By Mark Jones
Clare 3-18, Galway 2-14
Galway don’t need to be told once again — never give this Clare side a second chance. Galway looked to have it won in the first installment of this All-Ireland hurling quarterfinal but couldn’t finish the job. At Croke Park on Monday, they paid the price as Clare deservedly took the replay honors.
Without having to be at their best, Clare improved enough to fend off a hugely disappointing Galway challenge. Liam Doyle, Seanie McMahon and Anthony Daly shut out the Galway half forward line, Brian Lohan corralled the threat of Ollie Fahy, and Colin Lynch was the most impressive of the midfielders.
While Cathal Moore, Joe Rabbitte, Paul Hardiman, Fergus Flynn and Fahy all failed to find the form of the drawn game, Clare were in control in most sectors of the pitch and, crucially, their attack struck a sweet chord.
Jamesie O’Connor was in from the first whistle this time and showed no great after effects of his broken arm. Alan Markham put in some yeoman work, but the most significant contribution came from Niall Gilligan, who scored a superb 2-3 and generally tortured the Galway defense.
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Clare have now booked themselves a tantalizing semifinal berth against in-form Kilkenny and manager Ger Loughnane was already contemplating the near future.
"The big problem is that we tend to play one good game and then one average game," he said. "If we can remedy that, then boy we’ll be hard to stop."
The winning margin of seven points didn’t truly reflect Clare’s superiority. Eugene Cloonan’s last-minute goal for Galway saw to that. Cloonan was one of the losers’ few successes, with 2-10 to his name, but apart from goalkeeper Michael Crimmins, who replaced the selected Damien Howe just before the throw-in, the Connacht champions had little to shout about.
Clare started with real intent and they were 1-5 to 0-3 ahead by the end of the first quarter with Gilligan bagging a fine individual goal. Galway seemed to have got matters under control when they trailed by just 1-7 to 0-8 at the interval, but a P.J. O’Connell goal, which came about after Vinnie Maher was injured in a clash with Markham, just seconds after the restart gave Clare an impetus they were never to lose.
Gilligan killed off Galway with his second goal, another tremendous effort as he surged across the face of the defense before thumping the ball past Crimmins, and then O’Connor and Markham both added frees to push the margin out to nine points with 9 minutes remaining.
Meath 1-14, Dublin 0-12
For two rival counties who have been traditionally separated by the thinnest of margins, this Leinster football final at Croke Park turned into something of a humiliation for Dublin. A five-point defeat was bad enough, its manner was even worse.
Dublin managed only two points from play and while there was a moment midway through the second half when they closed the gap to just one, Meath always looked the stronger side.
To say that the seeds for Dublin’s demise were sown by their inability to shackle a rampant Ollie Murphy is simplistic, but Murphy’s busy, direct style, his pace and his superb total of 1-5 were certainly at the heart of Meath’s success.
Murphy made light of Tommy Dowd’s absence — a back operation could see Dowd miss the All-Ireland semifinal clash with Armagh at the end of August — and at times he looked a replica of his more illustrious teammate as he charged head down through the Dublin defense.
Murphy destroyed his marker, Peadar Andrews, and Dublin manager Tom Carr’s decision not to make a change until the damage had been done emerged as one of the major talking points from a sweltering Croke Park. It was only when Murphy spun past Andrews to fire home a crucial goal in the 60th minute that Carr decided to release the outclassed defender from his hour of torment.
Well served by the vision of Trevor Giles, Murphy had a day to remember as he brilliantly shouldered the burden of being Meath’s main attacker in Dowd’s absence.
"Yes, Ollie had a wonderful game," said veteran manager Sean Boylan, who has now been at the Meath helm while seven Dublin managers have come and gone. "He’s a very talented player and he took his goal exceptionally well. That score gave us a huge lift."
It hadn’t started too well for Meath when Giles uncharacteristically was wide with two easy free chances. Then Jason Sherlock eluded the cover to find himself free in front of goal only for Cormac Sullivan to make an invaluable block. That was as early as the fifth minute and it turned out to be Dublin’s only obvious chance of a goal.
From then on, Darren Fay, Mark O’Reilly, Paddy Reynolds and John McDermott snuffed out the Dublin attack as they mopped up most of the loose ball. The match was bitter-sweet for McDermott whose mother had passed away earlier in the week, but the big midfielder coped with the occasion superbly.
That bedrock enabled Giles to settle and to provide Murphy with the sort of ball he thrives on. Meanwhile, Dublin seemed unable to create anything in attack and the problem was exacerbated when Dessie Farrell was forced to limp off with an Achilles tendon injury in the 16th minute.
Despite an important contribution from Ciaran Whelan at midfield, the feeling that Dublin were just about hanging on to their opponents was driven home when points by Murphy, Hank Traynor and Giles put Meath 0-9 to 0-6 ahead early in the second half.
Then suddenly, there was a splutter of life from Dublin as Whelan and Jim Gavin cut the deficit.
"They were inspirational scores," Carr said, "but we weren’t able to build on them."
In fact, it was Meath who upped the tempo once again with two points from the ultra confident Murphy and when the undisputed man of the match once more brushed aside the challenge of a hapless Andrews to smash a low shot past David Byrne, the contest was over.
Armagh 3-12, Down 0-10
Armagh supporters were celebrating the end of 17 years of frustration at Clones last Sunday when their team stormed to a first Ulster football championship success since 1982. This was a huge collective effort, but two players stood out.
Diarmuid Marsden and Oisin McConville simply destroyed the Down defense with an exuberant display of finishing. The pair were responsible for 3-9 of the winning total and the Mourne county had no answer to their brilliance.
Marsden and McConville had previously given notice of their rich promise as an attacking duo, but this was their arrival on the big stage. With bewildering movement and deadly accurate shooting, they laid waste to the Down rearguard from the very first whistle.
McConville pounced for the first goal when Marsden was the provider after a strong run past Finbar Caulfield and then, 10 minutes later, Marsden latched on to a high ball from Ger Reid and cracked home his shot on the turn. That made it 2-3 to 0-4 and Down were already in big trouble.
If McConville and Marsden deservedly won the plaudits, Armagh produced the goods elsewhere around the field. Cathal O’Rourke was highly influential at midfield, James McNulty wrapped up Mickey Linden and both Kieran McGeeney and Reid had excellent games.
Armagh were ahead by 2-5 to 0-6 at the break and when McConville converted a penalty for his second goal after Paddy McKeever had been hauled down, the margin had ballooned out to 10 points. The final quarter became a massive celebration with several pitch invasions by overenthusiastic Armagh fans.
"It was like lifting the can off 17 years of emotion out there," said manager Brian Canavan. "I feel for the people who are at home watching this or for those in America or wherever, the Armagh folk who couldn’t be in Clones to witness this. I’m so delighted we’ve done this for Armagh people everywhere."