When Dublin win, they still can’t win.
And in the aftermath of last Sunday’s convincing 3-14 to 1-14 Leinster final victory over Laois at Croke Park, coach Paul Caffrey wasn’t prepared to drop his guard for a second. Following three Leinster titles in a row, was he aware of the demand for a first All Ireland success since 1995?
“The demand of who?” replied Caffrey tetchily. “I’m more worried about the players and management, and I hope we’ve three games left in this year’s championship.”
On this display, there’s no reason to believe that Dublin won’t have those three games left. It might not have been perfect – there was a 17-minute hiatus during the second half when the blue jerseys failed to raise a flag – but it was their most impressive performance of the season so far.
Ciaran Whelan and Shane Ryan were immense in their very different ways at midfield, and the pair obliterated Padraig Clancy and Brendan Quigley, while there were also telling individual contributions from Alan Brogan in attack, and from Paul Griffin and David Henry in defense.
What was perhaps most important of all was their ability to score goals. Even when Ross Munnelly slipped in for an early Laois goal, there was no evidence of panic in the Dublin ranks. First Mark Vaughan struck, and while his immature celebrations in the face of his marker Darren Rooney rankled, it was a clinical finish. Then within a minute, Jason Sherlock and Conal Keaney combined for Bernard Brogan who found the net again.
From a position of being three points in front, Laois were now trailing by three. “We were very happy with the start we made, and we were dictating the game for most of the first half,” said manager Liam Kearns, “but those goals were bad ones to give away. It was crippling coming up to half time, and that put them in a strong position.”
When Alan Brogan added the third goal early in the second half, with Dublin piling on three quick points, the contest was dead. From that moment on, the winners were content to play more conservatively and to preserve their advantage, but Laois failed to respond as Dublin went into their shells.
Caffrey was asked if one of the Dublin players had over-carried in the build-up to Vaughan’s goal. “Are you from Laois?” he responded. “Next question.”
Maybe paranoia and progress do come hand in hand.
targets 2008 return
BRIAN McGUIGAN wasn’t in Clones last Sunday to see his Tyrone teammates hold off a brave challenge from Monaghan in the Ulster football final. Truth is, he wouldn’t have been able to see that much anyway.
Because the former All Ireland winner and All Star is currently recovering from an injury which was so severe that there was a possibility he could have lost the sight in one eye. The eye is still so sensitive that the sort of breeze there was wafting around at Clones would have caused him discomfort.
It wasn’t as if McGuigan had been free of pain before this latest setback. He had been out for nearly a year and a half following a double fracture of the leg, and was on his way back to fitness when he lined out for Ardboe in a reserve league game against another Tyrone club, Aghyaran, in early May.
Things were fine, he was moving well, when suddenly, he was hit by a late challenge. Unlike the broken leg, this time there was no pain, but when he stumbled to his feet, blood streaming from his left eye, he couldn’t see a thing. On the sideline, they told him his vision was blurred because of all the blood, but he instinctively knew it was much more serious.
In a moving interview with the Irish Independent’s chief sportswriter, Vincent Hogan, McGuigan recalled how he was completely blind, and how a specialist told him that his eye may as well have been “stood on, squashed” and that the damage was similar to that inflicted by “a baseball bat in a punishment beating”.
He underwent surgery to repair a detached retina, and then had two more procedures, and for a couple of weeks he had to lie motionless at home in bed. Incensed by the deafening silence from the Aghyaran club, his father Frank McGuigan – himself a former Tyrone football great – wrote letters to local papers emphasising the gravity of Brian’s condition.
According to Hogan’s interview, Aghyaran suggested that the injury might have been caused by one of McGuigan’s own teammates, but then nearly two months after the incident, the other player involved in the collision, phoned and suggested that he might have caught McGuigan with his glove.
“I told my surgeon about what he’d said,” McGuigan explained to Hogan, “and his response was, ‘Well, he must have had a horseshoe in his glove then.'”
As he waits in the shadows for his eye to heal, he can’t work and he can’t assist in Tyrone’s drive for the championship, but there is the fall-back of insurance to get him through these bleak times. He’s targeting 2008 for a return, but right now he can be certain of nothing.
“I know there’s a chance I’ll never play inter-county football again,” he told the Irish Independent. “You have to be realistic, and that’s in the back of my head. Only the fella who did it knows if there was intent. I can feel so much anger towards him, but being angry … it’s not going to get my eyesight back.”
McGuigan is one of the more noble victims of amateur sport where there is often no accountability. He could yet be deprived of more than a football career by his injury, but no one has accepted responsibility, and no one has apologized.
Unfortunately, that is currently the lot of one of Ireland’s most talented Gaelic footballers.
FOR a team whose season was supposed to be over, this wasn’t half bad. Tipperary’s one-point victory over Cork in last weekend’s hurling qualifier at Semple Stadium might have been as unexpected as it was dramatic, but the consequences for both counties were highly significant.
Tipp now go on to meet Wexford in the quarter-finals – a game they’ll be favored to win – while Cork have to do battle with reigning Munster champions Waterford. That one-point margin meant so much in the end.
If this wasn’t quite a Lazarus act by Tipp, who had a third of the team including the mercurial Eoin Kelly, missing due to injury, but considering it was the first time they managed to defeat Cork in the championship since 1991, manager Babs Keating and his players were entitled to celebrate as if they had won something.
Amid speculation of bad blood in the camp, Tipp have recovered following their epic loss to Limerick, and on the back of six games in six weeks, they appear to be thriving rather than tiring.
Keating could have gone into told-you-so mode after the 2-16 to 1-18 success, but instead he kept his powder dry. “We have a united camp, and we’ve always had a united camp. But look we’ve won nothing yet, and you don’t fool Tipperary people. There’s no room for fakes in Tipperary. There’s too much knowledge coming into those stands from Tipperary people who’ve won plenty. Everyone has been telling us that Waterford and Kilkenny are far superior to the rest of us. Well, we’ll try and play catch up with them if we can.”
That mission to close the gap started last Saturday. Although Cork started strong and looked to be cruising until Willie Ryan struck for a goal and suddenly, Tipp started to believe. They led by a point at the break, and when Ryan cleverly scored his second goal, Cork were being left behind.
“There’s been a lot of bullshit spoken about the mood in the camp,” said man of the match, Eamonn Corcoran, “and we’ve fallen in for a lot of criticism. But at the end of the day, we’re a very strong unit, and I think we’ve proved that.”
In the closing seconds, Ben O’Connor had a chance from the sideline to sneak Cork a draw. He mishit the shot, and Tipp celebrated. “Complacency,” muttered Cork coach, Gerald McCarthy afterwards.
Perhaps, but how Tipperary capitalised.