By mark Jones
Derry 2-13, Armagh 0-12
The Ulster football championship is a cruel mistress and Derry have suffered as much as any other county in their efforts to retain the most elusive of provincial crowns. But this year the omens are looking good. Armagh were well in the hunt when a late scoring burst decided a hard-fought semifinal at Clones.
The margin of seven points did no justice to Armagh, who were attempting to reach a first decider since 1990. In fact, just before Derry’s surged clear, they appeared to be in trouble. The losers had hauled themselves back into contention and the scores were level. The game hung in the balance.
Better late than never, might have been Derry’s post-match analysis. Eamonn Burns kicked off the spree and then further scores followed by Joe Brolly (2) and Seamus Downey before Dermot Dougan pounced for his second goal just before the last whistle. A total of 1-4 in the blink of an eye and Derry had booked their place in the final against Donegal on July 19.
There was no great fluency or brilliance about this Derry performance. In essence, they toughed it out and when the opportunity for a kill presented itself, they took it.
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As for Armagh, this was an exercise in frustration. Their earlier defeat of Down had marked them as one of Ulster emerging teams, but in the end, the reason for failure was all too familiar. The chances were there, but they just hadn’t the ability to take them.
The three goal chances that fell to Oisin McConville in the first half were critical. Even one successful strike would have probably shifted things Armagh’s way. “We didn’t take those chances,” said manager Brian Canavan ruefully. “When we equalized with 10 minutes to go, I thought we would raise our game, but they finished the stronger.”
At the outset, it seemed as if Derry would run away with the game. They were ahead by 1-5 to 0-3 after Dougan found the net and some superb interpassing, but somehow that initiative was surrendered and Armagh picked off five points in quick succession.
Diarmuid Marsden and McConville were a constant threat at that stage, yet on the restart, the Derry defense, bolstered by Sean Martin Lockhart and Kieran McKeever, gained the upper hand. Even though Armagh battled bravely, they were never in front and they had no answer to Derry’s sparkling play in the closing stages.
At least, the bitterly disappointed Canavan had the last word. Where now for Armagh came the customary inquiry. “We’re going to Cootehill for a feed,” came the reply.
Meath 0-15, Louth 1-11
Sean Boylan was having none of it. Last week, Ireland’s bestselling tabloid, the Sunday World, delved into the private life of Dublin captain, Dessie Farrell. This week, Meath’s Jimmy McGuinness received the treatment from the News of the World. Jimmy had allegedly stolen somebody’s girlfriend and his manager was furious.
“Championship days are glamour days,” snapped Boylan, “but there’s something very malicious about what’s happening now. This is such an intrusion into a man’s life. These things should be private.”
That Irish and English imported Sunday tabloids are now seeing fit to target high-profile players on the mornings of big championship games is a sad development. “Hard to know what to say about dirt,” was McGuinness’s own verdict.
The warped attempts to package tittle-tattle as hard news meant that some of the luster was taken from what was an enthralling Leinster football semifinal. Fast, furious and sporting with Louth attempting to get the better of their neighbors for the first time in a championship game for 23. years.
For a long time, it seemed as if they were going to buck the trend. Louth made the running until Tommy Dowd inspired yet another perfectly timed Meath comeback. Trailing by five points early in the second half, several moments of Dowd magic rejuvenated his team.
Scoreless during the first half, the irrepressible Dowd finished with five points as Meath ground out the victory. However, in a contest that was decided by a single point, it was a score by Graham Geraghty that had most post-match tongues wagging. One of the umpires signaled the shot wide, but referee Brian White overruled the decision.
Louth’s manager, Paddy Clarke, was at his diplomatic best concerning the decision. “I was 100 yards away, but it certainly curled at the end,” he said. “You’d think that the umpire would have the best view of whether it went over or not. But that’s the break that either goes with you or against you.”
There was no doubt over Stefan White’s brilliant goal in the 20th minute, which gave Louth the impetus to lead by 1-5 to 0-4 at the interval. And although the losers refused to capitulate, Dowd found his scoring touch and Meath had another comeback up their sleeve.
Roscommon 2-12, Sligo 1-15
Those disgruntled Roscommon supporters who had drifted out of Hyde Park before the end of this remarkable Connacht football semifinal missed the finish of the season as the home team scored two late goals to scrape a dramatic draw.
Sligo had what looked like a cast-iron 7- point advantage going into the final quarter when suddenly the game was turned on its head. Even when Eddie Lohan and Ger Keane scored points, Roscommon’s were still the longest of long shots, but then the mayhem started.
First, midfielder Tom Ryan lobbed a ball into the square and Lohan hammered it into the net and within a minute, substitute Fergal O’Donnell drove in another long ball, which Lorcan Dowd fed through to Nigel Dineen, who sensationally put Roscommon a point in front.
There was still more to come and Sligo deservedly earned a replay when their captain, Brian Walsh, showed great composure in finding the range with an injury time 45.
Tipperary 1-16, Clare 0-12
Tipperary confounded the pundits to send Clare crashing out of the Munster football championship at the Gaelic Grounds. A superb performance against the wind in the second half and just one wide from a total of 20 shots meant that Tipp fully deserved to earn a final appearance against either Kerry or Cork on Aug. 2.
If the winners justified collective praise, Declan Browne’s contribution of 1-7 was yet further confirmation of the youngster’s exceptional talent. Tipp led by 0-8 to 0-7 at the changeover and Clare had no answer to their short passing game in the second half.
Browne hit an unstoppable penalty 10 minutes from time, which clinched the result for Tipp, who are now in their third final in the last five years.