The Galway minor hurlers are preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final showdown with Wexford this coming Sunday in Croke Park (throw-in 1.30pm ) after eventually seeing off the determined challenge posed by Clare last weekend in Portlaoise.
When substitute Seán Ronan pushed the Banner youngsters into a 0-20 to 1-14 lead with 46 minutes played, Galway had conceded four points without reply and looked to perhaps be on the brink of elimination. Clare were suddenly only three points away from their ultimate target of a six-point winning margin which would have seen them through.
For the second week running Galway had lost their way in the third quarter, outscored on this occasion by 0-9 to 0-3, but when their character was called into question, they once again came up with the answers by dominating the closing minutes and ending up deserving winners.
Turloughmore’s Seán O’Hanlon played a key role in turning Galway’s fortunes around, contributing four points after coming in off the bench and giving manager Brian Hanley plenty to think about regarding his starting fifteen in the run up to Sunday’s contest.
Clare’s defensive tactics had unnerved Galway to a degree from the outset and lessened the influence of key forwards Seán McDonagh and Greg Thomas from open play, who were frequently outnumbered when their colleagues tried to pick them out from deep.
After Alex Connaire, who had a fine outing at midfield, opened the scoring only seconds after the throw-in, it took Galway some time to find their feet. While always looking slightly the more balanced team throughout, Galway were unable to pull away on the scoreboard as Clare corner forward Shane Meehan almost singlehandedly kept his side in touch.
Shane Morgan was picking up the slack in the Galway full forward line with some clever link up play, while Gavin Lee, Enda Collins, Tiernan Killeen, and Colm Cunningham chipped in with important scores. Galway led by just a single point as half time approached, but when Morgan was brought down as he bore down on goal McDonagh drove the resultant penalty to the net.
Galway led by that goal at the break but had conceded 12 frees in the course of the half, with Meehan turning seven of them into scores. He added three more in the third quarter as Clare erased the deficit within eight minutes, before Meehan (free ) and two excellent Ronan scores had Galway supporters fearing the worst.
Then Christy Brennan and Morgan combined to set up O’Hanlon’s first point which steadied the ship, before McDonagh added two frees either side of another O’Hanlon effort. Clare were reduced to 14 men when Storm Devanney swiped dangerously across Morgan’s elbow, and hopefully he will not be an injury concern for Sunday.
Clare then went in search of goals as their plight became ever more desperate, but Galway held out until Cian Galvin managed to find the net in injury time, but by then Galway had the hard work done before late points by O’Hanlon and Paddy Cummins confirmed their second win on the trot.
They will now face off against a Wexford side who broke a run of 11 consecutive losing appearances in a Leinster final for the county when they beat Kilkenny by 3-14 to 3-10. They had previously been beaten by the Cats by a solitary point in the round robin stage but saw off Laois in the quarter final before then overcoming Dublin who they had previously drawn with.
James Sheil’s side have been involved in plenty of high-scoring encounters in their six games to date, with 16 goals registered, although they have also conceded twelve which will give Galway plenty of encouragement. Rathnure’s AJ Redmond is their free-taker and main scoring threat, with a total of 3-44 to his name thus far.
This will be the sternest test of Galway’s title credentials to date, especially given the fact that Wexford will have a huge and vocal following in Croke Park as their seniors also do battle later in the day with Tipperary. Wexford, though, are four weeks waiting for this game and Galway’s match sharpness might just give them the edge.
GALWAY: M. Egan; E. Davoren, E. Lawless, A. Nolan; E. Collins (0-1 ), I. McGlynn, C. Brennan; L. Leen (0-1 ), A. Connaire (0-3 ); T. Killeen (0-1 ), S. McDonagh (1-9, 1-0 pen, 5fs, 2 ‘65s ), C. Cunningham (0-1 ); G. Lee (0-1 ), S. Morgan, G. Thomas (0-2 ). Subs: L. Prendergast for Davoren (37 mins ), S. O’Hanlon (0-4 ) for Killeen (43 mins ), C. Molloy for Lee (52 mins ), P. Cummins (0-1 ) for Morgan (55 mins ), O. Slevin for Leen (60 mins ).
CLARE: A. Shanahan; T. Butler (0-1 ), A. Hogan, S. Devanney; J. Collins, C. Galvin (1-1, 0-1f ), C. O’Meara (0-1 ); C. Hegarty (0-1 ), O. Clune; O. O’Donnell (0-2 ), D. Cahill (0-1 ), C. Murphy; S. Meehan (0-13, 9fs ), D. Downes, C. O’Connor. Subs S. Ronan (0-2 ) for Murphy (43 mins ), S. Punch for Downes (50 mins ), K. Smyth for Cahill (52 mins ).
REFEREE: C. McAllister (Cork ).