By Mark JonesSligo 3-7, Galway 1-13
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Galway are still All-Ireland football champions, but they were within seconds of a humiliating exit in last Sunday’s Connacht semifinal at Markievicz Park when Padraig Joyce came to the rescue with a late free.
On the balance, Galway deserved a second chance this Sunday in Tuam. They forced Sligo to struggle for long periods. However, they were never able to make that authority count on the scoreboard, and when Brian Walsh fisted home a goal to give Sligo the lead with a minute of normal time remaining, disaster loomed.
While Galway argued that Walsh’s dramatic effort should have been disallowed because the player was already in the square when Paul Durcan’s high center came over, manager John O’Mahony was contemplating a nightmare scenario on the sideline until Joyce tapped over the equalizing score.
"I thought one or two of their goals were dubious," said O’Mahony, "but I don’t want to start making excuses, sometimes the decisions go against you. To be honest, we’re delighted that we’re still in the championship."
It all seemed to be going well for Galway early in the second half when Kevin Walsh put them in front by 1-7 to 0-3. Earlier, Derek Savage had eluded a slack Sligo defense for a goal, and if the there wasn’t quite the brio of last summer, the Galway forwards were moving with real purpose.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Joyce was particularly impressive, Paul Clancy also caught the eye, and both Kevin Walsh and Sean O Domhnaill had their moments in midfield. All the pointers were toward another Galway success when Sligo struck for the first of their three goals.
The normally reliable Martin McNamara spilled an easy dropping ball and Brian Walsh dived in to fist it into the net. It looked like Walsh had played the ball on the ground, but the score stood and suddenly Sligo could scent an upset. When Paul Durcan grabbed a second goal — the Galway defense again failed to deal with a high cross — the margin was a single point.
O’Mahony responded to the crisis by sending in Jarlath Fallon and the All-Star made an immediate impact as Clancy and Joyce both picked off points. But determined Sligo weren’t out of it. Inspired by Eamon O’Hara and Durcan, they began to force the pass and when Brian Walsh connected with Durcan’s cross for goal number three, the shock result of the season was at hand.
"I told our boys the game was still alive at halftime," said Sligo’s manager, Mickey Moran. "We proved we could stay with them, we hung in and got the goals. Only one player in the team is over 24 and I’m not saying we’re world beaters, but if everything goes well on the day, we can beat Galway in the replay."
Last year, a drawn game with Roscommon turned out to be the making of Galway as they stormed their way toward the title. This time, they will certainly have to tighten up in defense where McNamara and the full-back line of Tomas Meehan, Tomas Mannion and Gary Fahy were unbelievably hesitant.
As for Sligo, their opportunity for glory may have gone and come next Sunday evening, they could be regretting the fact that they didn’t finish the job first time around.
Dublin 1-11, Laois 0-14
If Galway just about deserved a draw, Dublin didn’t. Even though they battled back to overturn a four-point deficit in the dying minutes of a tension-packed Leinster football semifinal at Croke Park, their equalizing point should have been disallowed.
Television replays showed clearly that Ian Robertson had picked the ball off the ground before he fisted the score that gave a relieved Dublin a second bite on July 18. Seconds earlier, Robertson had fired home a goal which seemed to be too little too late.
The Dubs kept plugging away, but Laois must be wondering how they let such a golden chance slip. They gave their opponents a six-point start and then proceeded to take the game by the throat with a superb exhibition of flowing football.
Laois hadn’t beaten Dublin for 18 years. However, their supporters were preparing to celebrate one of the county’s most famous victories when Roberston spoiled the party. Apart from that opening salvo which saw Laois concede six quick points, they were in total command. To manager Tom Cribbin’s credit, he stanched the flow of scores by bringing on Mick Lawlor and David Sweeney for Chris Conway and Tom Kelly.
Dropped for the game, Lawlor responded with a magnificent performance that changed the course of the contest, while Sweeney kicked two second-half points. With Lawlor twisting and turning the Dublin defense, Laois only trailed by a point, 0-8 to 0-7, at the changeover.
Once they fell behind in the 42nd minute, Dublin sunk deeper and deeper into a hole of their own making. First they lost the experienced Paul Curran with a broken collarbone, then Paddy Christie had a penalty attempt tipped over the bar by Fergal Byron and they shot an unacceptable total of 10 wides.
"If I could explain what happened, I’d be winning All Irelands every year," said a bemused manager, Tom Carr. "Six points up and cruising, then nothing. Some fellas had the game won in their heads, I think. With a few minutes to go, I certainly thought we’d be planning summer holidays."
As Stephen Kelly, Hughie Emerson, Sweeney and the imperious Lawlor drove Laois into a four-point lead, their once pressuring defense responded and Eamonn Delaney, Pat Conway, Declan Rooney and Kevin Fitzpatrick restricted the Dublin attack to just one second-half point until Christie’s penalty 12 minutes from full time.
Dublin seemed to be falling apart, but Ciaran Whelan surged forward to set up Robertson for a well-taken goal and then a cleverly constructed move ended up with Robertson taking his controversial point. Still, Cribbin was pleased enough with the outcome.
"We’re still in with a chance," he said. "We let four points go at the end, but that’s football."
Tyrone 0-18, Fermanagh 0-8
As statements of intent go, this one couldn’t have been any clearer. Tyrone have an Ulster football title in their sights and Fermanagh couldn’t do much about it at Clones last Sunday. Their manager, Pat King, spoke afterward of a "difference in class and confidence," and there wasn’t any need to add much more.
After a win over Monaghan, Fermanagh came into this quarterfinal believing they could upset the odds, but following a good opening, they were simply unable to match Tyrone, who had Peter Canavan and Adrian Cush back to their best.
Cush baffled his marker, Kieran Gallaghan, during the first half, at the end of which Tyrone were 0-9 to 0-2 in front. With their forward line having to struggle with some poor ball, Fermanagh’s full-back trio of Tommy Callaghan, Paul Courtney and Paddy McGuinness, were the only ones to emerge with credit.
"After 10 minutes, we totally lost it in the middle of the field," said King ruefully. Fermanagh persisted in taking some wild shots from long range as Tyrone eased further ahead with debutante midfielder, Cormac McAnallen, making a good impression and Ger Cavlan could afford to see his penalty crash back off the woodwork.
The winners now face Down in the semifinal and after this performance, they are entitled to feel confident.
"The last two years haven’t been good," said Cush. "We’ve waited 13 months to get a championship game and the quicker the next match comes the better."
Monaghan were convincing winners of the women’s Div. 1 football league title with a 4-6 to 0-12 verdict over Waterford at Parnell Park, while Tyrone upset Dublin to take the Div. 2 title on a scoreline of 2-16 to 2-6. Cork were too good for Kildare, running out 3-13 to 1-5 victors in the Div. 3 decider.