Donegal 1-17, Cavan 0-15 By Mark Jones
After the first big GAA weekend of the year, Cavan will have to ponder a route through the qualifier series as Donegal booked their place in the quarterfinal of the Ulster football championship with a convincing victory at Clones last Sunday.
Defeated in the league decider by Tyrone, this was an opportunity for Cavan to make amends, but they found the Donegal forwards too sharp and decisive within range of the posts. In particular, Brendan Devenney and Adrian Sweeney did untold damage, with Devenney confirming his standing as one of Ireland’s most outstanding attackers.
He finished with a total of seven points, including four from frees, and that tally could have been more given the sheer quality of his play. Donegal can only hope that Devenney, a top soccer player with Finn Harps, remains loyal to the football cause
Certainly, 10 years after their historic All-Ireland triumph, Donegal could do with a season in the sun, and this was a good start. Brian Roper pounced for a goal in the first minute, although Cavan were incensed that referee Paddy Russell missed a push by Devenney in the build-up. The winners’ supremacy was evident by halftime, at which stage they were 0-10 to 0-5 in front despite the dismissal of John Haran for a dangerous challenge.
“Donegal were coming into the game fresh and they’d a lot to prove,” said Cavan captain Anthony Forde. “When they got that early lead, it was always going to be uphill for us.”
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And uphill it was, even though they performed with more purpose during the second half. Ger Pearson kept the scoreboard ticking over with nine frees, and with Dermot McCabe showing well in his first game of the year, Donegal were unable to relax.
However, Cavan sorely lacked the firepower of both Devenney and Sweeney, who lead Donegal into a quarter-=final clash with Down.
Fermanagh 4-13, Monaghan 2-11
Ulster’s second football fixture of the weekend was far more clear-cut as Fermanagh’s Rory Gallagher fired an oustanding 3-9 to spearhead his side’s passge into the semifinal, where the winners of Tryone and Armagh await.
While Monaghan, who had memorably ambushed Fermanagh last season, had their moments, they simply couldn’t live with the class of Gallagher, who converted two penalties, fisted a late third goal and sprayed a series of glorious passes to his teammates.
With goals by Tom Freeman and Rory Woods, Monaghan were ahead by 2-7 to 1-6 at the changeover, but then Gallagher made his mark in superb fashion. His penalties were dispatched perfectly to different corners of the net, and he added four frees among his nine-point haul.
The 18-point haul was a scoring record for the Ulster championship, and if one player rarely makes the difference in a team game, this was the shining exception that went some way to proving the rule.
Kerry 0-14, Limerick 1-7
Uneasy lies the head. It really should have been little more than a stroll for the Munster football champions at the Gaelic Grounds, but when Kerry found themselves leading by just a single point with five minutes remaining, one of the great championship shocks of all time was a distinct possibility.
In the end, Kerry’s greater experience paid off as Mike Frank Russell kicked two frees and Noel Kennelly floated over a superb score to push the margin out to four. Limerick, meanwhile, were left to rue what was a missed opportunity.
“We can only blame ourselves,” said manager John Kearns. “We missed points from frees and 45s and you can’t do that against Kerry. We had the chances and we didn’t take them.” Kearns also highlighted a superb second-half save by Kerry goalkeeper Declan O’Keeffe which deprived Michael Reidy.
Not surprisingly, Paidi O Se was relieved to have survived a stern test. “I’m just glad this one is over because it was always going to be fierce tricky,” he said. That was a reasonable assessment as Kerry turned over 0-9 to 1-1 ahead, but facing into a strong breeze.
Limerick had started in spectacular style with a goal by Johnny Murphy, but Kerry responded with Johnny Crowley, Aodhan MacGearailt and Russell picking off scores. If Limerick hadn’t squandered so many opportunities after the break, the story could have been so different, but they clearly have the ability to make an impact in the All Ireland qualifiers.
Clare 3-10, Waterford 2-9
Waterford haven’t won a Munster football championship game since 1988, but for while at Dungarvan last Sunday it looked as if that 14-year itch was about to be scratched. A good start and there was a glimmer of hope, but when David Russell and Stephen Hickey struck for two quick Clare goals, that hope began to fade.
With the impressive Conan Watt and Connie Power showing up well, Waterford were still in touch in the early stages of the second half, and goals by Michael and Shane Walsh kept them in the hunt. However, Clare finished strongly to earn a place against Tipperary in the semifinal.
Westmeath 1-14, Carlow 0-10
The pressure is on Westmeath to build on last year’s breakthrough summer, and on the basis of this first Leinster fooball championship outing, that pressure could act as more of a hindrance. True, Carlow were sent packing without too much difficulty at Portlaoise, but Westmeath looked like a pale imitation of the team that made such an impact last season.
Meath, the winners’ opponents in the next round, will hardly have been quaking in their boots following Westmeath’s first-half performance — adorned by nine wides and just five points. A stronger side than Carlow would have made them pay. “It was terrible,” admitted manager Luke Dempsey, “mistakes, no movement, every rehearsed move seemed to break down. The players improved by nearly 50 percent after that.”
Perhaps though Westmeath will have got rid of some gremlins following that opening 35 minutes. Even with Martin Flanagan and Dessie Dolan moving with menace, the attack seemed hell bent on scoring goals when points would have done just fine. On more meager rations, Carlow managed to pick off a few scores and were only 0-5 to 0-3 down at the interval.
J.P. Casey’s accuracy from frees — five out of a total of eight points — kept Westmeath out of trouble during the second half as Garvan Ware and Stephen O’Brien did their best to get Carlow back in contention, but the contest had petered out before the impressive Shane Colleary finished off a sweeping move that had involved Rory O’Connell and Flanagan for the game’s only goal.
“I was coming into this match with terrible pressure personally,” Dempsey said. “I felt it was real minefield. We were coming in on the back of a dismal league campaign, yet knowing deep down that we have the players to play good football. We can prepare for Meath now with confidence.”
Maybe more relief than confidence.
Louth 3-17, Longford 1-12
Where are replays so different from the drawn game? The mystery was still intact following Louth’s convincing victory in last Sunday’s Leinster championship rematch at Navan. Unlike the first encounter, Louth came out of the blocks pace and conviction and they were never in any great difficulty as they secured a quarterfinal place against Kildare.
Louth had a late Christy Grimes score to thank for survival a week ago. However, on this occasion they had 1-3 on the board in the opening five minutes and were 1-10 to 0-8 in front at the break. With Longford struggling to contain the talents of David Reilly and Ollie McDonnell, and it was McDonnell who put the contest beyond any doubt with his team’s second goal just after the restart.
Longford’s supporters had something to cheer about when Paul Barden hammered a low shot to the net, but then Cathal O’Hanlon created the opening for Reilly to reply in kind. In the closing stages, Mark Stanfield, who had struck with an early penalty, was sent off for a second yellow card, while Longford’s David Blessington was also dismissed following the same incident.