Kilkenny 2-15, Cork 2-14
The first public shots in the ongoing skirmish between the Gaelic Players Association and the GAA were fired at Semple Stadium last Sunday when several players defied regulations by wearing their socks down and their jerseys outside their shorts during the parade before the National Hurling League final.
With both Cork and Kilkenny now likely to incur fines of euro 700 for their protest — jusy what the GAA is trying to achieve by insisting on some archaic dress code is another matter — the point was made in advance of a critical meeting next week between the two parties that the GAA had better recognise the GPA or else.
Or else what? Well, with the possibility of a strike still being bandied around, the emphasis was more on a better deal regarding expenses, allowances and general conditions than on any withdrawal of labor. If the protest appeared benign by other standards with significantly more Cork players showing a bit of leg than their Kilkenny opponents, there is a clear militant strain within the GPA at the moment. And if the GAA fails to deal with the players’ demands, this could be a summer of discontent.
Back on the pitch at Thurles, there were some impolite suggestions during the first half, which, roughly translated, urged Cork to pull their socks up. Trailing by 10 points, Bertie Og Murphy’s team was in serious trouble, but an impressive recovery after the interval saw them leading by a point with four minutes before substitutes, and brothers, Sean and Brian Dowling snatched the title for Kilkenny with a couple of late scores.
With the players’ off-pitch grievances temporarily forgotten, this was a gripping contest as Kilkenny managed to land a 10th League crown without the services of D.J. Carey, Charlie Carter, Brian McEvoy and Denis Byrne.
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“There was really no protest from our players whatsoever,” explained winning manager, Brian Cody. “Socks down is a rule that’s a silly rule, and this was all about representing Kilkenny and everybody involved in hurling in Kilkenny. We started excellently, but you’re not going to maintain that pace.”
Cody was impressed by his side’s character when the Cork comeback was in full swing, but he was characteristically modest about the impact of his two late substitutions.
“There was nothing much to do with inspiration putting Sean and Brian Dowling in. They both scored smashing points, sometimes you bring in subs and they do OK, and sometimes they don’t.”
If Cork’s revival was a confidence booster, their disastrous start will no doubt have pride of place in the post-mortem. Their defense was non-existent as Martin Comerford and John Hoyne plundered early goals, causing manager Murphy to try several switches. The corner-backs Fergal Ryan and Wayne Sherlock traded places, as did wing-backs Derek Barrett and Sean O hAilpin, while Diarmuid O’Sullivan moved up to center-back with John Browne retreating to full-back.
The new system was an improvement, but as Murphy admitted, his team was “very fortunate to be only five points down at half time.” A 22nd-minute goal by Eamonn Collins helped, and there were further scores by Alan Browne and a couple from Jerry O’Connor as Cork finally began to motor, and when a mistake by Kilkenny goalkeeper, James McGarry, allowed Collins in for his second goal 10 minutes after the changeover, the margin was down to a single point.
But having closed the gap so grittily, Cork can have no complaints for not annexing the title as some of their shooting was woeful. A total of 17 wides, including 12 in the second half, cost them dear and even when O’Sullivan dramatically pointed a 65 to give them the lead for the very first time, Kilkenny were far from beaten.
Following another exchange of points, Sean and then Brian Dowling arrived to deliver the most telling scores of all to give Kilkenny a first league since 1995.
Kilkenny: J. McGarry; M. Kavanagh, N. Hickey, P. Larkin; R. Mulally (0-1), P. Barry, J.J. Delaney; D. Lyng (0-1), P. Tennyson; J. Hoyne (1-0), H. Shefflin (0-3, 2 frees), A. Comerford (0-2); E. Brennan (0-2), M. Comerford (1-3), S. Grehan. Subs: K. Power for Grehan, 35 mins.; S. Dowling (0-1) for Tennyson, 63 mins.; B. Dowling (0-2) for Power, 66 mins.
Cork: D. Cusack; W. Sherlock, D. O’Sullivan (0-1), F. Ryan; D. Barrett, J. Browne, S. O hAilpin; A. Cummins, J. Gardiner (0-1); J. O’Connor (0-4, 2 frees), K. Murphy, N. McCarthy (0-1); E. Collins (2-0), A. Browne (0-3), B. O’Connor (0-2). Subs: T. McCarthy (0-1) for Gardiner, 32 mins; K Murray (0-1) for N. McCarthy, 52 mins.; P. Ryan for Murphy, 57 mins.
Laois 1-20, Antrim 2-14
Eight points behind during the first half, Laois’s chances of winning the National Hurling League Div. 2 title looked dead and buried, but the Midlanders staged a magnificent recovery to deprive Antrim in last Sunday’s final at Semple Stadium.
Without the suspended Paul Cuddy, Laois strugged to contain the Antrim forwards in the opening exchanges as Liam Watson and Brian McFall impressed, and when Gregory O’Kane took advantage of a loose ball to score the game’s first goal, Antrim were in total control.
However, by the interval the gap had been reduced to four points and soon Laois were level only for Antrim to pull away once more. This time, though, the Laois response was decisive. Damien Culleton struck a vital goal and David Cuddy upped his total to 0-8, while Liam Richmond’s late goal for Antrim was no consolation.
In the Div. 3 decider, a superbly taken goal by Mark Cassidy proved to be the difference as Longford got the better of Louth by 1-12 to 0-12 at Navan. An injury-time goal by Paul Ward earned Monaghan a 4-5 to 1-14 draw with Mayo in the Div. 4 final at Mullingar.
Longford 2-11, Louth 1-14
The Leinster football championship is up and running, and already we have a replay. Longford looked like advancing to the next stage at Navan when Louth’s Christy Grimes drove over the equalizing point three minutes into injury time.
Longford were left to rue the sending off of Enda Ledwith five minutes from the end — six other players were booked in a tough encounter — and in truth they should have seen off Louth’s challenge. Two goals, one early in each half, by Paul Barden and Trevor Smullen put them in the ascendancy, and they were seven points clear midway through the second half.
Despite that deficit, Louth manager Paddy Carr was never prepared to throw in the towel. “Neither myself or the players would be prepared to admit defeat because of seven-point deficit,” he said. “There’s too much character in this side to go down without a fight.” And fight they did with J.P. Rooney firing home a goal after Martin Farrelly’s shot had been blocked.
Rooney then added a point, before Mark Stanfield reduced the gap to a point with a vital free. It still seemed that Longford would edge home when Ollie McDonnell pulled off a superb overhead flick to find Grimes, whose finish was unerring. The replay is set for Navan on Sunday.
Laois 3-6, Wicklow 0-8
Whatever ideas Laois had of being the dark horses in Leinster this year took a sever battering at Dr. Cullen Park in Carlow on Monday. On a picture-perfect Bank Holiday afternoon, they stuttered to an unconvincing victory against a Wicklow side they should have trampled all over.
But for Brian McDonald — and this is a sentence you could be reading fairly regularly over the next few years — they’d have lost. He scored a goal and a point and set up at least the same again for his teammates. The goals Wicklow conceded were soft, and although they only got defeated by nine scores to eight, they can take little heart from the game. If they couldn’t beat a Laois side playing this poorly, the portents for the future are very sad indeed.