By Mark Jones
Kilkenny 2-20, Offaly 1-14
There was no evidence that Offaly were about to destabilize the current balance in Leinster hurling at Semple Stadium last Sunday as Kilkenny coasted into yet another provincial final.
With the game moved to Thurles due to ongoing pitch developments at Croke Park, an outing at the GAA’s birthplace did little for Offaly’s morale despite a decent showing during the first half. In fact, they were a shade unlucky to be a point in arrears at the break. However, once Kilkenny got into their stride the gulf in class between the two teams was painfully evident.
With Henry Shefflin picking off seven points from play in an impressive total of 11, the second half was hardly a contest. The introduction of Charlie Carter and Brian McEvoy off the bench contributed to the scoring surge and soon Offaly’s cause was hopeless.
If the losers can take some solace from the performances of several of the younger guard, such as Stephen Brown, Brendan Murphy and Simon Whelahan, there was the worrying sight of dependables such as Brian Whelahan, Hubert Rigney and Kevin Martin struggling to contain the opposition.
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Brian Whelahan was given the run-around by Shefflin, but, strangely, he was only moved from center back with 10 minutes remaining. Meanwhile, Rigney was uneasy in his new role in the middle of the field and to compound Offaly’s frustrations, Martin was replaced after just 20 minutes.
“Losing to Kilkenny isn’t something to be ashamed of,” pondered Offaly manager Fr. Tom Fogarty. “They’re one of the best teams in the country. We have some very good young players coming along and no matter what people say, the future bodes well.”
If not everyone would agree with such optimism, there was no doubt that Kilkenny’s experience was significant and now Fogarty has a chance to justify his upbeat reaction when his side meets Meath in the All-Ireland qualifiers on Saturday.
First-half goals by Eddie Brennan and John Hoyne had Offaly on the back foot, but they responded well when Murphy struck for a goal following good work by Brown, and then Brown had an excellent chance to add a second only to pull up injured.
The 2-7 to 1-9 interval scoreline meant that Offaly were still in the hunt, but with Shefflin beginning to find the range and with Carter and McEvoy hitting six points between them, the game was soon out of their reach.
Wexford 3-15, Dublin 2-12
Wexford came through to meet Kilkenny in the Leinster final when they disposed of Dublin last Sunday far more easily than the scoreline at Thurles would suggest. Not surprisingly, armed with a 17-point lead, Wexford eased back to allow Dublin to plunder 2-5 in the closing minutes.
It was all too reminiscent of previous Dublin failures, and it is hard to see them deriving much consolation from such a fast, but ultimately futile, finish. “I suppose we did finish well,” said manger, Kevin Fennelly, “but sure the game was over by then. And whether it happened because we improved our game, or because Wexford eased up, is open to question.”
The only answer to Fennelly’s question was that the winners took their foot off the pedal once the hard work had been done. Two first-half goals by Larry O’Gorman, and a third from Barry Lambert, opened daylight between the teams, while Rory McCarthy, Mitch Jordan and Paul Codd each hit four points.
If they can be forgiven for dozing off in the final quarter, it was a convincing Wexford display. Darragh Ryan, Liam Dunne and Darren Stamp mopped up most of the predictable high balls that were fired in by Dublin, and there was an impressive performance by McCarthy at midfield. Equally, Lambert, O’Gorman and Jordan were too sharp for the Dublin defense.
Dublin’s resurgence produced goals by Shane Martin and Kevin Flynn, but as the heavens had opened in Thurles minutes before, most of the team’s supporters missed the scores, having already begun their journey home.
Antrim 3-16, Down 1-18
Antrim were too strong for Down as they clinched a first Ulster senior hurling title since 1999 at Casement Park last weekend. At one stage during the second half, the winners were 12 points clear and they were never troubled by Down’s late fightback to book a place in the All-Ireland quarterfinals.
With Liam Watson hitting an impressive total of nine points, Antrim’s goals came from Colm McCambridge, Colm McGuckian and Greg O’Kane. Down, who had eliminated holders Derry, had a late goal by Paddy Coulter, while Ger McGrattan and Paul Braniff each scored six points.
Armagh 0-16, Fermanagh 1-5
Fermanagh came into last Sunday’s Ulster football semifinal with high hopes, only to be outplayed and outmuscled by Armagh. The losers’ optimism had been based on a big win over Monaghan, as well as on the threat posed by Rory Gallagher, but neither record nor reputations bothered Armagh one bit.
Gallagher had scored an oustanding 3-9 in that earlier success, but at Clones he failed to score from play and his goal came from a harshly awarded penalty in the final minute. Clearly targeted for some tight marking by the Armagh defense, Gallagher’s failure to make an impact was a microcosm of Fermanagh’s day.
Credit some excellent work by Enda McNulty, and later Francie Bellew, who followed Gallagher out the field. However, the supply from his Fermanagh teammates was not up to scratch.
Armagh, meanwhile, were able to pick off scores after a sluggish start with Diarmuid Marsden and Oisin McConville back to their sharpest.
Four points in quick succession at the beginning of the second half put paid to Fermanagh’s chances as Kieran McGeeney brilliantly orchestrated Armagh’s strong surge. Although Paddy McGuinness and Michael Lilly did their best at the back for Fermanagh, they still found it hard to contain Marsden, McConville and Steven McDonnell.
Fermanagh’s bleak day was made worse when defender Sean Burns was sent off for a foul on Enda McNulty, but by then Armagh were already as good as through to the final, where they’ll meet either Derry or Donegal.
On current form, Armagh have every chance of mixing it with one of the big guns in September.
Sligo 2-13, Leitrim 2-4
It was often slow, and painful to watch, but Sligo are back in the Connacht football final for the first time in five years following last Sunday’s win over Leitrim. After a drab opening half, in which they kicked an embarrassing 13 wides, Sligo eventually got going to see off the opposition challenge.
It took the winners 20 minutes to register a point, by which time Leitrim had 1-2 on the board, thanks largely to a Seamus Quinn goal. Dessie Sloyan responded in kind to leave it level at the break, and with Leitrim turning with the benefit of the breeze, a shock appeared to be on the cards.
But they imploded quickly, conceding a goal to Gerry McGowan and couple of points to substitute Dara McGarty, before their captain Adrian Charles was sent off for kicking out at an opponent. It was, as manager Declan Rowley so aptly put it, “10 minutes of madness.”
Before Leitrim could gather their wits, Mark Brehony, McGarty, Brian Walsh and Eamonn O’Hara took advantage with a series of points as Sligo pulled clear. The losers salvaged something with a late penalty by Fintan O’Brien, but by that stage Sligo were already thinking about the final and their meeting with All-Ireland champions Galway.
Clare 1-13, Tipperary 3-7
Not even the scoring talents of Declan Browne could prevent a replay as Clare and Tipperary will have to meet again following this Munster football semifinal at Killarney. Browne, by some way the most accomplished player on the pitch, compiled a brilliant 2-4, but he missed a penalty which in the end cost his team dearly.
In fact, Clare finished the stronger of the two after struggling in the earlier stages, and when Paul Hehir gave them the lead for the first time close to full time, it seemed as if they were through to a meeting with either Cork or Kerry. However, Browne was on hand to make up for his penalty mistake with a fine equalizing point into the breeze with two minutes remaining.
Both Browne’s goals were superbly taken — one with the most subtle of shots, and the other courtesy of a piledriver into the roof of the net — while Peter Lambert struck for Tipp’s third. Denis O’Driscoll sparked off Clare’s second-half revival with a well-taken goal of his own, and there were also important contributions from Colm Mullen and Hehir.
The replay is scheduled for this Saturday at the Gaelic Grounds.
Longford 1-16, Down 0-14
Down’s exit at the hands and feet of Longford was the only surprise result following the first round of the All-Ireland football qualifiers last weekend. The All Ireland champions of 1991 and ’94 were beaten at Pearse Park, an outcome that precipitated the resignation of manager Peter McGrath.
In his 13th season in charge, McGrath had been the second-longest-serving intercounty manager after Meath’s Sean Boylan, and with him veteran Mickey Linden may also depart the top level after being substituted during the game.
Tyrone survived a spirited performance by Wexford to come through by 1-9 to 0-10 at Wexford Park, while Westmeath’s close 0-14 to 1-10 win over Antrim at Casement Park was enough for Antrim manager, Brian White, to stand down.
Louth were too strong for Monaghan winning by 2-11 to 1-8 at Clones, Roscommon were comfortable 3-19 to 3-11 victors over Waterford at Dungarvan, and Laois got the better of Carlow by 0-18 to 0-11 at Dr. Cullen Park.
Wicklow had little trouble disposing of London by 2-22 to 2-6 at Aughrim, while at the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick and Cavan played out a 1-15 to 2-12 draw after extra time.