By Mark Jones
This was the cup that failed to cheer. A National League football title for Cork, but barely 10,000 people bothered to turn up in their own back yard of Pairc Ui Chaoimh to witness the season’s first piece of silverware being handed down.
The general malaise was clearly catching as Dublin barely raised a gallop. Manager Tom Carr’s developing team had spoken of their desire for recognition, but in the end, the fact that they got within two points of Cork was the game’s only intrigue.
A late goal by substitute Darren Homan was never enough to fool even the most ardent Dublin supporter. Badly in need of some second-half inspiration as Cork continued to control affairs, Carr sent in Jason Sherlock in a last-ditch effort to brighten his county’s dull day.
Within five minutes, Sherlock was making his way disconsolately back to the dug-out — sent off by referee Brian White for throwing a punch and then for tripping Cork’s goalkeeper, Kevin O’Dwyer. That summed up a miserable final for the Dubs.
Cork weren’t exactly ecstatic, either, despite what was a deserved win. "We’re happy enough, but that’s it, really," was manager Larry Tompkins’s muted reaction. "Nobody went out to lose, so it was a useful exercise and, hopefully, this win will give the team a lot of confidence for the championship."
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Still, Tompkins had reason to be pleased by the performance of his center back, Owen Sexton, who saw off three different opponents, while there was a busy, organized feel about the defense in general. O’Dwyer also distinguished himself between the posts with several brilliant saves.
Cork had the better start and they were 0-5 to 0-1 ahead after 20 minutes as Philip Clifford, Ciaran O’Sullivan and Joe Kavanagh all found the range. Dublin recovered, but O’Dwyer intervened three times in quick succession to deny Brian Stynes, Declan Darcy and Dessie Farrell with superb blocks.
In fact, Dublin would have been quite pleased to only trail by 0-5 to 0-3 at the interval. However, they failed abysmally to sustain their effort during the second half as Cork took complete charge.
"It was a poor performance," Carr said. "But then, teams have those. The big thing is you don’t panic. I think we will learn, it’s part of the building process. It’s too early to say what’s in the summer for us."
Too early, indeed. As for Cork, they have molded a formidable defense, but the attack remains unconvincing. Certainly, their own supporters who stayed at home appear to think so.
Cork: K. O’Dwyer; M. O’Donovan, S. Og O hAilpin, A. Lynch; C. O’Sullivan (0-2), O. Sexton, M. Cronin; M. O’Sullivan, N. Murphy; A. Dorgan (0-1), J. Kavanagh (0-1), P. O’Mahony (0-4); P. Clifford (0-4), M. O’Sullivan, A. O’Regan. Subs: D. Davis for O’Regan, 36 mins; R. McCarthy for N Murphy, 56 mins.
Dublin: D. Byrne; P. Moran, P. Christie, S. Ryan; T. Lynch, P Curran, K. Galvin; C. Whelan (0-1), E. Sheehy; J. Gavin, D. Darcy (0-5), B. Stynes; B. O’Brien, D. Farrell (0-1), N. O’Donoghue. Subs: D. Homan (1-0) for N. O’Donoghue, 41 mins; J. Sherlock for O’Brien, 47 mins.
Westmeath 2-10, Carlow 1-8
It was only the preliminary round of the Leinster Football championship and already the GAA is seeing red. The introduction of the yellow and red card system was meant to tighten up discipline, but this game at Dr. Cullen Park last Sunday turned into high farce as six players were sent off.
Carlow finished with 11 men and still were only a point in arrears with a minute left, while Westmeath had a numerical advantage despite having two players dismissed by Cork referee Niall Barrett.
A jumpy Barrett also saw fit to brandish an extraordinary total of 14 yellow cards during a game that was tough, but never dirty and which was played in atrocious conditions. Carlow’s manager, Cyril Hughes, not surprisingly felt that Barrett had got it badly wrong.
"It’s a physical contact sport and if you take the physical aspect out of it, what have you got left?" Hughes wondered. "I can’t understand why anyone should’ve been sent off out there; it wasn’t a dirty match. I’m sorry for all the lads who were sent off. It’s hard to accept that we’ve seen 10 months of hard work go down the drain like that."
Some of Barrett’s decisions were justified, but his overall interpretation was ridiculously harsh given the conditions. For the record, Ken Walker, Johnny Kavanagh, Brian Farrell and Sean Kavanagh were sent off for Carlow, while Westmeath’s Rory O’Connell and Kenny Lyons also received their marching orders.
In between the flurry of cards, there was a contest that opened up in sensational fashion with a goal at either end inside a minute. Garvan Ware’s sideline kick somehow ended up in the Westmeath net and then Martin Flanagan replied when he latched onto a Lyons’ pass.
Westmeath soon forged ahead with the excellent Ger Heavin picking off points at will. However, the free-taking skill of Mark Dowling brought Carlow back into contention and they only trailed by 1-5 to 1-3 at the changeover.
That trend continued as Carlow continued to battle to the end with 11 men, but a a second Flanagan goal just before full time and a Heavin free settled the issue.
Wexford 0-16, Longford 1-13
There was a drama of a different kind in the other Leinster championship preliminary round game at New Ross, where a late equalizer by center back Rory Stafford earned Wexford a replay with their great rivals Longford.
As the teams have now drawn four times in their last five meetings, there was an element of destiny about Stafford’s intervention as he took a short free from Leigh O’Brien and found the target with the help of a strong wind.
Despite that wind and driving rain, the standard of play was high and the respective corner forwards, Scott Doran of Wexford and Longford’s Pauric Davis, each hit 0-6 as wides from both sides were a comparative rarity.
The impressive Paul Barden got Longford off to a good start with an early goal on his championship debut and they led by 1-7 to 0-6 at the break. But Wexford battled back, with O’Brien clipping over three frees and after Stafford had tied it up, the final whistle had most of the players on their knees with exhaustion. Back to Lonford on Sunday for the second installment.