silience and de­fi­ance they showed.

The semi-fi­nal is the worst place to go out, be­cause you’re on the cusp of ev­ery­thing you dream of and strive for. Lose, es­pe­cially by the nar­row­est of mar­gins, and it feels fur­ther away than ever. At least if you’re there on All-Ire­land fi­nal day, you get to ex­pe­ri­ence all that goes with it and be part of one of the great days in the Irish sport­ing cal­en­dar. Now, ir­re­spec­tive of who pre­vails in the fi­nal, the Clare play­ers will be think­ing it could have been them.

Worse still, un­der the new for­mat it feels like a long way back to that same stage next sea­son. Tip­per­ary and Wa­ter­ford will both be un­der new man­age­ment, with the bounce that’s likely to bring. An equally hun­gry and dev­as­tated Cork will recom­mence their climb for the sum­mit, pos­si­bly with the im­pe­tus of an All-Ire­land un­der 21 ti­tle be­hind them. Then throw in Lim­er­ick, po­ten­tially the All-Ire­land cham­pi­ons — and it’s go­ing to be some strug­gle just to get out of the bear-pit that will be Mun­ster in 2019.

Where did it go wrong for Clare? Where do you start? Be­cause the mar­gins are so small, any one of a hun­dred lit­tle things could have swung the re­sult their way. Hind­sight is 20/20, but I was dis­ap­pointed they de­cided to go with the sweeper from the start. By all means have it in the locker as a fall-back po­si­tion if things aren’t go­ing to plan. But to me, it handed the ini­tia­tive to Gal­way from the off and the first half in par­tic­u­lar was played very much on their terms. If Micheál Donoghue and the Gal­way play­ers hadn’t planned for Colm Galvin in the sweeper role and those tac­tics last Satur­day week, that was never go­ing to be the case in the re­play. In­stead, Clare were the ones re­act­ing to Gal­way and the var­i­ous curve­balls the Tribes­men threw at them.

Conor Cleary would have spent the week prim­ing him­self for Joe Can­ning. Jack Browne like­wise with Conor Whe­lan. In­stead, Can­ning started on Jamie Shana­han’s wing, with Conor Whe­lan at cen­tre for­ward on Cleary. The Clare play­ers weren’t sure who they should be mark­ing, and dam­age was done un­til they got to grips with it. At the op­po­site end, in Gearóid McIn­er­ney’s ab­sence, Joseph Cooney was re­de­ployed to wing back to pick up Peter Dug­gan, with Pádraic Man­nion in the free role, sweep­ing in front of Daithí Burke.

All of that meant that it felt like Gal­way were the ones dic­tat­ing the terms of en­gage­ment. If at times they were one-di­men­sional in the drawn match — go­ing route one, es­pe­cially to Johnny Glynn — Clare were the ones guilty of such an ap­proach in the re­play. Gal­way were con­tent to let Donal Tuohy go short to his cor­ner backs with the puck out, but there was no way they were go­ing to al­low Galvin to be the dis­trib­u­tor in chief as he had been eight days ear­lier.

As a re­sult we saw Clare work­ing the ball to mid­field, but then hit­ting high ball af­ter high ball to John Con­lon and Shane O’Don­nell in a se­ri­ously out­num­bered twoman full-for­ward line. Not only was Man­nion parked in front of them, but with the Clare half for­wards play­ing so far out the field, Adrian Tuohy was con­tent at times to join him. It made Daithí Burke’s job, in par­tic­u­lar, so much eas­ier, and Clare’s tac­tics in many re­spects, served to blunt two of their most dan­ger­ous weapons

Credit the man­age­ment for the ad­just­ments they made, and to O’Don­nell in par­tic­u­lar, whose sec­ond half ex­ploits dragged Clare back into the match. The chances to win it were there, es­pe­cially late on. The harsh re­al­ity is that Clare’s shoot­ing and de­ci­sion-mak­ing let them down at that most crit­i­cal point, and they sim­ply didn’t take them. Micheál Donoghue and the Gal­way man­age­ment will be might­ily relieved to have sur­vived, but con­scious too that there are wor­ry­ing signs of fa­tigue ev­i­dent in their side. For the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive game they al­lowed Clare to re­main in a match when they should have been out of sight.

They have play­ers out of form, Conor Cooney is a prime ex­am­ple, oth­ers who look tired and their en­ergy lev­els def­i­nitely dipped late in that sec­ond half, as they had eight days ear­lier. Credit where credit is due though. Daithí Burke, Joseph Cooney, and Ai­den Harte were all bet­ter than they had been in Croke Park. Johnny Coen and David Burke edged the mid­field bat­tle, and Johnny Glynn re­mained a threat up front all day.

Cru­cially though, when real ur­gency was re­quired in the sec­ond half, Joe Can­ning stood up big time. If he hit the wrong notes in his post-match in­ter­view — I couldn’t un­der­stand where he was com­ing from when he ref­er­enced the lack of re­spect Gal­way had been shown and how their char­ac­ter had been called into ques­tion af­ter the drawn match — he hit all the right notes on the field.

If any­thing, the op­po­site had been the case as both sides were rightly lauded af­ter what they served up. Nonethe­less, I think he sensed the dan­ger Gal­way were in, raised his game ac­cord­ingly, and if he hadn’t there’s no doubt in my mind that Clare would have won.

There was much to pon­der for John Kiely and the Lim­er­ick man­age­ment. Much to pon­der too for Donoghue and Co. Roll on next Sun­day.

Clare’s shoot­ing and de­ci­sion mak­ing let them down

‘I have no words to con­sole Clare. What I can do, is ac­knowl­edge the tremen­dous sum­mer they gave their sup­port­ers, and the pride all Clare peo­ple felt in the brav­ery, re­silience and de­fi­ance they showed’

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