Not even the novel environs of Croke Park on a blisteringly hot Sunday could raise the game about its grim, grinding level, but like rubber-neckers, the 60,000 spectators who had made the pilgrimage never found the contest less than compelling.
Approaching the end, Tyrone had it won. Four points clear, by far the better and more progressive of the teams, no doubt about it. This was a satisfying reprise of their 2003 All Ireland victory over the same opposition. Some of their supporters had left their seats in the stands and were preparing to make the forbidden dash onto the pitch to celebrate.
Two minutes to go, it really did look over. Armagh, for all their resilience and their refusal to say die, had gone through a torrid time in front of goal. The normally brilliant Steven McDonnell, and the normally clinical Oisin McConville, had been about as effective as crack marksmen with blindfolds.
True, McConville had poached a goal 10 minutes into the second half, and even if that had served as a warning to the Tyrone defense in which veteran Chris Lawn had been outstanding, a repeat didn’t seem that likely.
Then McConville launched a high ball in towards the square more in hope than “anything else, and in an instant McDonnell had evaded the attentions of his marker Shane Sweeney to thump the ball home.
Tyrone were still digesting what had hit them when Armagh won the kick-out and Paul McGrane lofted over the equalizing point from long range. It might not have been robbery, but it was still some form of theft that has yet to be defined.
Tyrone will no doubt bemoan the fact that the otherwise excellent Pat McEnaney failed to award them a free in the dying seconds, however, Armagh might well have scored a goal when John Devine was clearly behind the line and in his own net when he caught Aaron Kernan’s mis-hit free. Given Tyrone’s supremacy, it really should never have been that close.
“We came from a very tough situation,” said Armagh manager Joe Kernan, “and I’m not saying a draw was a fair result, but it’s a happy one for us. We’re still in the championship and that’s the most important thing. We’ll certainly be looking forward to the next one because we know we didn’t play to our strengths, and fair play to Tyrone for that, but games are about finishing teams off.
As for Kernan’s counterpart, Mickey Harte, there was little that was upbeat about his reaction to a draw. “We have to live with that, we probably had one hand on the cup and they took it from us which they’re entitled to do. It’s never over until the final whistle, and you have to respect Armagh, they’re masters at it.”
Even if Stephen O’Neill scored a magnificent 10 points including six from play, the rest of Tyrone’s shooting left a lot to be desired.
They ran up 10 wides in all – Armagh weren’t much better with nine – squandering possession during the first half in particular. Peter Canavan struggled in the heat, and may have been carrying an injury before being replaced at the interval by Mark Harte. However, it wasn’t until the final quarter that Brian Dooher became the first person other than O’Neill to get on the scoreboard.
Tyrone led by 0-5 to 0-3 at the end of a dismal first half – it had taken Armagh 24 minutes to register a point – and although they surged ahead following McConville’s goal and appeared to be in complete control, their lead was evidently not enough. Back to Croke Park then on Saturday week.
Kerry 1-11 Cork 0-11
It makes a difference when you’ve been there, done that and you’ve got the t-shirt. Cork turned up at Pairc Ui Chaoimh for last Sunday’s Munster football final with a bunch of energetic, young players backboning the team, while Kerry fielded much of the personnel who had brought Sam Maguire back to the Kingdom last year. And that was really that.
Not that Cork didn’t perform with sufficient brio and determination to give manager Billy Morgan justifiable hope going into the qualifiers.
In fact, there were few signs that the likes of Conor McCarthy, James Masters, John Hayes and Fintan Goold were in any way intimidated by their more illustrious rivals until Declan O’Sullivan rode Anthony Lynch’s challenge in the 42nd minute to score the game’s only goal.
From that moment on, Kerry assumed the sort of control they had struggled for previously. With Tomas O Se imperious at the back, and with Seamus Moynihan working his way back to full fitness and match sharpness, the winners calmly and assuredly closed Cork down to come away with the county’s 70th provincial title.
“Last year we got on top after 20 minutes, but I told our fellas it would take 70 minutes,” reasoned Kerry manager Jack O’Connor.
“Even when we got the goal, it was never safe. We could never get the fourth point to bring us home. Cork’s intensity took us a bit by surprise I think, but any side Billy Morgan puts out won’t roll over.”
While Cork deservedly led by 0-8 to 0-7 at the break, they never threatened to score a goal as Mike McCarthy and Tom O’Sullivan kept their forwards away from the square.
At the other end, Niall Geary was doing an adequate marking job on Kerry’s danger man Colm Cooper, however, there was always the feeling that if Cork were giving it their best shot, the favorites had considerably more in the tank.
When O’Sullivan rolled his shot home, Cork were only able to manage two more points as Morgan introduced fresh legs into his attack. “In the end Kerry’s cuteness and experience showed,” said Cork captain Owen Sexton. “They went backwards a couple of times to make room for themselves whereas we might have rushed a small bit on the ball.”
Galway 0-10 Mayo 0-8
Who would have believed that a Connacht final could be won with 10 points? Not one for the purists this, not that Galway gave a damn as they celebrated a 43rd provincial title in the swooning heat of Pearse Stadium last Sunday.
In the process of rebuilding under Peter Ford, the end was always going to be more relevant to Galway than the means. True, there was evidence that Michael Donnellan might yet be a major factor in this All Ireland championship, and there were important contributions from Padraic Joyce and Declan Meehan, but Galway are a work in progress.
If newcomers such as Finian Hanley, Barry Cullinane and Niall Coleman held their own, most of the kudos must go to Paul Clancy who was handed the unenviable job of trying to snuff out the considerable influence of Ciaran McDonald. Such an integral part of Mayo’s progress to last year’s final, McDonald was expected to control this game, but he hadn’t bargained on Clancy’s attentions.
Every time Mayo’s playmaker moved into Galway territory, Clancy was on hand to harass, block and to generally disrupt with as fine a demonstration of the defensive arts that has been witnessed in Connacht for some time.
So effective was he, that not alone did McDonald fail to ignite his colleagues with his usual incisive passing, but the rest of the Galway rearguard responded superbly to Clancy’s lead.
Not that Mayo had that much to offer in attack as only three of their points in a hugely disappointing performance came from play. Trailing by 0-5 to 0-3 at the changeover, they attempted to play a faster, running game, but even they moved the ball more skillfully than earlier on, the finishing touch was sorely lacking.
They did manage to edge in front by a point with seven minutes remaining, but Galway kept their shape, and unlike the opposition, took their scores at exactly the right moments with Joyce, Donnellan and Meehan firing over unanswered points in the closing stages.
“We wouldn’t be happy just scoring 10 points, but w’?ll take it,” said Ford. “Mayo had a lot of ball but they weren’t punishing us. With the ball, we weren’t that good, but hopefully that will come.” As for Mayo, no one, not even manager John Maughan, was available to explain what had happened. It was that sort of day.
Monaghan made it through to the third round of the All Ireland football qualifiers with a 0-17 to 0-12 win over Wexford at Clones last Saturday. If the result wasn’t a shock, the margin of Monaghan’s victory raised a few eyebrows as Wexford struggled once full-back Niall Murphy was sent off for a second yellow card offense early in the second half.
With Colm Flanagan doing an impressive man-marking job on Mattie Forde, Paul Finlay and Thomas Freeman had four points apiece for the winners. Wexford manager, Pat Roe, announced his resignation after the game.
Clare have already had their problems this season, but things may now be coming right for Anthony Daly and his team following last weekend’s stirring 4-14 to 0-21 hurling qualifier success against Waterford at Semple Stadium.
Clare, who go on to meet Wexford in the quarter-finals while Waterford have to take on Cork once again, were at their level best for a game that would have graced All Ireland final day itself. The winners? four goals were important, but they didn’t make up the whole story.
Right through from Davy Fitzgerald in goal up to Alan Markham, Clare had the edge in what was by far their best performance under Daly’s stewardship. Even though Waterford opened brightly with John Mullane and Ken McGrath making their customary impact, Clare struck with two goals just before the break.
Diarmaid McMahon held off three defenders to score the first and then Markham bustled through for another to make it 2-6 to 0-9. Later Tony Griffin would get a third, and finally a second from Markham ended any lingering hopes Waterford had of a late revival.
Meanwhile, if Limerick were incensed that they were denied a last-minute penalty, there was another factor in their 1-18 to 2-14 defeat by Galway at the Gaelic Grounds. A total of 15 wides, with the free takers TJ Ryan and Pat Kirby struggling to find the range, was the real reason for Limerick’s demise.
Ger Farragher had clipped over what proved to be the match-winning score two minutes from the end, but then Kirby had an opportunity from a 65 which somewhat predictably drifted wide. Galway now face Tipperary in the last eight with Limerick coming up against Kilkenny.
In last weekend’s remaining qualifiers, Dublin restored some badly needed pride when they lost by 2-15 to 2-14 to Offaly at Parnell Park, while Laois edged out Antrim by 0-21 to 1-16 at Casement Park.
All Ireland hurling quarter-final draw
Croke Park, July 24
Cork vs. Waterford
Wexford vs. Clare
Croke Park, July 31
Kilkenny vs. Limerick
Tipperary vs. Galway