By Mark Jones
Kilkenny 0-19, Wexford 0-17
There was no change in the predictable community of Leinster hurling as Kilkenny mopped up a fifth consecutive provincial title at Croke Park last Sunday, but at least Wexford did more than just show up this time.
Too many of the deciders in recent years have been embarrassingly one-sided affairs — the last three had Kilkenny running out winners by an average of 11 points — and if there was no great quibble from the Wexford supporters over this latest defeat, there was still a whiff of controversy after the game.
First, the losers’ manager, Tony Dempsey, wasn’t too enamored of the dismissal of one his key defenders, Liam Dunne, with five minutes remaining. Dunne had pulled wildly under a high ball and the challenge left Martin Comerford seeing stars, but Dempsey didn’t think the sending off was justified.
“Of course Liam was a major loss, but if you ask Brian Cody [the Kilkenny manager] he’d say that the player shouldn’t have been sent off either,” Dempsey said. “Anyone who’s played on Liam Dunne will tell you he’s a tough but fair player.”
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Second, Dempsey was up in arms over the decision to send Wexford straight back into the fray with a game in the qualifier series against Clare on Sunday.
“That’s no way to treat players,” he said, fuming. “We were disappointed to lose after putting up such a good display, but I’m deeply unhappy at being forced to play again within six days. If the game against Kilkenny had been a draw, then we wouldn’t have been scheduled to play Clare on Sunday, so I can’t understand why there’s such a rush to play it now.”
Wexford trailed by only a point when Dunne received his marching orders, and Henry Shefflin increased the margin to two from the resultant free. There’s every chance the result would have been different if Dunne hadn’t lost control, as Wexford’s tenacity and spirit had appeared to be enough to earn them a replay.
With Shefflin effectively marshaled by Declan Ruth — Kilkenny’s chief marksman hit eight points but only two were from play — and with Charlie Carter having an off day by his high standards, Wexford were always in the hunt. If they had strong performers in Colm Kehoe, Doc O’Connor and goalkeeper Damien Fitzhenry, the lack of scoring support for Paul Codd cost them dearly.
While Codd contributed 13 points, including 11 from frees, no other Wexford player got on the scoresheet more than once. Kilkenny, by contrast, had other options once Carter and to a lesser extent Shefflin were held in check. Brian McEvoy added four points from play to the total, and Richie Mulally, Derek Lyng and Eddie Brennan each scored two.
“It’s going to be difficult for Wexford to regroup,” said Brian Cody, “but you can’t buy what they have, that ferocious spirit and fire. They’ll rally around. It was a tough game, physical and fast; we couldn’t really get a rhythm at times. But we always knew it was going to be difficult, you hear the usual crap about the place, but we knew. And we’re delighted to have made it.”
Kilkenny were 0-10 to 0-8 in front at the break, and they increased that lead to four points midway through the second half. But Wexford, who were without the injured Adrian Fenlon, battled back and despite this setback, there was enough evidence that they can get the better of Clare on Sunday.
Armagh 1-14, Donegal 1-10
The unbridled joy that traditionally accompanies the winning of an Ulster football title was missing at Clones last Sunday. Not that Armagh weren’t pleased, just that they seemed to have their minds on other things.
Even if their focus is dangerously premature, no one can blame them for looking ahead to Croke Park in September. They know, and everyone knows, that they have a team that is good enough to pry that elusive All-Ireland crown out of Galway’s grip. Hence, the matter of fact reaction to this deserved victory over Donegal.
“It’s not the cup I want to lift,” captain Kieran McGeeney said.
“This is only a steppingstone; the All-Ireland is our real goal,” was John McEntee’s verdict.
“Delighted to get out of it, to be honest,” reflected manager Joe Kernan. “Now, who knows?”
The way Armagh went about their business, it was if they would only do as much as required to finish the job. Playing in bursts, they were calculating and precise following the gift of an early goal when an embarrassing fumble by Donegal goalkeeper Tony Blake allowed John McEntee to convert with ease.
That three-point difference was crucial, especially as Donegal’s normally lethal forward trio of Brendan Devenney, Adrian Sweeney and Brian Roper were struggling to make an impact. The scorers of an impressive 5-27 between them in the three preceding games, this time they could only muster eight points, with only four of those coming from play.
If there was some highly effective defense by Enda McNulty, Donegal didn’t exactly help their cause with 14 wides and several shots that dropped short. Christy Toye had his moments and John Gildea was outstanding in midfield, but manager Mickey Moran was ruing those missed opportunities by his young side.
“We had chances there and dominated possession, and we just didn’t convert it into scores. Just not performing to the maximum was the most hurtful thing,” he said.
As Donegal’s wayward shooting cost them, Oisin McConville, Steven McDonnell and Ronan Clarke were picking off the important scores for Armagh and, at one stage, the advantage was five points. However, Donegal were always a threat and when Barry Monaghan, Eamonn Doherty, Michael Hegarty and Devenney combined, Jimmy McGuinness was in the right place to fire a shot past Benny Tierney.
Typically, Donegal failed to capitalize on a chance to cut the deficit to one point, and McConville responded by sweeping over a superb score before McGeeney stormed out of defense for McDonnell to find the range with the final point.
“Lesser sides would have flickered when Donegal got that goal,” Kernan said, “but the lads went up and got a couple of scores. They know how to do that and their experience here on the big days was vital.”
Limerick 3-9, Offaly 2-7
If the All-Ireland football qualifiers played second fiddle to the main event in Ulster, Limerick’s sensational victory over strong favorites Offaly at the Gaelic Grounds turned out to be last weekend’s surprise result.
Two goals in the first five minutes by Pat Ahern and Michael Reidy put Limerick on the road victory and they now meet Mayo at Hyde Park on Saturday in the third round of the qualifier series.
The margin could have been greater had Offaly not replied with a couple of goals of their own in the closing stages. By that time, Limerick were in the comfort zone, thanks in the main to an inspirational performance by John Galvin at midfield.
With Vinny Claffey forced out of the action in the 24th minute because of an ankle injury, Offaly produced little spark, and when substitute Johnny Murphy added to Limerick’s momentum with three quick scores, the gap was out to 10.
“Mayo are a step up, but the pressure will be on them not to lose,” Limerick manager Liam Kearns said. “I know Offaly are capable of better, but we’re improving with every outing and our supporters are beginning to realize that they have a good team.”
Tyrone 1-17, Derry 1-12
The clash between Tyrone and Derry mightn’t have been the Ulster final, but not unexpectedly it had a fiercely competitive edge to it as Tyrone avenged last season’s defeat in the qualifiers by coming through at Casement Park last Saturday.
It turned out to be a story of two attacks as Tyrone made up for a previous failure in the championship with five of their forwards getting on the sheet and with Peter Canavan and Stephen O’Neill combining for 0-13. Derry, in contrast, were far less economical as Enda Muldoon was outplayed by the outstanding Chris Lawn.
Derry’s manager, Eamon Coleman, who wouldn’t be drawn on his future, was adamant that Tyrone could go all the way. “I think they’re capable of winning an All Ireland,” he said. “If they play like they did against us they’ll take a lot of beating.”
Tyrone’s fluent style produced the first goal of the game just after the break when Colin Holmes finished off a fine move. Derry responded quickly when Paddy Bradley took Johnny McBride’s pass to fire a left-foot shot past Peter Ward.
It was 1-9 apiece, but in the absence of Sean Martin Lockhart, Canavan was finding space in the Derry defense, and he was at the heart of a decisive burst by the winners, who accounted for the four final points through Brian Dooher, O’Neill with two frees, and, appropriately enough, Canavan himself.
Kerry 2-15, Fermanagh 0-4
There were whispers that Fermanagh could give Kerry some problems, but this third-round qualifier at Portlaoise turned into a rout as the deposed Munster champions stormed through.
Early goals by Colm Cooper and Liam Hassett quickly put paid to any Fermanagh hopes, and in the end 0-4 was the lowest total the Ulster county have ever registered in the championship since 1948.
“I feel there’s a bounce coming back into the team,” Kerry manager Paidi O Se said. “Time will tell how much Kerry are improving, but we’re very happy with the attitude of all the players.”
Meath 1-15, Laois 0-7
It was a similar outcome in the second qualifier at Portlaoise, where Meath crushed Laois as Ollie Murphy and Graham Geraghty rediscovered the form that terrorized the opposition last summer.
Murphy weighed in with 1-3, while Geraghty scored four points and Laois simply no answer to their attacking skills. Richie Kealy added four to the mix as manager Sean Boylan professed himself satisfied with his team’s progress after that earlier scare against Louth.
“Glad to be still in the shakeup and overall it was a lot easier than what we went through the last time,” he said.