Two Tyrone players sent off in controversial circumstances, a couple of brawls, and Armagh with the composure to come back from four points down in the closing minutes.
Oh, and there was a bit of football too, not that this was an installment for the purists.
Tyrone’s manager Mickey Harte was livid that Peter Canavan, on the pitch as a sub for a barely a minute, got his marching orders from referee Michael Collins, while Collins later admitted that he had sent Stephen O’Neill off in the belief that he had already received a yellow card.
“Why Peter Canavan was sent off was a mystery,” said Harte. “He didn’t lift a hand to anybody, he didn’t strike anybody, yet he’s sent off. It’s simply not acceptable.”
Canavan had been involved in some pulling and dragging with Armagh captain Kieran McGeeney, and it was impossible to discern what he did that merited a straight red card.
Armagh’s Ciaran McKeever was also dismissed at the same time for a second yellow, but Canavan’s loss was much the greater to Tyrone who were in control of the game.
Then O’Neill, who thundered into Andy Mallon with a late shoulder charge, was sent to the line by Collins. Harte described the incident as a “decent shoulder.”
Elsewhere, Collins’s ability to control what was a mean-spirited, foul-ridden contest, was further in question when Armagh’s Paul McGrane threw a punch, but went unpunished, and when Tyrone defender Ryan McMenamin kneed John McEntee on the ground, he escaped with just a yellow card.
With defenses clearly on top, Tyrone struggled initially but then began to assert themselves as O’Neill came more into the game. They led by 0-7 to 0-5 at the interval.
That pattern of dominance continued as Brian McGuigan, Brian Dooher and O’Neill controlled the play, but after the two dismissals, the balance shifted alarmingly.
There was more controversy when Armagh’s McKeever walked up into the stand after he had been sent off. McKeever was accosted by a Tyrone supporter, who was removed from the ground by gardai.
“This has happened on a regular basis where players take abuse from people in the stand,” said Armagh manager Joe Kernan. “It has been talked about before, we have mentioned it. It shouldn’t have happened.”
Back on the pitch, sub Paddy McKeever brought Armagh level, and then two injury time points by Oisin McConville saw Armagh into the All Ireland quarter-finals.
“I’m not taking anything away from Armagh’s victory,” said Harte, whose team now meets Monaghan in the qualifiers.
“They can only be admired and respected. But we suffered, and that’s not the best way to come out of a final. Peter Canavan didn’t get his chance, and then your top marksman, and probably player-in-chief over the two games, getting sent off in rather dubious circumstances. That’s not nice.”
However, Harte accepted that his players had an opportunity to win both the drawn game and the replay, and failed both times. “I’m not making excuses here, I’m stating some facts,” he said.
So Armagh march on with another Ulster title, but Tyrone are far from finished.
Cork 1-18 Waterford 1-13
It was as if Cork were hiding their trump cards under the table until the time was right. Level going into the final 10 minutes of last Sunday’s All Ireland hurling quarter-final at Croke Park, they played their hand to leave Waterford bemused and bewildered. A goal by Brian Corcoran, then three quick points, and the game was up for Waterford.
As Cork’s captain, Sean Og O hAilpin, has pointed out to his teammates, each championship match is not a marathon, it’s a marathon followed by a sprint.
In truth, Cork were in jogging mode until that final decisive burst, and there are improvements to be made in most areas of the pitch for the McCarthy Cup holders.
What was most impressive about the winners was their timing. There had been precious little between the teams with Eoin Murphy, James Murray, Ken McGrath and Tony Browne keeping the Cork forwards at bay, and with Diarmuid O’Sullivan, John Gardiner and O hAilpin ruling the roost at the other end.
However, when Cork made that collective surge, their opponents quite simply had no answer. The hour mark had just passed when Joe Deane nudged a high ball from Jerry O’Connor in Corcoran’s direction, and although Murphy was close enough to effect a telling challenge, Corcoran instinctively hit a superb drop shot into the far corner of the Waterford net.
Energized by Corcoran’s sublime moment, Cork stormed forward and both Neil Ronan and Kieran Murphy quickly added the match-winning scores.
“We never really panicked, and I suppose that is the hallmark of this team,” explained O hAilpin. “We were in a similar situation last September when Kilkenny were doing all the playing and we were a point behind. We know what happened then, and although not as emphatic, something similar occurred out there.”
As for manager John Allen, while delighted with the result, he was acutely aware that his side was off the required pace.
“Their hurling was more crisp, and they were definitely more championship fit than we were, but now we’ve got three weeks to work on that. We’re still there, and Waterford are out.”
The disappointment for Waterford, who were trying to erase the memory of May’s Munster semi-final defeat by the same opposition, was that they played some highly impressive hurling before those crucial closing minutes.
If Paul Flynn was restricted by a knee injury, and if Eoin Kelly was strangely subdued, there was a defiance about the rest of the team as Seamus Prendergast led the attack with real gusto.
“We gave it our best shot with some outstanding play,” said manager Justin McCarthy, who may well no stand down after four years at the helm.
“We were well up for it and we?re a very good team, but one little break can make a difference in a tight game. And no better team than Cork to take that chance when it presents itself.”
Although they took a while to settle, Waterford struck the first meaningful blow when Dan Shanahan netted opportunistically after Flynn’s 20 yard free had been batted away. With Prendergast, who scored 0-4 from play, giving Ronan Curran a torrid time, the gap opened to four before Cork responded to trail by just one at the interval.
Waterford stuck to the guns even though Gardiner and O hAilpin hit towering long-range points, and the contest was in the balance until Corcoran’s key intervention. Cork now just one game away from a third successive All Ireland final; Waterford looking into another winter of discontent.
Clare 1-20 Wexford 0-12
What is it about Wexford? So bright and incisive during an earlier defeat by a Kilkenny team of proven quality, and then so inexplicably flat last Sunday. In fact, why is it that since their glory year of 1996 Wexford have failed abjectly to put two acceptable championship performances together?
Their woeful inconsistency was yet again exposed at Croke Park this time by Clare who eased into an All Ireland hurling semi-final against Cork without too much stress.
Clare were ready to do battle against players who had run Kilkenny so close in the Leinster final, ready for a true championship contest, and instead they were given a safe passage into the last four.
Initially, it didn’t seem that Wexford were prepared to lie down when they elected to play into the breeze and only trailed by 0-7 to 0-5 after a quarter of an hour, but suddenly Clare found their range and when they led by 1-13 to 0-7 at the break, there was no realistic way back for Wexford.
Relying on a fast moving, passing game, with small, speedy forwards, Wexford were soon outmuscled by the winners.
“They make no secret of the game they play,” said Clare manager, Anthony Daly. “They probably don’t have the physique up front so they have to move the ball. We knew that and coped with it fairly well.”
The fact of the matter was that Clare coped expertly. Seanie McMahon delivered a defensive performance of such class and dominance that it looked as if he had turned the clock back to the 1990s.
Gerry Quinn was also mightily effective, and with the Lohans, Brian and Frank, mopping up, Wexford, who lost key defender Declan Ruth with a hamstring injury after 24 minutes, had the life squeezed out of them.
As the second half became more reminiscent of a challenge game, Diarmuid McMahon helped himself to four points from play, Niall Gilligan hit five including four frees, and there was three apiece Tony Griffin and Tony Carmody, while Alan Markham had a first-half goal.
“We had the same attitude as in the Kilkenny and Laois matches,” offered Wexford manager Seamus Murphy when asked about his team’s failure to compete.
“It’s something you can’t really put your finger on. I’m sure you have to give credit to Clare.”
Not all Wexford’s supporters will agree.
Meanwhile, Dublin hurlers were assured of a place in next year’s All Ireland championship when they defeated Laois by 3-13 to 1-10 at Dr. Cullen Park last weekend. With David Curtin hitting 1-8, and Kevin Flynn striking for two goals, Dublin’s win means that Laois now have to face Antrim to decide who missed out on the 2006 championship and plays instead in the Christy Ring Cup.
Like Dublin, Offaly kept their full championship status intact when they hammered Antrim by 5-17 to 0-18 at Croke Park last Saturday. The winners’ main scorers were Michael Cordial with 2-3 and Brian Carroll who compiled an impressive 1-8.