At the end of a Croke Park classic that positively crackled with intensity, it was appropriate that Canavan had the last say. Struggling for full fitness, and at 34 no longer a player who can withstand a full 70-minute confrontation with the likes of Armagh, he remains Tyrone’s talisman even from the subs’ bench. The free was by no means the most difficult he has attempted in a glittering career, but the context made it akin to tying the perfect trout fly in a flickering light.
No surprise then that the ball flew perfectly between the posts, and that the exhausted Tyrone players and their supporters were celebrating a few seconds later as if they had won the Sam Maguire itself. This was redemption for an agonizing defeat by the same opponents in the Ulster decider, with the prize of a final showdown with the champions Kerry on Sept. 25.
It had all the makings of another draw last Sunday when with almost two minutes additional time played, Stephen O’Neill’s gallop was hindered by Ciaran McKeever’s tug of the jersey. Referee Paddy Russell had made several highly contentious calls throughout that had inflamed both sides, but this time he got the decision exactly right.
“I think Peter was actually down on the ground when the free was given,” recalled midfielder Sean Cavanagh, “but I just went up to him and said ‘Please Peter, please take it.’ I knew he was the only man for the job, I begged him. He said, ‘No Muggsy’s [Mulligan] alright’ and I just grabbed him and said ‘Get up there Peter.’
“I told him it was the last kick of the game and there was no other player I’d have in Ireland kicking it than Peter Canavan. Yet again he got us to an All Ireland final. He really is a legend in Tyrone, but I don’t know what this is going to make him now.”
If manager Mickey Harte had been in Cavanagh’s boots instead of pacing the sideline, he would have been of like mind. “Well, if it’s a pressure kick, then Peter Canavan is the man to call for,” Harte reflected. “He’s been at it for so long, and I’ve seen him do the same thing so many times even at club level. When it comes to tense games like that, and you’re looking for the winning or the equalizing point, there is no better man. And I think it’s so fitting that Peter Canavan should score such a point for Tyrone.”
So that was the finale, the winning of a titanic struggle. Canavan’s composure and his technical excellence rolled into one clinical free. Armagh were devastated after leading by two points with five minutes left. Not because the game had been stolen, but more because they had battled well enough to earn a replay.
Manager Joe Kernan and captain Kieran McGeeney cursed too many wides, 11 in all and three in succession at the start of the second half, and at times, their distribution was uncharacteristically sloppy. However, for the most part, they were staunch in the face of some mobile, pacy Tyrone football, and they won most of the breaking ball around midfield where Paul McGrane and McGeeney were in control.
Playing for the third time in four weeks, Tyrone appeared to falter in the last quarter when Steven McDonnell connected with a long Paddy McKeever delivery, and escaped Conor Gormley’s clutches before expertly finding the net from an acute angle. The goal meant Armagh had the initiative, but Tyrone found strength from somewhere and the impressive Cavanagh, sub Shane Sweeney and of course Canavan hit three unanswered points in the final eight minutes.
Armagh were not best pleased when they felt Aidan O’Rourke had been fouled by Mulligan just before Stephen O’ Neill was brought down for Tyrone’s first-half penalty. In a superb reprise of his spot kick against Dublin, O’Neill once again found the target and the winners led at the break by 1-4 to 0-5.
That first half hadn’t been a thing of beauty with too much ball squandered, but the next 35 minutes provided the 66,000 spectators with a ride of Big Dipper proportions. Crucially, once Armagh gained the upper hand, McGeeney was substituted and it seemed from then on that Cavanagh and Tyrone had more space through the middle.
“The change was tactical because we wanted to add more pace to the half-back line,” explained Kernan. “That didn’t lose us the match.” However, as Cavanagh readily confessed, seeing the back of McGeeney gave Tyrone a boost. “It definitely gave us a lift, and personally, it gave me a lift. I got through the middle a couple of times and if Kieran was there maybe I mightn’t have been able to make those runs.”
Kernan also intimated that one or two players might be contemplating retirement. “A few older heads might not be here next year,” he said possibly inferring that McGeeney and McGrane could be calling it a day. “I’ll take a bit of a rest myself before deciding anything,” he added. “You have to look at yourself and say do you want to go through all that again.”
No such talk understandably from Canavan and Tyrone. Another big day awaits.
Tommy Murphy Cup
TIPPERARY 3-10 WEXFORD 0-15
Declan Browne became the first Tipperary footballer in 75 years to brandish a piece of national GAA silverware when Tipp defeated Wexford by 3-10 to 0-15 in last Sunday’s inaugural Tommy Murphy Cup final.
Forced to withdraw from last year’s qualifiers because of dispute with the county’s stronger hurling lobby, the future appeared to be grim for Tipperary football. However, they have now managed to make their mark.
Tipp had first-half goals from Aidan Fitzgerald and Damian O’Brien as they led by 2-6 to 0-4 at the changeover, however, Wexford came back into the reckoning with six points from Mattie Forde. Critically, the county’s leading marksman missed two goal chances, and appropriately, it was Browne who had the last word with a late goal to finish with a personal tally of 1-7.
CORK VS. GALWAY
Sunday’s All Ireland hurling final between Cork and Galway is in essence just another game. Yet, how can anyone say that a contest with the Liam McCarthy Cup at stake is just another game? Galway know that, and still they try to focus on this one match.
Their problem is that many hurlers on the ditch believe that Galway have already played their “game” this season. After that epic 5-18 to 4-18 victory over Kilkenny in the All Ireland semi-final, it will be hard for the Connacht county to get any better.
Everyone has been talking about their monumental performance against Kilkenny, and the expectation is that they might have to raise the bar to deprive favorites Cork. How can Galway improve? Truth is, they probably can’t.
Still, there is a new resolve in Conor Hayes’s side this year. Holding on to outlast Tipperary in the quarter-final by 2-20 to 2-18, and then keeping their composure in the frenetic exchanges with Kilkenny, they are worthy finalists. No team that beats the sort of opposition they have can be seen as fodder from the non-competitive province of Connacht.
“I suppose if someone told us on the morning of the game that we’d be hit for 4-18 by Kilkenny, we’d have thought it would be the same as last year,” said goalkeeper and captain Liam Donoghue. “But every game takes on its own pattern and once the scores started flowing, it looked as if neither side could miss.”
Even in the glow of that remarkable victory, take it as read that Hayes, Donoghue, Ollie Canning, Liam Hodgins and the rest of the panel have not forgotten that they conceded 4-18, and that a similar defensive performance could cost them dearly on Sunday.
At the other end of the field, they will be hoping for Niall Healy to strike the sort of form that saw him plunder three goals against Kilkenny, and equally, they will be hoping to disrupt Cork’s much vaunted half-back combination. “That’s where a lot of their power comes from,” suggests Donoghue.
Certainly, if the likes of John Gardiner and Sean Og O hAilpin are at their best, and if Cork’s running game poses Galway more problems than Kilkenny’s physical approach, then the cup will be feted on Leeside next week.
Cork have the experience, the pace and guile from Brian Corcoran and Joe Deane in attack. They have seen off the challenges of Tipperary in the Munster final, and Waterford and then Clare in the knockout stages. O hAilpin readily admits that Clare should have won that semi-final.
“We were lucky to have got out of it, but I wouldn’t say it was a lack of hunger. Basically, it’s the opposition we’re playing, they’re more keyed up. We did extremely well to get out of it. We feel we’re up there to be knocked, Galway are in the same position as we were last year. What we have to do on Sunday is match them for hunger.”
Cork should be good enough to make it two titles in a row.
Munster and Connacht both began their Celtic League campaigns with wins last weekend, however, Leinster fell at the first hurdle in Wales. Munster scraped through 9-7 against Scottish team the Border Reivers at Thomond Park where substitute out-half Jeremy Manning kicked the winning penalty, while Conor McPhillips spectacular try paved the way for Connacht’s 13-9 victory over Cardiff in Galway.
Leinster traveled to Swansea to take on the Ospreys and after edging into the lead in injury time against the run of play, they were stung by a late Matt Jones penalty which gave the Welsh team the points by 22-20.
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WORLD ROWING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Ireland’s lightweight four won a silver medal last weekend at the World Rowing Championships in Gifu, Japan. The crew of Timmy Harnedy, Eugene Coakley, Richard Archibald and Paul Griffin battled with winners France for much of the race, and then had to hold off a late challenge from Italy to secure the silver medal by just four-hundredths of a second.