By Marty Morrissey
Saturday Night Fever returned to Ennis tonight as Ger Loughnane came home to his old training ground to take on his great friend Tony Considine and his much loved Banner boys as Galway and Clare went into battle for what was essentially a tussle for top spot in their Group.
It was vital to win not just for bragging rights locally but victory meant that Kilkenny and the winners of the Munster final between Limerick and Waterford would be avoided in the quarter-final.
It was an unusually summer evening with glorious sunshine at Cusack Park as Clare and Galway stood shoulder to shoulder at 7.30pm for the battle.
Nobody in the crowd really knew who was playing where as both management teams engaged in a bit of mind games and failed to release their starting line-ups. but after the initial burst and sorting out period it became quite clear this was never going to be a classic.
Clare, led by Gerry Quinn especially who was masterful at centre-back, Alan Markham, Kevin Dilleen and Brendan Bugler on the left wing tore into the Tribesmen and within three minutes a long ball was caught magnificently by Declan O'Rourke, who turned and shot a rasper to the back of the Galway net.
Playing against the wind, the Banner were in control in vital areas; midfield where Brian O'Connell and Colin Lynch were dominant and the aforementioned half-back line were majestic.
Galway worked hard and while David Tierney got their opening score from play it was primarily left to Eugene Cloonan to keep them in touch with frees.
The sides were level at half-time, Clare 1-05 Galway 0-08.
While the visitors took the initiative at the start of the second half (and by the way Fergal Healy made a valuable contribution when introduced at half-time) one sensed that Clare with that wind advantage had more in the tank.
The turning point came in the 58th minute when Niall Gilligan pulled first time on a ball that flew past Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan to give Clare a 2-08 to 0-11 lead that they would never lose.
While Clare and Galway exchanged points in the remaining 12 minutes, Galway never really threatened the Clare goal.
To be honest, this was a great win for Clare and crucial in terms of getting a good draw for the quarter-final. But it was a dour game.
Hard, physical and manly but both teams will have to improve dramatically if they have any intention of bringing home silverware this summer.
Galway will be particularly disappointed but they will, on reflection, know that they never found a rhythm, never found that incisiveness that is required at this level.
It has been a controversial seven months for Clare hurling but this victory just might see all the drama end off the field and allow everyone to concentrate on the most important area; the hurling field itself.
The Banner boys played with great pride and passion and no one can question their commitment to put Clare back on the hurling map.
Clare now play Laois for the right to be declared winners of the Qualifying Group and at this stage it looks a racing certainty that the Banner will achieve their initial ambition.
The final score Clare 2-10 Galway 0-14.