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High-scoring Clare into All-Ireland final

Clare 3-23 Galway 5-15

WHEN the time comes to review the 2009 hurling season, this All-Ireland U-21 semi-final will be in any shortlist for the title of game of the year.

Neighbours Clare and Galway produced a truly memorable contest at Semple Stadium in Thurles on Saturday before 5,741 people and, while there would have been few complaints had the match ended in stalemate, such was the quality of the game, the newly-crowned Munster champions just about deserved the victory. They now qualify for a tilt at the defending All-Ireland champions Kilkenny on September 13.

Clare's Darach Honan turns from the challenge of Galway's Conor Forde. Photograph by Declan Monaghan.

This game had everything, great scores – 46 in all – tremendous individual displays and near misses. Given that the teams were level on 11 occasions in normal time, it was no surprise that extra time was needed to find a winner.

In the end, the experience of having had two matches on their way to a first provincial title a few weeks back, proved decisive for Clare. While credit for this victory will go to the players who produced such an array of skill, credit must also be given to the mentor who made some important changes during the course of the tie.

Clare made two changes in personnel and a couple of positional switches to the starting team from the side which beat Waterford in the provincial final in Dungarvan a few weeks back.

Tubber’s Patrick O’Connor, an impressive second half substitute on that occasion, retained his place at wing-back with Enda Barrett moving to midfield and Nicky O’Connell switching to centre back to the exclusion of Cillian Duggan. Broadford’s Cathal Chaplin made his first appearance of the campaign when he was named at midfield in place of Liam Markham, giving Clare a new pairing in the middle of the park.

Clare took a while to get a grip on the game in this vital sector. Indeed they struggled here in the opening half when Galway picked up almost all of the breaks but the move of Cormac O’Donovan from the half-forward line to midfield for the second half made a big difference for the winners.

Points were exchanged three times in the first seven minutes before Galway struck for 1-2 without reply in a three-minute spell. The goal came from a 22m free by their captain Joe Canning after he was fouled by Eamonn Glynn, who picked up a yellow card for a tackle in the 11th minute.

Both sides had goal chances in the early stages. Caimin Morey saw his effort go over the bar after Darach Honan put him through while there were also a few anxious moments at the other end. Clare’s response to this early Galway burst was most impressive and six unanswered points in seven minutes clearly signalled the Banner side’s intentions. Darach Honan’s first score of the game would surely have been a goal but for the brilliance of James Skehill who, somehow, turned the Clonlara player’s effort over the bar.

Ruled out of the Munster championship because of a foot injury suffered in a club tie, Cian Dillon, was introduced after 20 minutes in an effort to steady a full back line that was under a lot of pressure.

Both sides had further goal chances at this stage with Canning’s effort rebounding off the crossbar before Skehill produced another excellent save when he denied Colin Ryan. Canning struck again six minutes from time when he blasted home from the penalty spot after he was fouled by Glynn. Clare now moved Dillon into full-back with Eamonn Glynn going to the corner and Galway went on to add a point from Aodán Harte to lead 2-7 to 0-9 at half time.

The winners made a couple of vital changes at half time. Conor McGrath was introduced to the forward line and Cormac O’Donovan moved to midfield but the most telling move of all was the switch of Darach Honan to full forward. Within a minute he struck the first of a number of major blows when he found the net, on winning possession from a John Conlon cross.

Three times they were level in the next ten minutes before two Clare substitutes combined for their side’s second goal. Conor McGrath provided the finish after Conor Tierney’s (he had just replaced Caimin Morey) effort was parried by Skehill.

A point behind with six minutes remaining, Galway struck for goal number three and again it was their captain, Canning, who did the damage. Donal Tuohy was yellow carded for a foul on corner forward Niall Quinn and the resultant penalty was dispatched to the net by Canning to level matters for the ninth time. A minute later Galway should have taken the lead but Quinn kicked wide of the post as Tuohy raced from his line to challenge.

Both sides pointed twice in the last three minutes with the final equaliser coming from the stick of Clare’s Conor Tierney to tie up the match at 2-16 for the Bannermen to 3-13.

Clare made a blistering start to extra time with early points from John Conlon and Nicky O’Connell (free) followed by a goal from their Clonlara clubmate Honan. Galway’s reply was instant with Canning putting Aodán Harte through and the Gort man goaled to close the margin to two.

They again exchanged points in the second period of extra time before Canning struck again when he brilliantly flicked a James Skehill delivery to the Clare net, to put his side a point clear.

Again, Clare came charging back and after Conor McGrath had levelled for the 12th and final time, Darach Honan struck a truly magnificent point to give his side a lead they would hold to the finish. A Colin Ryan strike just before the final whistle finally ended the Galway challenge.

Clare had many stars on this memorable day of hurling. Honan with 2-4 from play caused huge problems for Galway throughout. Seán Collins, particularly in the first half of normal time, troubled the Galway defence. John Conlon was a tower of strength throughout while Nicky O’Connell and Cormac O’Donovan got through a lot of work. Substitutes Conor Tierney and Conor McGrath did particularly well on a day when team captain Ciaran O’Doherty made some vital intercepts and tackles in the closing stages. Wing back Domhnaill O’Donovan was particularly outstanding and must have been a strong contender for the man of the match accolade.

It’s difficult to imagine being on the losing team with a tally of 4-7 but that’s the position Galway captain Joe Canning found himself in. Others to impress for Galway were Aodán Harte, Brian Regan, David Burke and goalkeeper James Skehill.

Clare: Donal Tuohy (Crusheen); James Gunning (Broadford), Eamonn Glynn (Inagh-Kilnamona), Ciarán O’Doherty (Crusheen) capt; Domhnall O’Donovan (Clonlara), Nicky O’Connell (Clonlara), Patrick O’Connor (Tubber); Enda Barrett (Newmarket), Cathal Chaplin (Broadford); John Conlon (Clonlara), Cormac O’Donovan (Clonlara), Seán Collins (Cratloe); Darach Honan (Clonlara), Caimin Morey (Sixmilebridge), Colin Ryan (Newmarket).
Subs: Cian Dillon (Crusheen) for Gunning (20 minutes); Conor McGrath (Cratloe) for O’Connor (half time); Conor Tierney (Inagh-Kilnamona) for Morey (45 minutes); Patrick Kelly (Clarecastle) for Collins (78 minutes).

Galway: James Skehill; Shane Quinn, Conor Daly, Martin Dolphin; Declan Connolly, Brian Regan, Conor Forde; David Burke, Sylvie Óg Linnane; Kevin Keehan, Aodán Harte, Eoin Forde; Alan Dolan, Joe Canning (capt), Niall Quinn.
Subs: Keith Killilea for A Dolan (40 minutes); Barry Daly for Linnane (47 minutes); Gary Burke for Keehan (52 minutes); John Ryan for S Quinn (69 minutes); Linnane for C Forde (79 minutes).

Referee: Cathal McAllister, Cork.

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