By Mark Jones
Dublin 1-8, Kerry 0-9
The final Dublin-Kerry clash of the century carried nothing like the weight of previous big games between two of Gaelic football’s greatest rivals, but Sunday’s National League Division 1A contest at Parnell Park still left the Dublin players in upbeat mood.
Their victory was a confirmation of progress since a hugely disappointing opening League loss to Tyrone. Fresh from a couple of big victories, Kerry had enough chances, but this time Dublin were full of resolve and commitment.
Even though they had to rely on two penalty saves by goalkeeper David Byrne, Dublin’s success was deserved. Paddy Christie was outstanding in defense, while Shane Ryan produced his best display in a blue jersey.
"When you beat Kerry, it’s always a bit special," said manager Tom Carr. "I was extremely happy with the battling qualities and how the team survived some anxious moments, especially the younger guys."
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Not surprisingly, Kerry were left to rue those missed first-half penalty chances. Byrne blocked Mike Frank Russell’s poorly struck shot and then when Declan O’Keeffe was summoned all the way up the pitch from his goal to take the second kick, Byrne again performed heroics.
Later, Kerry also hit the woodwork twice through Liam Hassett and Eamonn Fitzmaurice, but by then Dublin had hit the front with an opportunist goal by Colm Moran and three points each courtesy of Declan Darcy and Paul Croft.
Donegal 2-12, Cork 0-7
Cork were obviously still suffering from the fall-out of their All Ireland final defeat when they were hammered by Donegal at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
It was Cork’s third loss in a row and even though manager Larry Tompkins only fielded seven of his All Ireland line-up, this was another flat performance killing off any chances of qualification for the playoff stages.
Despite kicking 10 first-half wides, Donegal still turned over armed with a 0-10 to 0-3 advantage as Brian Roper and James Gallagher picked off the points with a strong wind at their backs.
Any prospect of a Cork revival after the interval was quickly snuffed out by Gallagher, who plundered two goals in as many minutes.
"I suppose we’re not as interested as we were this time last season," admitted Cork’s Philip Clifford. "I think the players just want a break now rather than having to go out every Sunday."
Sligo 2-6, Down 0-10
In Division 1B Sligo continued to make progress with a win over Down in Newry. The victors’ two goals made the difference in a tight contest, although Ross Carr’s dismissal for a second yellow card a quarter of an hour from the end didn’t help Down’s cause.
This latest success of the campaign puts Sligo on their own in second place behind Derry and in with a good chance of making the playoffs. Dessie Sloyan drove home the first goal following a strong run by Eamonn O’Hara and then nine minutes after the break, the impressive Sean Davey added a second when Michael Magill badly mis-directed his pass out of defense.
Derry 0-7, Clare 0-4
It turned out to be a dour struggle at Celtic Park, but Derry’s verdict over Clare left them the only unbeaten team in the top flight. Only a last-gasp point by Kildare earlier in the campaign prevented the Ulster county from registering three wins, but manager Eamonn Coleman was still happy with the outcome.
"We set out to win all three games before Christmas and we went very close. I think two victories and a draw is acceptable and we’re looking forward to the new year with optimism," Coleman said.
With precious few scoring chances on offer, Martin Daly kept Clare in contention with three points. However, Derry’s persistence paid off and Dermot Heaney secured the win in the last minute with his second point.
Offaly 0-9, Antrim 0-4
In Division 2A, Offaly held on to pole position with a 0-9 to 0-4 win over Antrim in Tullamore. With Sean Grennan outstanding in defense, Offaly led by 0-8 to 0-1 at the interval and then had enough in reserve to hold on for a third victory of the campaign.
Louth moved into contention thanks to a comfortable 3-14 to 1-9 success against Limerick at Kilmallock where two goals by David Reilly and Darren Kirwan within a minute settled the issue.
Leitrim 2-13, London 1-9
Leitrim secured a second win of the season by holding off the challenge of London at Ruislip. Leitrim’s goals were by Paul McDermott and Adrian Cullen, both the product of lucky breaks.
Laois kept up their unbeaten record in Division 2B with a 1-10 to 0-5 verdict over Cavan at Breffni Park. The winners held Cavan scoreless during the first half and then defended superbly against the wind after the changeover.
Wexford moved into second place on scoring average thanks to a 1-11 to 2-6 win against Tipperary, Carlow edged out Monaghan by 2-7 to 2-6, and Waterford gained their first points with a 0-14 to 2-6 success over Longford.