With just under 35,000 spectators in the stadium last Sunday, Croke Park did not exactly pulse to Cork’s second-half beat, but increasingly it seems as if Morgan has come up with a group of players who have no fear and plenty of skill.
They looked a beaten docket for much of the opening period as Galway produced a master class of attacking play akin to their famous demolition of Meath in the 2001 final. With Michael Meehan sniping with remarkable stealth and accuracy, and with Michael Donnellan spraying passes to every corner, Cork trailed by as much as six points coming up to the interval. However, with a swagger perhaps born of innocence, the Munster county did not just eat into Galway’s advantage, they swallowed it up with an irresistible burst of scoring. Brendan Jer O’Sullivan scored an inspirational goal, Anthony Lynch surged up from the back to bolster the forwards and Galway drowned in a red tide.
“I’ve always said as individual players, they’re as good as what’s around,” said a beaming Morgan. “It’s just that their confidence was low at county level over the past couple of years. With self-belief, they’re as good as the rest. We didn’t deserve to beat Kerry in the Munster final, our lack of experience showed, but we’ve made good progress since then.”
For all Cork’s determination and brio, their naivete, which could cost them against the reigning All Ireland champions, was exploited ruthlessly by Galway in the opening 25 minutes. With Sean Armstrong, a late replacement for Derek Savage, settling in well, and with Padraic Joyce and Meehan running the Cork defense ragged, there was a danger that the contest could be over by half-time.
After goalkeeper Kevin O’Dwyer spilled a high ball, Meehan was on hand to punch to the net, and within minutes, he cut through and sidestepped O’Dwyer to slot a second goal. “You could say that we gave away two goals,” Morgan said. At that stage, Cork were six points adrift, but they cut the gap to four by the changeover. “I felt we were well there actually,” added Morgan.
John Hayes had earlier scored a penalty for Cork when James Masters was dragged down, but there was little to suggest that the balance of power would shift so radically after the break. With Kevin McMahon, Philip Clifford and the magnificent Lynch taking charge, the winners ran up 1-5 in the space of 12 minutes without reply.
“We had a good first half, but then we were under pressure in a lot of places,” said Galway manager Peter Ford. “They were running at us from everywhere and they won a lot of ball, and it’s always difficult to play when you don’t have the ball.” In fact, a demoralized Galway could only manage four points during the second half.
A month ago, no one would have seen Cork as a threat, and even if they are wet behind the ears compared to Kerry or Armagh, Morgan has been around the block a few times. With the footballers joining the hurlers in the last four, there is a skip in the GAA step on Leeside.
KERRY 2-15 MAYO 0-18
Check the scoreline and believe for a moment that Mayo had Kerry clinging on for dear life in the second of last Sunday’s All Ireland quarter-finals at Croke Park. As is often the case, the result was deceptive, and while Mayo never ran up the white flag, they were playing a second violin long before referee Brian Crowe’s last whistle.
Eight points clear with a rout beckoning, Kerry failed to add to their total in closing 10 minutes while Mayo’s tenacity garnered them five. If the champions were never truly living dangerously, manager Jack O’Connor was none too enamored of the way his players signed off.
“I couldn’t be happy with the way we finished the game, conceding the last five scores,” he sighed, “It was a bit like the Derry match last year, when they had the last six scores. So certainly we have plenty to work on. I supposed after their display, Cork will be favorites for the next one.”
If that last comment was understandable, no one was doubting that Kerry have a lot more in the tank. Neck and neck with Mayo for much of the first half during which Colm Cooper languidly fired in a goal, and during which Dara O Cinneide missed a penalty, it seemed that what transpired immediately after the break would make or break the contest.
Much as expected, Kerry hit 1-8 — Darragh O Se plundered another goal after a crossfield ball from Cooper — and Mayo could only reply with three points. “Unfortunately for us, that goal had a huge bearing on the game,” said Mayo’s John Maughan. “We missed a couple of easy scores and suddenly they were cruising.”
Kerry then had the luxury of bringing a string of players who would be first-choices in other counties off the bench. Paul Galvin was introduced and promptly hit three points from play to indicate the champions? enviable strength in depth.
Even in defeat, Maughan could not have expected much more from his players. With Austin O’Malley and Ciaran McDonald let to fare for themselves up front, they had 0-9 from play between them. Also the ploy of playing four men across the middle of the pitch meant there was never going to be a repeat of last year’s All Ireland decider when the Connacht champions were humbled.
LAOIS 1-11 DERRY 0-11
It’s customary to be suspicious of people who speak about themselves in the third person, but Gaelic football legends should be allowed a little latitude now and then. So when Mick O’Dwyer wagged a finger at his audience following last Saturday’s victory in the fourth round of the All Ireland qualifiers, no one interrupted.
“A lot of people were saying that Micko’s head was to go after this game, but by Jesus they’ll have to wait for another while yet I can tell you.” The veteran Laois manager had done it again. His team had struggled during the first half against Derry at Croke Park, but had then produced a storming second period. O’Dwyer, presumably, had weaved his bit of magic in the dressing room.
“He did the usual Micko thing,” explained a smiling Ross Munnelly. “He pointed out the good, he pointed out the bad, and he told us where we could put things right.” Four points down at the break, Laois were a changed outfit after the manager’s pep talk and are deservedly through to face Ulster champions Armagh in the quarter-finals.
Clearly dissatisfied with the way his players had been performing,
O’Dwyer took off Chris Conway and Kevin Fitzpatrick at the break and brought on Stephen Kelly and Brian McDonald. It was a gamble that worked as Laois quickly transformed that four-point deficit into a one-point lead when Kelly and the outstanding Noel Garvan set up Billy Sheehan for a crucial goal which he palmed into the net, and then Kelly fired over a point to put his side in front.
With Garvan — referred to by O’Dwyer as the “best midfielder in Ireland” — and Padraig Clancy so dominant round the center of the pitch, Laois pulled away as Derry’s challenge petered out dramatically. It might have appeared too close for comfort on the scoreboard, however, the winners were in complete control.
Even though Ross Munnelly’s free-taking left a lot to be desired as he missed five out of six attempts, he still managed three points from play and had effective support from Donie Brennan. “Overall it was a great team victory,” added O?Dwyer. “And I thought our backs were superb. We heard so much about the firepower of this Derry team but we counteracted it pretty well.”
The northerners were left scratching their heads. Coming into the game, Derry had been marginal favorites and with Paddy Bradley and Enda Muldoon in attack, there was every reason to expect them to trouble the Laois defense. Initially, that was exactly what transpired as Bradley, Paddy Murphy, Padraig Kelly and Johnny McBride hit a series of first-half scores as Laois floundered.
“Yes, we were magnificent in the first half,” said Derry manager but the goal in the first 10 minutes of the second half really cost us,” said Derry boss Mickey Moran. “We then missed three or four chances and they took over.” Asked if his players faded physically, Moran, whose time in charge will now probably come to an end, was quickly on the offensive.
“People who just sit and watch games and who don’t have any idea about sports science may generalize and say that Laois were fitter, but that’s a load of balls. Mentally, we went,” he said.
Derry might not have got it right on the pitch, but off it, their manager certainly did.
TYRONE 2-14 MONAGHAN 1-7
Business as usual was eventually restored at Croke Park last Saturday as Tyrone set up a mouthwatering clash with Dublin in the All Ireland quarter-finals, but tip your cap to brave Monaghan who only succumbed to a barrage of late scores.
If Tyrone can rightly point to the sheer class of Stephen O’Neill — pencil him in for an All Star award no matter who the remainder of the summer pans out — who conjured up a magnificent personal tally of 2-7, there was little for Mickey Harte and his players to cheer about bar victory.
Peter Canavan appears now to be only a bit player, Brian McGuigan has yet to hit form, Owen Mulligan is badly out of touch, and the defensive barrier of Chris Lawn and Shane Sweeney was repeatedly breached by the Monaghan forwards during the first half.
Add that to Ryan McMenamin’s suspension which weakened the rearguard last weekend, and which will be even more keenly felt against Dublin, and Tyrone are raising more questions than answers. “I have to give credit to Monaghan: we were totally flattered by the double score; we didn’t deserve anything like that,” admitted Harte. “I wouldn’t like to suggest that we were 1-5 to 0-2 down because we were playing horribly. Most times you can only play as well as your opponents let you, and in those opening 25 minutes, that’s as well as Monaghan let us play.”
With the underdogs? three-man midfield of Dick Clerkin, Eoin Lennon and James McElroy running the show, Tommy Freeman was creating havoc. His beautifully finished goal was no more than Monaghan deserved, and if Pascal McConnelly had not saved superbly from Rory Woods, Tyrone might have been dead and buried before the changeover.
As it was, Monaghan’s five-point advantage was as far ahead as they got, and soon O’Neill was pegging them back with a goal, and with Tyrone having filled the cracks at the back, the second half was much different. Starved of possession, Freeman could make no impact, and instead it was O’Neill who grabbed the game’s torch.
“The result is the most important thing,” the man of the match explained. “But the performance is also relevant, and we weren’t good. I wouldn’t say it was a hangover from losing the Ulster final to Armagh, we were poor and that’s it. No excuses.”
Harte was asked about his team’s prospects against Dublin. “They’re a quality team, they know how to win a game and we know enough about them to be very careful. I know we only have a week’s rest, but I’d rather play next week than have six months’ rest for the McKenna Cup.”