By Mark Jones
Eamonn Cregan wasn’t mincing his words. "Disgraceful display, I won’t say any more," was the Limerick manager’s summation of his county’s 1-14 to 0-7 National Hurling League loss to Offaly in Birr.
If he had added anything in public, a few players might be suing for defamation. Limerick were simply deplorable, shooting an embarrassing 15 wides in one of their worst performances for years.
It had all started well enough with four points in the opening minutes, but after that it was a hopelessly one-sided encounter as Offaly bounced back from their earlier defeats by Galway and Antrim.
The All-Ireland champions didn’t have to be firing on all cylinders such was Limerick’s pitiful contribution. However, their defense was solid with Martin Hanamy, Kevin Martin and Brian Whelahan in top form, while Michael Duignan was an influential figure when he was moved to midfield.
John Troy’s first-half goal set the winners on their way and Johnny Dooley whipped over eight points. Manager Michael Bond’s reaction was in stark contrast to his counterpart.
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"At least we’re back to the type of hurling we played last year," he said.
Galway 4-11, Dublin 0-12
Galway notched up a third Div. 1A win in as many games when they overpowered Dublin by 4-11 to 0-12 at Parnell Park. The home team were always struggling once Eugene Cloonan pounced for two goals in the opening minutes.
To Dublin’s credit, they used the wind well and with some accurate shooting by Tomas McGrane and Kevin Flynn, Galway’s lead was soon pegged back. In fact, it was 0-11 to 2-3 at the break, but Cloonan was in on the act again early in the second half with his third goal.
Mark Kerins soon booted home a fourth as Dublin could manage no more than a solitary point in the half. Kevin Broderick came increasingly into the game and already Galway look assured of a place in the knockout stages.
Clare 2-14, Antrim 3-9
Clare moved into second place with a fortunate 2-14 to 3-9 victory over Antrim in Ennis. If an unmarked Jim Connolly had scored a goal rather than fired over for a point in injury time, Antrim would have left with the spoils.
Clare led by five points at the break with Alan Markham bagging 1-2 and Anthony Daly and Fergie Tuohy shooting three points apiece, but when Seamus McMullan drove home a penalty midway through the second half, it was the signal for a storming Antrim finish.
Tipperary 1-16, Wexford 1-8
Tipperary’s good run of form in Div. 1B continued when they brushed aside the challenge of Wexford at Thurles by 1-16 to 1-8.
"Tipp are on fire at the moment," conceded Wexford’s manager, Rory Kinsella, as his side struggled after the interval.
In fact, the winners’ only blemish came during the first half when Paul Codd blasted a 20-meter free past a dozing defense, but with David Kennedy and Liam Cahill catching the eye, they dominated to lead by 0-9 to 1-2 at the changeover.
Declan Browne finished off the contest 10 minutes from the end with a goal orchestrated by Cahill.
"Our attitude is pretty good," said Tipp’s manager, Nicky English, "although Wexford wouldn’t be as concerned about winning as we would."
Kilkenny 1-16, Waterford 1-12
Kilkenny were clearly concerned about winning as they got the better of Waterford by 1-16 to 1-12 at Walsh Park. With a team virtually unrecognizable from last season’s All-Ireland final, the League has already proved a successful new beginning for the county.
Waterford were a point ahead going into the closing stages, thanks to three scores in succession by Michael White, Dave Bennett and Tony Browne, but it was Kilkenny who dug up greater reserves of determination.
They produced their best spell of the game as Henry Shefflin, Charlie Carter, Ken O’Shea, Stephen Grehan and Niall Maloney all pointed to kill off the game.
Laois 1-13, Cork 0-12
Laois blew the division wide open with a shock 1-13 to 0-12 victory over current champions Cork at Rathdowney. Laois produced a solid defensive performance in the first half and just when Cork looked to be gaining control of the game after the interval, the winners piled on the pressure with decisive scores by David Cuddy, Declan Conroy, Eamonn Fennelly and Niall Rigney.
Wicklow 1-18, Westmeath 1-9
In Div. 2, Wicklow maintained their unbeaten record with a convincing 1-18 to 1-9 victory over Westmeath at Arklow. The Midlands county had raced into an early lead. However, Wicklow soon settled and outscored their opponents by 11 points to 1 in the final quarter.
Roscommon 2-13, London 1-7
Roscommon stayed level with Wicklow at the top when they proved too strong for London at Ruislip, where it finished 2-13 to 1-7. Two goals by Shane Sweeney swung the game in Roscommon’s favor.
Derry 4-17, Monaghan 3-3
Derry got the better of Monaghan by 4-17 to 3-3 at Scotstown and most of the credit for the win went to Geoffrey McGonigle and Gary Biggs, who accounted for 4-11 of Derry’s total between them.
Meath stayed in touch following a 3-11 to 2-7 success over Tyrone at Trim, where Donal Fitzsimons scored 1-6, while Kildare were too good for a disappointing Carlow emerging 2-12 to 1-7 winners at Naas.
Also, Sligo continued to make the running at the top of Div. 3 when they registered a third straight victory with a 2-6 to 1-5 verdict over Fermanagh. Armagh easily beat Longford by 2-15 to 1-7 and Louth got the better of Leitrim by 3-7 to 0-10.
Offaly 2-4, Leitrim 1-2
There was one game in Div. 1A of the National Football League with Offaly defeating Leitrim by 2-4 to 1-2 in a dour contest at Carrick-on-Shannon.
Leitrim failed to score during the first half, while Offaly weren’t much better with just two points. However, they burst into life after the break with goals by Donie Ryan and Willie Reynolds.
Meanwhile, a free from 45 meters by Derek Duggan gave Roscommon a 1-10 apiece draw with Galway in the final of the Connacht League at Hyde Park.
St. Joseph’s Doora-Barefield (Clare) 2-14
Rathnure (Wexford) 0-8
St. Joseph’s claimed their first ever All-Ireland club hurling title when they overpowered Rathnure in a one-sided final at Croke Park on St. Patrick’s Day.
The Wexford men had to suffer the disappointment of a fifth defeat in a national decider as St. Joseph’s were dominant from start to finish. Captain Lorcan Hassett was in sparkling form with 1-5, while Andrew Whelan was on target with 1-2.
Clare county stars Jamesie O’Connor and Ollie Baker also made an impact as the Rathure attack failed to take its chances. Paul Codd struck for six points, but it was never enough as St. Joseph’s surged clear to emulate the feat of Sixmilebridge.
Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh) 0-9
Ballina (Mayo) 0-8
Ballina blew their chance of becoming the first Mayo club to win an All-Ireland football title when a succession of misses gifted victory to Crossmaglen at Croke Park. It proved to be a second triumph in three years for the Armagh champions who stuck at their task in front of a record 40,000 crowd.
Oisin McConville came through as the winners’ sharp-shooter with six points including three frees, while John McEntee and Gavin Cumiskey also performed with distinction.
Ballina’s midfield pair of Liam McHale and David Brady were in outstanding form, but the off-target forwards were unable to capitalize on a five-point advantage as Crossmaglen worked their way back into the game.