By Mark Jones
The semifinal pairings for the National Hurling League were settled following last weekend’s last series of divisional games. Tipperary will meet Clare in a mouth-watering rehearsal of the their Munster championship clash, while Galway will take on Kilkenny. Both games are likely to be staged at Thurles next Sunday.
Tipp saw off the challenge of Waterford by 1-14 to 0-14 in their final outing in Div. 1B at Thurles to book a place in the last four. Manager Nicky English was delighted that his new-look team had qualified, but the ramifications of facing archrivals Clare in advance of the championship had not yet sunk in.
"It’s hard to assess the psychology of it, to be honest," English said. "I mean, is it better for us to win that game or lose? I just don’t know. Clare are the best team in the country and we can learn a lot from playing them."
Last year, Clare were hammered by Cork at the same stage of the League, and although Clare vigorously denied they hadn’t been trying too hard, they later exacted sweet revenge over Cork in the more high-profile championship.
"I’m not sure our lads will find out much about the harsh realities of hurling in a League semifinal," English said. "But in six weeks’ time they’re going to get a serious test. It’s only in that kind of heat we’ll find out what they’re really made of."
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Tipp got off to an excellent start, with a Declan Browne goal that ultimately separated the teams. But Waterford rallied as Tony Browne, Brian Greene and Paul Flynn made an impact and there was only a point in it at the interval.
Still, Waterford were guilty of too many wides, while Liam Cahill took his chances at the other end, finishing with four sharp points from play. The losers could have snatched something from the day near the end, but Flynn’s shot cannoned back off the crossbar.
"The points weren’t vital to us today, but the performance was," manager Gerald McCarthy said. "I can certainly feel things coming together."
Waterford meet Limerick in the championship on May 30.
Cork 1-18, Wexford 1-14
With Kilkenny already through to the semifinals, Cork needed Tipp to lose to having any chance of progressing. They put up a good display in beating Wexford by 1-18 to 1-14 at Gorey, but manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy knew the score in every sense.
"I think we were grasping at straws and I felt we had very little chance of going through." he said. "We still won the game and played well."
Wexford were not so upbeat, showing a distinct lack of sharpness in too many areas of the pitch.
With Liam Dunne, Gary Laffan and Rod Guiney turning out for the first time since 1997 and both Martin Storey and Tom Dempsey struggling for form, Wexford depended most on the accuracy of free-taker Paul Codd who hit eight points, while Dempsey managed to grab an early goal.
Cork played with more verve and authority and Joe Deane was in excellent shooting form to finish with 0-11. The winners’ goal fell to Ben O’Connor after a great run by wing-back Mark Landers.
Down slumped to their sixth defeat in as many outings when Laois came away with the points at Fontenoy Park, where it finished 0-17 to 1-9 in the Midlanders’ favor.
Galway had already booked their place in the last four from Div. 1A, but they used the game against Limerick at Athenry as some valuable fine tuning before the knockout stages. The winners took the spoils by 2-14 to 1-12 and with Limerick assured of a midtable position, there was an understandable lack of edge to the proceedings.
However, Galway appear to be in good shape in advance of their eagerly awaited tilt at Kilkenny. Alan Kerins and Kevin Broderick both shot goals as Liam Burke made his return in midfield following a long-term injury.
With Clare also through, it was Dublin who got more out of a 1-13 apiece draw at Parnell Park. The result ensured that Dublin will avoid relegation even though they have one remaining game against Kerry.
Ger Loughnane fielded a largely experimental side with only three players from the team that beat Offaly a few weeks back. P.J. O’Connell’s recall for the first time since last year was an interesting pointer and it was O’Connell who earned the draw with a goal just before the final whistle.
Kerry were consigned to a relegation playoff with Down when they were trounced by Offaly at Tralee, where it finished 0-20 to 1-7 in the All-Ireland champions’ favor.
Wicklow kept up their push for promotion from Div. 2 with a convincing 2-18 to 0-5 triumph over Monaghan, while Derry stayed joint-top of the table after thrashing Carlow by 2-18 to 1-11.
Roscommon lost ground when they could only manage a 1-9 to 1-9 draw with Meath and London moved out of relegation trouble with a valuable 1-7 to 0-9 victory over Kildare at Naas. Westmeath hammered Tryone by 4-14 to 1-10.
Mayo edged out Fermanagh by 4-10 to 4-9 to go top of Div. 3 along with Louth, who got the better of Sligo by 2-16 to 2-9. Longford bagged their first points of the campaign with a 3-5 to 0-3 win against Cavan.
Ulster lost their Railway Cup football title when Munster captured last Sunday’s semifinal replay at Omagh by 2-19 to 3-13. Once again, extra time was needed to settle the issue and Munster outscored the holders by 6 points to 1 in the second period to book a final place against Connacht.
Good Counsel, from New Ross in Wexford, won the All Ireland Colleges football championship for the first time in its history with a convincing 1-11 to 1-7 win over St. Jarlath’s, Tuam in the final at Croke Park.
The hurling title went to the famous nursery of St. Flannan’s in Ennis, who finished strongly to defeat St. Kieran’s, Kilkenny, by 2-15 to 2-10. Flannan’s now equal the Kilkenny school’s record of 13 championships.