By Mark Jones
The championship it certainly ain’t. Last Sunday’s National Football League quarterfinals threw up some potentially gripping contests, but in the end, none of the games will live long in the memory.
Cork will take on Meath and Dublin meet Armagh in the last four on April 25. However, only Armagh had what could be described as a tough passage against battling Sligo. As for the respective challenges of Derry, Kerry and Kildare, they hardly ever materialized.
Meath 0-14, Kerry 0-10
This was surely one of Kerry’s worst ever performances in the knockout stages of any competition. Meath swept them ruthlessly aside during the first half at the Gaelic Grounds and then battened down the hatches after the interval. It was all far too easy.
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Meath were five points ahead in just 10 minutes and as their attack continued to blossom, the lead mushroomed to a massive 0-13 to 0-3 at the changeover. Ray Magee and Ollie Murphy caused havoc in the Kerry defense and John McDermott’s return at midfield made a major difference.
Although Seamus Moynihan inspired a Kerry comeback of sorts in the second half, the Meath rearguard was able to stem the flow of scores. Winning manager Sean Boylan might have had a few anxious moments toward the end, but his players fully deserved their success.
"It was very pleasing to see our forwards perform like that against Kerry," Boylan said. "I wish I could say some of the moves were planned, but the ball just ran for us," he added modestly.
Kerry’s Paidi O Se was understated when he called his side’s contribution "disappointing." In fact, despite their faster tempo in the second period, the Kingdom were woeful and not even the skills of Maurice Fitzgerald could save the day.
Dublin 1-17, Kildare 2-8
Whereas more than 60,000 spectators have thronged Croke Park in the past for clashes between these two great Leinster rivals, little more than 20,000 turned up last Sunday and those who stayed away made the best call.
Dublin were honest and workmanlike, but they didn’t have to be anything else as Kildare flopped badly. The gulf between the two sides was greater than the scoreboard suggested as the winners had eased down by the time Niall Buckley and Dermot Earley hit two late goals.
Indecision in the Dublin defense didn’t prove as costly as it should have as they totally dominated the first half with Declan Darcy in impressive form.
It was 1-10 to 0-4 and still Kildare didn’t appear to realize they were in a match. Clearly, the provincial champions have their eyes on the bigger prizes of summer.
Dessie Farrell fisted an early goal and Darcy went on to score seven points. However, Kildare had pitched the obviously rusty pairing of Glen Ryan and Anthony Rainbow into the defense and Dublin were able to take advantage.
"I’ve never been a believer in League runs," was Mick O’Dwyer’s impish analysis. "We didn’t come up here to lose by any means, but we had a lot of injuries and you can see there’s no sharpness in the team yet." We certainly could.
Cork 3-14, Derry 1-6
Maybe they should have called them mismatches rather than quarterfinals. Derry were really only making up the numbers at Croke Park as they were destroyed by three first-half Cork goals.
Mark O’Sullivan got the first, the excellent Joe Kavanagh added a second and then O’Sullivan accelerated through the defense for another to bump up Cork’s halftime lead to 3-8 to 0-5.
Derry might have another four first-choice players to come into the team and even if it’s too early to pass final judgment, they were still appallingly limited. The six starting forwards managed one point between them and Joe Brolly was superbly policed by Anthony Lynch.
"The team is building nicely," suggested Cork’s manager, Larry Tompkins. "We moved the ball at pace and it was very encouraging." True enough, Kavanagh and O’Sullivan were razor sharp, but next time they won’t be given the freedom of Croke Park.
Armagh 0-6, Sligo 0-5
It wasn’t lack of effort or commitment that undermined this clash at Pearse Park, more the atrocious conditions. Wind and driving rain meant that both teams made countless errors as Armagh held out to book their place in the semifinal against Dublin.
The winners held a 0-6 to 0-1 lead at the interval and even though they failed to score against the wind during the second half, Gerard Reid, Kieran McGeeney and Jarlath Burns were vigilant enough at the back to frustrate Sligo.
The Connacht county were forced to start without their main marksman, Paul Taylor, who was troubled by a leg injury, and although Taylor came on as a second-half substitute, he was clearly not as his best and missed three chances.
If Taylor’s absence was a major factor, Sligo’s decision not to play four of their Under 21 squad who have qualified for the Connacht final also cost them.
Kilkenny 3-12, Wexford 3-8
Kilkenny moved to the top of Div. 1B of the National Hurling League with a thrilling 3-12 to 3-8 victory over Wexford at Nowlan Park. This was Kilkenny’s fifth straight victory and probably their best-attacking performance to date.
Henry Shefflin, D.J. Carey and Charlie Carter scored the goals with Carey hitting the target after a stunning 50-meter run, but Wexford also played their part in the fast, fluent entertainment.
Gary Laffan and Martin Storey plundered a goal apiece in the space of two minutes and Chris McGrath added a third just after the break.
Tipperary 2-16, Kilkenny 1-9
Tipperary stayed in the hunt two points behind Kilkenny with a game in hand when they registered a comfortable 2-16 to 1-9 triumph over Laois at O’Moore Park. Brian O’Meara and Paul Shelley each scored goals with Tomas Dunne adding seven points.
Cork 5-19, Down 0-7
As expected, Cork were able to improve their scoring average when they hammered Down by 5-19 to 0-7 at Pairc Ui Rinn. It turned out to be glorified shooting practice as Cork toyed with the opposition.
Galway 1-13, Antrim 0-9
In Div. 1A, Galway maintained their 100 percent record with a stress-free 1-13 to 0-9 win over Antrim at Loughgiel. Already assured of a semifinal place, the Connacht champions eased their way to the final whistle with Eugene Cloonan hitting seven points.
Limerick 2-15, Kerry 0-12
At one stage Kerry were within a few points of upsetting Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds, but Mike Houlihan got the home team back on track as they eventually ran out unconvincing winners by 2-15 to 0-12. Kerry only trailed by four with 10 minutes left when Houlihan struck for two vital points and then Damien Quigley settled the issue with a goal.
Offaly 1-11, Dublin 0-9
Dublin were unable to build on their recent success against Limerick when they lost to Offaly by 1-11 to 0-9 in Birr. An early Brian Whelahan got Offaly on their way and despite a Dublin fightback during the second half, Johnny Pilkington scored four points from play in the final 20 minutes.
It remains tight at the top of Div. 2 with Roscommon, Wicklow and Derry all on 10 points with Roscommon leading the way by virtue of their scoring average. The Connacht county were much too strong for Monaghan, running out winners by 1-18 to 1-2, while Wicklow beat Kildare by 2-17 to 1-10.
Derry got the better of London with Geoffrey McGonigle scoring an impressive 2-9 in a 2-14 to 3-3 win. Westmeath beat Meath by 4-10 to 1-9 and Carlow defeated Armagh by 3-13 to 2-5.
Mayo, Louth and Sligo continue to make the pace in Div. 3, although Louth lost to Armagh by 3-8 to 0-8. Mayo defeated Leitrim by 1-9 to 0-6 and Fermanagh were 2-7 to 1-6 winners over Cavan.