By Mark Jones
Galway 3-24, Leitrim 3-5
Routine enough for Galway in the first round of the Connaught football championship at Hyde Park, except that this was like Hamlet without the prince. Because while his colleagues were romping to a thoroughly convincing victory over Leitrim, Michael Donnellan was back in his home village of Dunmore tucking into Sunday dinner.
One player, so what? Well, when this player just happens to the best footballer in Ireland, and when he has refused to line out for his county, which is beginning its All Ireland odyssey, then surely something is rotten in Galway.
Known for the occasional fit of pique, Donnellan excelled himself on this occasion informing manager John O’Mahony by means of a curt phone call that he wouldn’t be available. Reason? His older brother John hadn’t been selected by O’Mahony, and if John wasn’t in the team, then he wouldn’t be playing either.
For the record, John Donellan had performed reasonably well during the league campaign, but he has never been a regular for Galway, and neither is he regarded as someone who is sure of a starting place. But, clearly, brother Michael believes otherwise.
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Amid rumors that the legendary Sean Purcell was to be brought in as a mediator, the Donnellans stayed away from the training sessions in the build-up to the Leitrim game and as one Galway player indicated, the atmosphere in the camp was not what anyone would want right at the start of the championship. "I would’ve really fancied our chances of winning an All-Ireland before all of this," he said. "Now there’s a danger this will engulf the whole team. And what if Michael tells John O’Mahony that he wants to play midfield, and not wing forward?"
What indeed? Peace will more than likely break out, as O’Mahony indicated with his conciliatory remarks last Sunday, but at what cost? One of the best coaches in Ireland being faced down by arguably the best player — not good for morale.
"I’m in constant touch with my players and I’ve already been in contact with the Donnellans," O’Mahony said after the game. "Everything the management, the players and the county board do is for the benefit of Galway football. Of course they were missed, there was no question about that. I’d love to have everybody available to me, and that includes the Donnellans."
Back at the business end, an understrength Leitrim were never in the hunt despite scoring three goals. Padraic Joyce equaled that total himself and the rest of the scores were shared out as points were driven over from every angle. And as if they didn’t have enough ammunition, Galway were able to bring on substitutes of the caliber of Derek Savage, Tommy Joyce and Kevin Walsh.
"Galway were on a mission and it was one of those games where you were hoping that the final whistle would sound because they were coming at us from every angle," admitted Leitrim manager, Joe Reynolds. For the record, Shane Canning struck for two of the losers’ goals, while Adrian Charles scored a third. Leitrim will now go into the qualifying series, as Galway attend to matters off the pitch before their semifinal date with Roscommon on June 3.
Tyrone 1-14, Armagh 1-9
Armagh had done what many believed impossible by winning back-to-back Ulster football titles. However, their hat-trick attempt came undone at the first hurdle when they were comprehensively beaten by Tyrone at Clones last Sunday.
All the Armagh experience and physical power counted for little in the end as Tyrone finished the game in a blaze of glory with five points in quick succession. The winners had the guile and nerve of Peter and Paschal Canavan, Brian Dooher and Chris Lawn, but this time there was some young blood to make a crucial difference. The efforts of Declan McCrossan, Stephen O’Neill and Cormac McAnallen gave Tyrone a freshness and an appetite that was beyond Armagh.
If that finish was spectacular, the start was nearly as good when Eoin Mulligan outwitted the Armagh defense to poke home a goal after only 10 seconds. If the 30,000-strong crowd were then expecting a scoring feast, they were disappointed as both attacks failed to take their chances, with Tyrone being particularly guilty of some poor shooting.
In fact, for a period during the second half when the winners were unable to translate their undoubted superiority into points, Armagh looked as if they might just escape. Steven McDonnell has leveled matters early in the second half with a fisted goal after Barry O’Hagan and Diarmuid Marsden had been involved in the build-up and the gap was never more than a point until those closing minutes when Tyrone ran amok.
"There’s a way to go yet," Tyrone manager Art McRory muttered after the game. But goalkeeper Finbarr McConnell reflected the mood of the elated players. "It was a huge win for us," he said. "There was a massive urgency out there, but we have to remember it’s only a start and we won’t be getting carried away."
Despite being in the contest for the most part, Armagh showed precious few glimpses of the attacking football that had seen them through the past two seasons. Oisin McConville and Marsden were rarely able to make any impact, while O’Neill and McCrossan kept up the pressure for Tyrone.
"There was a big difference between the teams," said Armagh co-manager Brian Canavan. "Tyrone were much hungrier than us and that become more evident as the game went on. It’s a major disappointment and we’ll have to sit down and plot where we go from here."
O’Neill finished with 0-5, including two from frees, while Peter Canavan and Dooher each had two points and Tyrone now go on to meet the winners of the Derry-Antrim clash. Armagh will get their chance in the qualifying series.
"It’ll be difficult to pick the players up now, but we’ll give it a good shot all the same," Canavan said.
Fermanagh 1-9, Donegal 0-11
Robbery? More like stupidity. Donegal had this Ulster first round replay at Enniskillen as good as won. They were the better team, two points clear going into injury time, but then the unthinkable happened. A long, hopeful pass, a mistake by defender Paddy Campbell and suddenly Fermanagh substitute Mark O’Donnell had the ball in the net. Game over.
Fermanagh diehards will no doubt insist that they were on a par with their more vaunted rivals over the two matches, but this was a classic steal.
"No fluke," declared manager John Maughan afterward.
He was right, but then theft can be planned.
Of course, Donegal should’ve have emerged victorious. Full-back Eamon Doherty got to grips with dangerman Stephen Maguire and the rest of the defense was outstanding, while Brian Roper, John Gildea and Michael Hegarty all performed impressively. But they left themselves open to just the sort of late sucker punch that O’Donnell delivered.
"We’ll take this on the chin," said manager Mickey Moran. "We’ve decided we’re going to train hard and see what we can do. And I’ll tell you what, we’ll go further than Fermanagh."
The Enniskillen supporters mightn’t agree, as now their team has a great opportunity to make the Ulster final with Tyrone and Derry in the other half of the draw.
Donegal were 0-7 to 0-5 in front at the changeover, with Fermanagh staying in the hunt through the free-taking ability of Rory Gallagher, who finished with seven points. The trend continued throughout the second half and a Donegal success looked more likely with each passing minute, but when their defense made that one error, it proved fatal. Fermanagh go on to play Monaghan at home in the next round, while Donegal have to make do with the qualifying series.
Carlow 0-9, Wicklow 0-8
Not quite the finish that was savored up in Enniskillen, but this Leinster football championship replay at Newbride went down to the wire all the same. Both teams had slugged it out in a game that was high on sweat but low on skill when Carlow’s Joe Byrne scored the winning point deep into injury time.
With the possibility of extra-time looming after Tommy Gill had put Wicklow level with his sixth point, a move started by substitute Eddie McGarry ended with Byrne charging down the sideline to eventually fist over his crucial score. However, Wicklow were incensed by the sending off of their captain, Ronan Coffey, who lunged harmlessly at a loose ball as an opponent went to pick it up.
"It was a flipping scandal," said manager Moses Coffey, Ronan’s father. "It’s the first time he’s ever been sent off and he’s in bits."
Coffey also claimed that referee Paddy Russell had sent off his son because he had just sent off Carlow’s Brian Kelly for a second yellow card.
Willie Quinlan and Johnny Nevin were highly influential for the winners, who advance to play Kildare on June 3. A watching Mick O’Dwyer won’t have been too worried by what he saw at Newbridge.
"No, it wasn’t a great game," admitted Carlow manager Pat Roe, "but when you get a replay as tense as that, there are going to be mistakes."
Laois 1-15, Dublin 2-11
More agony for the hurlers of Dublin. They had this Leinster championship first-round game at Nowlan Park in the bag. Six points clear with 20 minutes left, they were caught at the death by a Paul Cuddy goal. Well into injury time, Cuddy drove a shot toward the Dublin goal more in hope than design, and the ball wound up in the net. This one was something of a fluke, but the scoreline has already been engraved in the history books.
Cuddy’s brother David had earlier done most of the damage with his flawless freetaking as Laois cut into the Dublin lead. Eventually, he finished with 10 points, but it was Paul who will be remembered for that late goal.
"Devastating," said losing manager, Kevin Fennelly, "the worst possible way to go out of the championship."