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Derry rally stuns Antrim in Ulster final

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Mark Jones

Derry 4-8, Antrim 0-19

The old order changes even in Ulster hurling. No one gave Derry a prayer in last Sunday’s final at Casement Park. After all, they hadn’t won a provincial title in 92 years, but when Antrim blew a four-point lead in the closing stages, a new chapter of history was written.

John O’Dwyer rattled Antrim with a goal five minutes from the end and then Oliver Collins hit the target with a free in injury time to finish off Derry’s amazing comeback.

“The one thing I’ve always said about this team is that they have incredible determination,” said manager Kevin McNaughton. “They are so keen to work for each other.”

With their footballers also in a provincial final, Derry now have a chance to become the first team since Antrim in 1946 to complete the Ulster double.

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However, there was a certain frustration in the Antrim camp at the way the game ended. The losers were adamant they had been denied the opportunity of an equalizing point when Gary O’Kane’s sideline cut deflected off a defender for a 65. However, the referee refused to allow the 65 to be taken and blew for full time.

Antrim’s nightmare day had begun when they conceded three first-half goals as Kieran McKeever, Gary Biggs and Collins took advantage of defensive slip-ups to leave Derry in front by 3-4 to 0-5 at the changeover.

“It was the worst performance I’ve ever seen,” said Antrim selector Sean McNaughton. “Our defenders just seemed satisfied to look on. It was kid’s stuff by us. You pick the best team you think you have and then for them to go out there and react like that.”

However, Antrim seemed to be on their way to a 41st Ulster title when they stormed back into the game in the second half with a remarkable 10 points in succession. As Conor McCambridge and Greg O’Kane took charge, Derry seemed to be resigned to their fate, but O’Dwyer’s goal set up a dramatic finish.

Kilkenny 2-21, Offaly 1-13

Following much angst over the welfare of the Leinster hurling championship, Kilkenny and Offaly had an opportunity to demonstrate that all was not gloom and doom in last Sunday’s provincial final at Croke Park. Sadly, the opportunity was missed — not that Kilkenny were in any way to blame.

This time, just as in the previous two seasons, Offaly flopped. Beaten by five points in 1998, 10 last year and now 11, there were passages of this hugely disappointing contest when you wondered if Offaly really cared. Once again, the backdoor system has thrown them a lifeline with a quarterfinal against Derry and by early August when they should be up against Cork, Pat Fleury and his players are likely to be a far tougher proposition.

But for now, Leinster hurling’s annual showpiece is a drab affair. Offaly opened with the sort of intent that had the 32,000 crowd hoping this would be a different day, but once D.J. Carey eluded his marker, Kevin Kinahan, to fire in a brilliant trademark goal on the half hour, Offaly’s confidence seeped away disastrously.

“We’re very disappointed,” said a chastened Brian Whelahan. “We came up full of hope with a young team and this very demoralizing. I honestly thought we’d shake Kilkenny today and then, bang, D.J. got a goal. A lot of the older lads are really down after this.”

Once Carey cracked in his goal — so many other players would have been satisfied to settle for a point — Kilkenny’s third provincial title in succession was never in doubt. Five points clear at the interval, they let Offaly back in the game for a moment when Joe Dooley poached an opportunist goal early in the second half, but in the concluding 25 minutes the winners piled on a total of 1-9, while their opponents could only manage 0-4.

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody admitted that his team was “not too bad.” However, he couldn’t have learned all that much given Offaly’s capitulation. Cody will have noticed in impressive performance by John Power at center forward, so much so that he gave the usually imperious Brian Whelahan several uncomfortable moments.

Charlie Carter, who bagged 1-4 from play, also showed signs of a return to form after disappointing last season, while Peter Barry effectively snuffed out the threat of Brendan Murphy after the opening quarter. And as the Offaly forward line struggled to make any impact, all six of Kilkenny’s attackers scored from play.

“We slowed them down with a few vital scores,” said Power, “but people are saying we blew them away; we didn’t blow them away.”

That certainly wasn’t the way it looked when Carter pounced for Kilkenny’s second goal 15 minutes into the second half. The rejuvenated corner forward had a goal disallowed by referee Willie Barrett, but just a few moments later he infiltrated the Offaly defense and skillfully batted the ball past the advancing Stephen Byrne.

That opened the gap to six points and as the Offaly resistance crumbled, Kilkenny hit five points in a row through Stephen Grehan (2), Power, Denis Byrne and Andy Comerford to be the result beyond doubt.

Curiously, Offaly manager Pat Fleury was putting a positive gloss on things afterward. “There’s great character in these players, we’ve great faith in them,” he said. “They’ve proven that before and now they just have to do it again.” Others were not so sure.

There was better news for Offaly in the minor decider in which the Midlanders defeated Dublin by 0-13 to 0-8. It was Offaly’s first Leinster minor title since 1983.

Galway 0-22, Sligo 0-4

Sligo had it all going for them. A confidence-boosting win over Mayo, home advantage in a seethingly partisan Markievicz Park and Galway making the trip more in hope than expectation. This Connacht football semifinal might have easily gone the way of the underdog, like so many games this summer. But Galway were simply majestic and Sligo forgot they were supposed to play as well as turn up.

Impressive as the 1998 All-Ireland champions were, this was a humiliation for Sligo. Trailing by a staggering 14 points at the interval, they couldn’t even muster a single score over the 35 minutes as the players who had looked so confident in the earlier victory against Mayo were paralyzed by indecision.

Turning with the advantage of the breeze after the break, there was hardly an improvement. Shellshocked by the events of the opening half, the sight of a proud team going through the motions must have been heartbreaking for the home supporters, many of whom left long before the final whistle.

“We were annihilated out there,” manager Mickey Moran said. “Galway hit us very hard and squeezed ball away from us. But there’s no way that was a true reflection of the Sligo panel. We just lost confidence and that was it. No excuses, it hurts, it hurts a lot.”

As for Galway, this was a return to the halcyon days of ’98 following last season’s underwhelming performances. Without the injured Ja Fallon and an unfit Kevin Walsh, manager John O’Mahony introduced a couple of new names such as Joe Bergin and Jason Killeen into the mix with devastating effect. Their movement, short-passing and accuracy were a joy to watch and even if Sligo had found some decent form, they would still have struggled to survive this glorious onslaught.

With Padraig Joyce, Niall Finnegan and Derek Savage stylishly leading the attack, Galway tore the heart out of Sligo with some devastating scores before the break. Equally, their much-maligned defense gave the opposition precious little room to move as Gary Fahy had an impressive afternoon at full-back.

“This was the first chance we had to make up for how we played in last year’s Connacht final,” O’Mahony said. “Sligo are a better team than they showed today. They didn’t deserve to be beaten as badly as that.”

They mightn’t have deserved it, but Sligo couldn’t do much about as Joyce, Savage and Finnegan ran riot.

Backing them up was the ever-present Michael Donnellan, who played his most complete game since the All Ireland final of two years ago. Intelligent and as pacy as ever, when Donnellan was delivering perfect passes to the front men, he was tracking back to help out in defense.

Dessie Sloyane and Eamonn O’Hara scored early second-half points as Sligo searched for the crumbs of respectability, but even with the wind at their backs they still couldn’t contain Galway, who proceeded to reel off six points in succession.

Leitrim are next in the final. After this outstanding performance, Galway will surely be looking beyond Connacht.

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