By Mark Jones
Derry 1-8, Meath 0-9
Derry might have claimed a fourth National Football League title in nine seasons after last weekend’s fiercely contested final replay at Clones, but nobody from the Ulster county was getting carried away. Though the victory makes his team one of the strong favorites for the All Ireland title, manager Eamonn Coleman was keep a sense of perspective.
"How many teams have won a League and then got beaten in the first round of the championship?" was Coleman’s reaction. "If we lose to Down or Antrim in Ulster, then nobody will remember this success. This is good, but we’ve really been training for Ulster."
Playing a third competitive game in 13 days, Derry have already clocked up some on-pitch miles they wouldn’t have been expecting, but there was no sign of fatigue during the second half as they soaked up a strong burst of Meath pressure.
Meath, for their part, were forced to line out without Hank Traynor and Paddy Reynolds, while Graham Geraghty’s absence due to suspension meant that Ollie Murphy was overburdened with responsibility in attack. Equally, All-Star defender Mark O’Reilly suffered serious bruising to his arm and could well miss the opening championship game against Offaly.
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"Well, it’s called life, you know what I mean?" philosophized manager Sean Boylan. "You never like to lose your players and always want to have your best out there, but no doubt about it, Derry were the better side, they deserved to win."
While the reigning All-Ireland champions’ problems continue to fester, it was Derry that emerged with a positive gloss for the rest of the summer. Once again, midfielder Anthony Tohill was in outstanding form, and while his display went some way to redeeming a disappointing game, there were also impressive defensive contributions from Kieran McKeever, Sean Martin Lockhart and Henry Downey.
The move that led to Tohill’s goal, in the 12th minute, seemed to have set the scene for better things to come. Enda Muldoon beat Darren Fay to a ball, flicked a pass to Paddy Bradley, who then sent a superb cross-field delivery to Tohill, who was charging down the middle of the pitch. The midfielder burst past a challenge to fire low past Cormac Sullivan into the corner of the net.
That left the scores at 1-4 to 0-3, but from then on defenses were on top, and the second half featured a host of wides from both teams. Meath couldn’t even muster up the energy for one of their famous late comebacks.
Coleman was still playing down his own side’s success. "Meath are still favorites for the All Ireland," he said. "Sean [Boylan] will sit down and look at it and he’ll come up with something."
Trevor Giles did his best to keep Meath in the hunt with six points, including five frees, but Derry’s scoring was more evenly spread over six players, with Tohill’s 1-3 by some way the pick of the winners’ contributions.
Cork 3-13, Limerick 2-8
The first round of the Munster football championship should have been all about Cork’s stately progress, but instead, they came perilously close to an ignominious exit at Kilmallock last Saturday. Second-half substitutes Podsie O’Mahony and Kieran Daly rescued last season’s All-Ireland runners-up with two late goals. Not surprisingly, manager Larry Tompkins was far from pleased.
"We made five substitutions and, had had the rules allowed, I would’ve made another five," Tompkins said, fuming. "We didn’t function until early in the second half and we had been lucky to be level at the break. There is a lot of hard work to be done before we play Kerry."
That eagerly anticipated semifinal between the two keenest of Munster rivals on June 18 looks like it might come too early for Cork, who looked lethargic and uninspired in most areas of the pitch. Full forward Steven O’Brien, making his comeback after being left out last year, described it as a "wake-up" game. "It was very fast out there and we can benefit from it in the long term," he said.
Even without the injured Brian Begley, Limerick’s direct approach had the Cork full-back line of Michael O’Donovan, Donagh Wiseman and Sean Og O hAilpin in all sorts of trouble. The winners appeared to be comfortable enough midway through the first half when they were rocked by two Colm Hickey goals in the space of six minutes.
Hickey’s dramatic double act meant that it was level, 2-3 to 0-9, at the break, and even though Cork surged five points clear soon after the restart, it was fully 20 minutes before Tompkins’s charges got on the board again. Limerick had kicked four points in the interim to cut the gap to just one before O’Mahony and Daly both goaled in quick succession to make the game safe.
Wicklow 0-13, Wexford 1-10
Wexford scraped out a draw in the final game of the Leinster football round-robin series at Aughrim to book a quarterfinal meeting with Dublin at on June 11. Wicklow needed to win to keep their chances alive, but despite hauling back a six-point deficit in the closing minutes, they couldn’t manage the one extra score which would have given their supporters a dramatic victory.
Wexford played with real verve during the first half, with John Hegarty breaking through for a goal and Scott Doran and Leigh O’Brien picking off points to leave the winners 1-7 to 0-4 in front at the changeover. But thanks largely to the inspirational play of veteran Kevin O’Brien, Wicklow stormed back into contention only to be foiled by the final whistle.
Longford 0-18, Carlow 2-8
Longford did all that was required of them at Dr. Cullen Park, but Wexford’s draw was enough to deprive them of the coveted place in the Leinster championship proper. Padraig Davis contributed a magnificent 0-9 to the total. However, Longford were left to rue an earlier defeat by Wexford in the first game of the round-robin series.