By Mark Jones
Clare 1-15, Galway 0-17
We thought they’d gone away. But Clare weren’t in any deep sleep, they’d just dozed off for a while, and following a barnstorming second-half performance at Croke Park last Sunday, they’re through to an All-Ireland hurling semifinal for the first time in three years.
Colin Lynch’s match-winning point in the second minute of injury time set off joyous celebrations among the Banner county faithful, who must have had their doubts early on in the game. Because for much of the first half, Galway were the likely combination, ahead by 0-6 to 0-1 at one stage. But Clare were only three adrift at the interval and the balance was clearly shifting.
Galway’s grip on the proceedings loosened progressively after the changeover and where once there had been sustained periods of excellent play from Eugene Cloonan and Kevin Broderick, the Connacht county could produce only one or two patches of brilliance as Clare took control.
Their reward is a mouthwatering clash with reigning Munster champions Waterford a week from Sunday and even if a draw appeared to be the most likely outcome in those tense closing stages, Clare just about deserved the result for their sheer persistence alone.
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Outclassed in the opening 30 minutes, suddenly the likes of Jamesie O’Connor, Brian Lohan, who eventually got the measure of Cloonan, and Seanie McMahon came into their own, and it was entirely appropriate that it was Lynch who fired over the vital point as he had bucked the Clare trend with an outstanding midfield display from start to finish.
“We just never hurled in the first half,” O’Connor said, “so we promised each other at halftime that whatever we had inside us we’d leave on the field. We don’t panic when we go behind but we did make life difficult for ourselves.”
Galway’s lively start was inspired by Cloonan and Broderick, while they had magnificent support throughout from Ollie Canning, Gregory Kennedy and Liam Hodgins. Damien Hayes saw his goalbound shot brilliantly saved by Davy Fitzgerald and the play was heading in one direction only when suddenly the contest turned.
Clare were awarded a dubious free when Galway defender Diarmuid Cloonan was fouled by Tony Carmody, but referee Willie Barrett ruled it the other way. As O’Connor readied himself to go for the point, Niall Gilligan spotted that the Galway defense was not properly organised and he blasted a 25 meter shot to the net.
“There was a time during the first half when we could have been blown out of it,” said Lohan, “but the goal was huge, fair play to Niall Gilligan.” If they were still 0-10 to 1-4 in arrears at the break, Clare were starting to hurl with new-found confidence. O’Connor had earlier hit an uncharacteristic total of five wides, but he landed four points during the second half. Ollie Baker came into the action to lend some drive and muscle to the midfield exchanges and even though it was all desperately close, Clare appeared to have the edge.
Galway hung on, and substitute Ger Farragher struck a wonderful equalizing points going into added time, but Lynch was to better that score with a brilliant winning point off his left. So credit to manager Cyril Lyons who had the difficult task of taking over from Ger Loughnane.
“Cyril has taken some fierce and undeserved criticism since he came in and he took on an awfully difficult job,” said goalkeeper Fitzgerald. “Sure, who in their right mind would want to follow on from Loughnane? But to come out of a tight one like that, this was a fantastic win for Clare.”
Tipperary 1-25, Antrim 2-12
This was not nearly as one-sided as the scoreline suggests. Regarded as the perennial whipping boys from Ulster in the buildup to last Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling quarterfinal at Croke Park, Antrim did a lot more than just turn up as they gave reigning champions Tipperary a genuine scare.
Deservedly ahead by two points at the interval, and trailing by one three with a quarter of an hour remaining, Antrim proved themselves to be a team with real potential, before the favorites turned the screw in the closing stages.
“I thought Antrim played superbly on the day,” said Tipp manager Nicky English, “but I’d say as well there was a natural complacency about some of our fellas. Their first touch and their general hurling seemed to be way quicker than ours, and at halftime I’d have taken any kind of a victory. We did well to knuckle in there and get the result, but we’ll have to improve an awful lot on that to have any realistic chance the next day.”
That next day involves a semifinal against Kilkenny on Aug. 18, the first time the counties have met in the championship since 1991. If English felt his side had been given a wake-up call during the Munster championship loss to Waterford, this was definitely another.
Despite a brisk opening by Tipp, which yielded three quick scores, Antrim were completely unfazed as their speedy forwards soon began to trouble the opposition defense. With Liam Watson, Paddy Richmond and Gregory O’Kane in threatening form up front, and with Conor Cunning and Jim Connolly highly competitive at midfield, the underdogs were soon rewarded when Watson’s low drive from a 20-meter free found the net.
There was worse to come from Tipp when some poor marking led to Liam Richmond blasting an unstoppable shot past Brendan Cummins for Antrim’s second goal, which made it 2-6 to 0-10 to the Ulster side at the break.
“That’s unrepeatable,” was English’s response to a question regarding what he said to his players in the during the interval. “Let’s just say they were made aware that the quality of play was not up to standard.”
Not that much changed in the early stages of the second half as there was no sign that Antrim’s challenge was about to fade. Gradually, though, the winners’ attack got on top and as the Antrim defense began to tire, sub Eugene O’Neill cracked home a fine goal following an assist by John Carroll.
Antrim manager Dinny Cahill ironically a Tipperary man, was full of praise for his young side. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we knew we were ready too,” he said. “I suppose we weren’t prepared for a team that could change a gear the way Tipp changed gear in the second half. We just couldn’t cope with that. This team is very young, and they can only get better. I still feel we can beat any of the southern counties.”
Kerry 2-10, Kildare 1-5
Mick O’Dwyer wasn’t giving too much away about his managerial future as Kildare were eliminated from this season’s championship in the fourth round of the All-Ireland football qualifiers at Thurles last Saturday.
Having already indicated earlier this year that he would be standing down, O’Dwyer didn’t rule out one more season with Kildare despite both his team’s failure to win the Leinster championship and this comprehensive defeat at the hands of a vastly superior Kerry.
“People can speculate now, but I made a statement earlier and that’s still where I stand,” he said. “I haven’t sat down to talk to anyone about the future, but only the man above knows what the future holds for me or for anyone else. And so I’m not going to say now what the future holds for me.”
For all O’Dwyer’s talent, and his track record as a coach, it may now be time for the 66-year-old former Kerry great to move on. On this latest showing, he was unable to lift the Kildare players following their defeat by Dublin in the Leinster final.
“We didn’t really perform at all,” he agreed. “But we did put a lot into the Leinster final and that was what we really wanted to win and we came pretty close.”
When Kildare got the better of Kerry in the All Ireland semifinal of 1998, it was very much a case of the master teaching his pupil a lesson, but Paidi O Se, who was one of O’Dwyer’s stalwarts on the great Kerry sides of the 1970s and ’80s, exacted revenge on this occasion. O Se accepted there was a bit of satisfaction from this win, but on hearing the news that his team had drawn Galway in the quarterfinals, he added: “I’m happy we’ve improved since the Munster championship, but we’re going into deep waters now.”
While an 8-point deficit was embarrassing for Kildare, it would have been much greater if it hadn’t been for the vigilance of goalkeeper Enda Murphy. On four occasions, Murphy thwarted goal attempts from Colm Cooper, Sean O’Sullivan, Liam Hassett and Eoin Brosnan, but as the Kildare defense wilted there was nothing he could do about the goals by Cooper and Brosnan.
Like Murphy, Martin Lynch and Johhny Doyle gave it their best shots for the losers, and there was a glimmer of hope coming up to the interval when Dermot Earley drove through for a goal. However, Kildare could only manage two points during the entire second half as Darragh O Se controlled the game for Kerry from midfield.
Mayo 0-21, Tipperary 1-14
Tipperary fought the good fight in last Saturday’s fourth-round game in the All-Ireland football qualifier series at Ennis, but in the end Mayo were just too strong and the Connacht county now go on to a quarterfinal against Cork.
The teams were level with 12 minutes remaining and it seemed as if Tipp were on the verge of putting that heavy defeat by Cork in the Munster final replay behind them. However, inspired by substitute Kieran McDonald and midfielder David Brady, Mayo pulled away to win by four points.
Once again, Declan Browne did his level best to keep Tipp in the hunt with a total of seven points including four from frees, while there was also another important contribution from Peter Lambert who scored 1-4.
Despite struggling at times, Mayo still had enough firepower in attack to sway the issue, especially when McDonald was introduced five minutes into the second half. McDonald and Brady each finished with four points and manager Pat Holmes will surely now be tempted to play the talented McDonald from the start against Cork at Croke Park on Monday.