It’s a summer that Tyrone can be thankful they are still around for after a 2-16 to 2-16 draw in the first round of the qualifiers with Louth in Navan. For much of the afternoon they looked comfortable. Two Owen Mulligan goals before the interval saw they take a seven-point lead but JP Rooney struck a dramatic injury-time goal to bring the tie into extra-time. And even then Mickey Harte’s side couldn’t break free, needing a late resurgence before they were unmercifully kicked out the exit door.
They’ll go to Omagh next Saturday and probably win yet no performance can cover the cracks. But is it really surprising? If Kerry lost the Gooch, could they compete? Stephen O’Neill is Tyrone’s equivalent and both he and Gerard Cavlan were forced to leave the encounter in Navan. Peter Canavan’s leadership is missed more than anyone could have imagined. Brian McGuigan, too, is a loss while Enda McGinley is only coming back to full fitness. Yet no one as shrewd as Mickey Harte can be planning for any more failures.
Should Tyrone get a few wins under their belt, and if the treatment table is given a rest Tyrone may recover. Then again, we all said that after their defeat to Derry. While Tyrone were treading turbulent water in the qualifiers, back in Ulster a new threat was always likely to emerge from a Clones semi-final between Derry and Donegal. For too long we’ve waited for one of the two to join Armagh and Tyrone as contenders and Donegal joined such company, kicking down a few doors and making a hell of a racket on their way into the contenders’ party. By the finish they had won by 1-13 to 0-11 but there was much more to it than that. They played the free-flowing football Ulster so often lacks, running hard and fast, and kicking some superb scores while they were at it.
In contrast Derry looked like school-yard bullies whose antics had just got the teacher’s attention. They didn’t employ the same spoiling tactics and perpetual fouling as before and it cost them dearly (although making for a much more entertaining game).
Only once did they show their nature when enforcer Fergal Doherty crashed into Barry Dunnion with the hit of the summer. Both managers became embroiled in the incident and according to Donegal’s wing-back Eamon McGee it drove his Donegal teammates on. “When Barry Dunnion got nailed on the sideline it lifted the whole team at half-time because they laughed at him when he was down on the ground. It was a big hit of motivation for Donegal. We really came together: how dare they laugh at our boys.” More fight in those words than through most of Derry’s performance.
Michael Doherty kicked a superb 1-4 and the only negative for Donegal was his accidental clash near the finish with Paul Cartin that will require more than a couple of trips to his dentist.
Should Fermanagh win their replay against Armagh in the other semi-final, perhaps a new generation will have truly been born. But rarely does anyone get a second chance against a side that refuses to vacate the throne of Northern football. The kings are far from dead, and Donegal will expect to face them come the decider.
Elsewhere things were a little more predicable. New Roscommon manager John Maughan had predicted a five-point defeat for his side against Galway.
He may have said it in jest, but his words were accurate as they did lost by five points, 3-7 to 1-8. A psychic as well? Maybe the man who guided Mayo to four Connacht titles and three All Ireland finals has found yet another talent.
Although even he can’t have foreseen the opening minutes of the second-half. With his side leading 0-6 to 0-1 at the interval, their lead and spirit were battered thanks to goals by Mich_el Meehan and Derek Savage within two minutes of the restart. From there on in, you didn’t need any crystal ball to know Galway would be facing the winner of Sunday’s clash between Leitrim and Mayo in the Connacht final.
In hurling, how quickly Limerick fell apart. Wait. Not just fell apart. Unraveled into tatters — a frighteningly frail and emaciated version of the side that contested the league final not so long ago and entered the Munster hurling championship with real ambition. On Sunday in Ennis, Limerick panicked before the game had even started and capitulated on the pitch.
By the end of their 2-21 to 0-10 defeat to Clare, manager Joe McKenna had seen enough. He walked from the Limerick dressing room for the last time, resigning his post after the embarrassment.
Coach Ger Cunningham followed him and trainer Dave Mahedy is considering his future. In a statement county board chairman Denis Holmes said, “Obviously, Joe, like the rest of us, was disappointed with the level of performance against Clare and felt there was no more he could have done. We understand his position.”
But does anyone else and is he to blame for a disastrous month of June? In their Munster opener they were torn limb from limb by Eoin Kelly. The Tipperary star had previously said he never liked being marked by Limerick’s Damien Reale, yet Reale was never switched onto Kelly. And in Ennis the team looked a mess. So many changes were made by McKenna that only three players started in their listed positions. It showed right from the beginning and whoever is in charge of Limerick for their crucial meeting with Offaly, they have a real task to keep Limerick in the championship.
The thing is, can they be as bad under anyone else?
ENGLAND’S DIFFICULTY IS…
We are all too aware that we’ve failed to make it, but our own lack of participation can’t ruin the World Cup. And besides, England are there. And it’s all been going so well for the Irish as Sven Goran Eriksson’s side continue to look as much World Cup contenders as the Kansas City Royals are World Series hopefuls. And nobody has been enjoying it more than RTE’s World Cup panel of
Eamon Dunphy, John Giles, Liam Brady and Gordon Strachan. Here’s just a sample of the comments from England’s match two where they enjoyed a facile 2-0 victory against Trinidad and Tobago.
“I don’t like the English team. I don’t like the English media. I hope they get stuffed,” “No class,” “No imagination, no guile, no sophistication,” “Any capacity to improve? None,” “Hyped up to the eyeballs,” “They’ll get it,” “They’re gonna get it from one of the top sides, it’s great,” “Total rubbish,” “Forty years of hurt? Garbage.”
And so say all of us.
DOWN UNDER TOUR
“Black booty goes untouched,” read one headline following Ireland’s defeat to New Zealand in Auckland. But despite Ireland’s tour of New Zealand ending in a 2-0 series defeat — they lost 27-17 in the early hours of Saturday morning — they leave with more than just hope for this weekend’s encounter with Australia. But again they were absent in body and soul for the opening minutes. Mid-way through the first-half they trailed by 17 points to nil and only then did they begin to play.
But when they had got back into it thanks to trys from Paul O’Connell and his Munster teammate Jerry Flannery, it was another mistake that meant it had all gone wrong in the closing stages. Last week it was Peter Stringer’s needless chip-kick, this time it was Ronan O’Gara’s missed tackle that allowed Luke McAlister to ensure victory for the All Blacks nine minutes from time.
“I was so keen to make it, I couldn’t see it happening,” said the Irish out-half. “I completely put my hand up, it was my mistake, I am one of the leaders in the team, it was kinda all to play for and that effectively finished the game. So I put my hand up, learn from it and move on, like I have so many times in the past.”
But never in the past has O’Gara been involved in a team with such potential. The only fear is Eamon Coughlan syndrome. If there was a medal for third, he’d come fourth, but the attitude afterwards wasn’t one of pleasure with a heroic defeat, but of a genuine piece of history left behind — Ireland have never beaten New Zealand.
“This team has really moved on over the last couple of years,” stated a downtrodden captain Brian O’Driscoll. “We don’t accept mediocrity or close losses, that’s no good for us. Irish teams may in the past may have seen games like this one as a reasonable result but that’s not the case now. It’s been the exact same situation two weeks in a row. We found ourselves within touching distance of the All Blacks going into the last few minutes but we kind of let the off the hook… You don’t know when the next opportunity against them is going to come. There’s a massive disappointment.”
Bet than made O’Gara feel a little bit better.