CLARE walloped Galway by 12 points in this evening’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling championship semi-final at Semple Stadium.
But the Banner County’s impressive victory was overshadowed to an extent by a serious hamstring injury to Aaron Cunningham, confirmed by joint-manager Donal Moloney after the game.
Cunningham limped off in the second minute of stoppage time at the end of the first half, and was replaced by Cathal Malone, who helped himself to two second half points.
Cunningham is now a major doubt for Clare’s two forthcoming All-Ireland finals.
He’s been used by senior boss Davy Fitzgerald this summer but looks set to miss out on the big day against Cork on September 8.
And Cunningham faces a race against time for the U21 showdown with Antrim six days later.
Cunningham’s injury is a shame as Moloney and sidekick Gerry O’Connor used their bench cleverly in the second half.
With the tie in the bag, the pair withdrew Shane O’Donnell, Podge Collins, Colm Galvin and Tony Kelly as the quartet are wrapped in cotton wool ahead of Clare’s two big days.
This was routine stuff for the Munster and All-Ireland champions against a desperately disappointing Galway outfit.
To be fair, Clare had come through a stiff challenge against Waterford in Munster, before disposing of Tipperary in the provincial decider.
In contrast, this was Galway’s first game of the championship, and it showed.
In addition, Clare’s starting line-up featured 12 senior panellists – and four of the players who lined out in last Sunday’s senior semi-final victory over Limerick at Croke Park.
Munster champions Clare registered eight wides in the first half, with Galway racking up seven themselves.
The sides were level twice in the early exchanges and Galway could have lost the services of full-forward Cathal Mannion, who has scored two points, in the 14thminute.
Mannion’s flicked the side of David McInerney’s head with his hurl but referee Diarmuid Kirwan was content to issue just a yellow card.
Clare went on to lead by two points in front of 6238 spectators, with corner forward Davy O’Halloran registering two points in three minutes.
Galway responded through Conor Cooney before Cathal O’Connell’s free left two points between the teams at the break, as Clare led by 0-5 to 0-3.
Jason Flynn booted a shot wide early in the second half and that miss proved costly as Collins buried a 34th minute goal to kill the game stone dead as a contest.
Clare romped to a comfortable victory thereafter, as Galway managed to add just four more points in the second half.
But the Banner also had the benefit of a terrible call in the second half when Shane O’Donnell’s 36th minute shot, which clearly shaved the outside of the upright before going wide, was signalled as a point by the umpire.
Clare will now meet Antrim in the September 14 U21 decider – and they will start as roaring hot favourites win a third title in five seasons.
Scorers for Clare: Cathal O’Connell 1-5 (0-4f), Davy O’Halloran 0-3, Podge Collins 0-2, Cathal Malone 0-2, Shane O’Donnell 0-1, Peter Duggan 0-1, Seadna Morey 0-1.
Scorers for Galway: Conor Cooney 0-3 (1f), Cathal Mannion 0-3, Shane Maloney 0-1.
CLARE: Ronan Taffe (Tubber); Paul Flanagan (Ballyea), David McInerney (Tulla), Jack Browne (Ballyea); Seadna Morey (Sixmilebridge), Alan O’Neill (St Joseph’s Doora/Barefield), Stephen O’Halloran (Clarecastle); Colm Galvin (Clonlara), Tony Kelly (Ballyea); Peter Duggan (Clooney-Quin), Pádraic Collins (Cratloe), Shane O’Donnell (Éire Óg); Cathal O’Connell (Clonlara), Aaron Cunningham (Wolfe Tones), Davy O’Halloran (Éire Óg).
Subs: Cathal Malone (Ennistymon) for Cunningham (30+2), Daire Keane (Kilmaley) for O’Donnell (47), Mikey O’Neill (Kimaley) for Collins (51), Jamie Shanahan (Sixmilebridge) for Galvin (55), Enda Boyce (Cratloe) for Kelly (55).
GALWAY: Shane Mannion (Droichead an Chlairín); Paul Killeen (Tighneatha-Mainistir-Dún Doighre), John Hanbury (Rathúin-Caisleán Nua), Barry Keane (Droichead an Chlairín), Dara Burke (Naomh Thomáis), Matthew Keating (Turloch Mór); Adrian Tuohy (Beithe), Paul Claffey (Ceapach an tSeagail); Tom Flynn (Ath an Rí), Conor Cooney (Naomh Thomáis), Jonathan Glynn (Ard Rathain); Pádraic Brehony (Tighneatha-Mainistir-Dún Doighre), Cathal Mannion (Ath Eascrach-Fothaine), Jason Flynn (Tomas Ó’Lorcáin).
Subs: Cathal Keane (Ath an Rí) for Flynn (38), Shane Maloney (Tighneatha-Mainistir-Dún Doighre) for Flynn (48), Seán Sweeney (Baile Locha Riach) for Claffey (54), Jack Carr (Ath an Rí_ for C Mannion (57).
Referee: Diarmuid Kirwan (Cork).