By Mark Jones
There was only one score between the teams at the end of last Saturday’s All Ireland football championship quarterfinal replay, but it may as well have been 10 in Thurles as Dublin failed dismally to build on the momentum they had created in the drawn game.
They started tamely and finished it knowing that Kerry were already in the clear and heading for a semifinal clash with Meath. Of course, there were several factors behind Kerry’s success — Dublin’s inability to make the extra man pay following Tomas O Se’s sending off early in the second half and some outstanding defense by the winners were two to ponder — but even if it verges on oversimplification, the stark contrast between the two forward lines was at the heart of the result.
John Crowley and Mike Frank Russell amassed 2-4 between them from play, while Dublin’s six starting forwards managed just three points. If Crowley was helped by Paddy Christie’s defensive frailties, his two first-half goals were brilliantly taken and, after 22 minutes, Dublin were trailing by a massive nine points.
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
Showing admirable battling qualities, Tommy Carr’s players never threw in the towel and a goal by their best performer, Darren Homan midway through the second half generated some hope, yet there was always the feeling that Seamus Moynihan and his fellow defenders were never going to make the same mistakes that gave Dublin the chance of a replay in the first place.
“We needed to follow up Darren Homan’s goal with a few points but they didn’t come,” said Carr, who was banned from the dugout following his verbal attack on referee Mick Curley in the drawn game. “The lads gave everything but it wasn’t enough. We were chasing the game again and it’s very difficult to do that for two matches in a row. Their goals were the difference.”
The first came in the 13th minute when Crowley gave Christie the slip to hammer the ball past Davy Byrne. That was a blow for Dublin, but worse was to follow when Christie lost his balance and Crowley was free once again for a repeat performance.
Meanwhile, Dublin were unable to reply in kind as only Dessie Farrell posed any threat in their forward line. There were several strong surges upfield from Ciaran Whelan, Coman Goggins and Homan, but once the Kerry defense had Farrell under wraps, no one was able to convert the opportunities.
When Whelan drove over a point on the stroke of halftime, it was just Dublin’s second score from play and they were already seven in arrears.
“I really thought we could catch them in the end,” said center back Johnny Magee, “but Crowley’s goals killed us in the first half.”
There was a chink of light when referee Pat McEnaney sent Tomas O Se off for a clumsy, rather than a dangerous, challenge on Collie Moran. The decision didn’t go down too well with O Se’s uncle and Kerry manager Paidi, who made a beeline for McEnaney immediately after the final whistle.
“I wanted to comment on the sending off,” Paidi said. “I believe Tomas was a marked man coming into the game over the wrong publicity he got after the Munster final. I felt the ref should have come in with an open mind and I believe he didn’t. I don’t think the tackle merited it. Tomas was struck off the ball in the first half and we didn’t make a big issue out of it.”
With Paul Curran roaming effectively as the free man, suddenly Dublin were back in the hunt and Homan powered upfield to fire his shot past Declan O’Keeffe. Curran quickly added a point and the gap was only three. But just when the Dubs needed to sustain the pressure, substitute Maurice Fitzgerald, Crowley and Russell all kicked points from play to nip the revival in the bud.
So, it didn’t have the drama of the drawn encounter because Kerry were better this time. More efficient, more watchful in defense where Moynihan and Eamon Fitzmaurice were particularly impressive, and, above all, more clinical in attack. Meath are next in the semifinal on Sept. 2.
Meath 2-10, Westmeath 0-11
It had to end sometime. Westmeath’s magnificent eight-game championship summer had taken them into uncharted territory, a land which Meath know only too well. Twisted, turned and tormented during the draw, the old dogs had clearly done their homework for this All Ireland quarterfinal replay at Croke Park last Saturday, and it was all too much for Westmeath.
The wide corridors that had opened up for Dessie Dolan and Martin Flanagan in the first game were now barricaded by Darren Fay and Mark O’Reilly. Forced to shoot from longer distances and under more intense pressure, Westmeath registered 12 wides, while Meath had only three.
Not even the loss of Hank Traynor, sent off in the 17th minute for a second bookable offense, could deter Meath. Their opponents deployed Fergal Murray as the extra man and even though Rory O’Connell was a presence in midfield, Westmeath simply weren’t able to make the numerical advantage pay off.
And while Trevor Giles, Ollie Murphy and Graham Geraghty didn’t have the most productive of evenings, manager Sean Boylan was again came up trumps with his selection of Ray Magee at corner forward. A bit player for several seasons, Magee was outstanding scoring a goal and three frees.
A fractious first half with far too many off-the-ball challenges was marked by an early Geraghty goal created by Giles and if anything Westmeath should have been in front at the break, rather than trailing by a point.
“We never found the fluency that’s our style of play,” admitted manager Luke Dempsey. “We didn’t get enough ball around the midfield area to move in fast to our full forward line. Meath’s tactics were very good.”
What Dempsey should’ve referred to was his players’ poor shooting. Ger Heavin, Joe Fallon and O’Connell were all guilty of bad first-half wides, and Paul Conway had an excellent goal chance which he couldn’t even turn into a point. As Meath closed down the spaces, Westmeath were never able to rediscover the verve and zest that had characterized their performance in the drawn game.
Westmeath badly needed to up the tempo at the start of the second half, but it was Magee who pounced, capitalizing on a slip by David Murphy to finish off Ollie Murphy’s assist.
Hard as Westmeath tried, the nearest they came was in the 58th minute when a Dolan free left them trailing by two points. However, Meath emphasized their superiority with the three closing points of the contest from Giles, Magee and Murphy.
Westmeath have left their mark, and certainly next season’s Leinster championship will be a far more interesting competition for their progress, but as for now, Meath march on.
Tipperary 1-16, Wexford 3-10
We’ve witnessed comebacks this summer, but nothing like Wexford’s truly remarkable effort last Sunday. The first of the All-Ireland hurling semifinals was supposed to be an occasion for Tipperary to prove themselves as worthy pretenders to Kilkenny’s title. However, in the end it turned out to be a last-ditch fight for survival at Croke Park.
At one stage early in the second half, Tipp were eight points to the good and thoughts of replays couldn’t have been farther from their minds when suddenly, from somewhere, Wexford dredged up a monumental revival. And three dramatic goals and 20 breathless minutes later, both teams were happy enough to have a second chance this Saturday at Croke Park.
When Larry O’Gorman’s first goal found the net, there still wasn’t much optimism in the Wexford ranks, such had been the level of Tipp dominance. Then three minutes later, Rory McCarthy skillfully batted home a second and now there was new life in the game. But Tipperary responded sharply with three points from Eoin Kelly, Mark O’Leary and Tommy Dunne and the lead was five. Surely Wexford would stop trying to spoil the party.
However, back they came and when Darren Stamp’s high ball dropped in front of the Tipp goal, O’Gorman once again reacted fastest for the third goal. Adrian Fenlon hit a point and, amid unbearable tension, Mitch Jordan, Damien Fitzhenry and McCarthy all had wides before Jordan struck the equalizing score.
“Delighted,” beamed Wexford manager, Tony Dempsey. “We were lucky, but then we could have stolen it and if we had it would have been sheer larceny. I know my old heart is gone anyway and I don’t think this All-Ireland is over yet.”
Adding to the drama was the introduction during the second half of veteran Martin Storey, whose presence seemed to act as catalyst for Wexford’s Lazarus act. Invited out of retirement by Dempsey, the 37-year-old had managed to turn back the clock. “The Wexford jersey convinced me to come back,” he said, “that’s it, just the pride I got out of wearing it. I’d love to wear it for another 10 years.”
If the older stagers like O’Gorman, Liam Dunne and Storey influenced proceedings, there were also impressive performances from the younger brigade, including corner back David O’Connor, Rory Mallon and Nicky Lambert. Meanwhile, full-back Darragh Ryan, who comprehensively outplayed Declan Ryan, was inspirational from defense.
Tipp have to be wondering how they were unable to go on and win when they twice had built up an eight-point lead during the second half. The foundations had been laid by a burst of scoring before the break, which saw them rattle up 1-5 without reply. With Eddie Enright, Eoin Kelly and Paul Kelly all hitting top form, it was little surprise when John Carroll lashed home a 31st minute goal.
If Fitzhenry in goal hadn’t made three fine saves from Ryan and Carroll, there would have been no way back for Wexford, but once O’Gorman was moved up the field and the goal rush started, it soon became a question of whether Tipp could cope with the onslaught.
The second chance for both counties comes on Saturday.