By Mark Jones
Meath 2-12 Westmeath 3-9
Uneasy lies the head that wears the provincial crown. There weren’t many who envisaged Westmeath as party-poopers for this quarter-final at Croke Park, but in the end it took a brilliant last minute Ollie Murphy goal to earn the Leinster champions a replay in the most compelling contest of what has already been a vintage summer of football.
If Dublin’s revival against Kerry was out of left field, Meath are the perennial Lazaruses of the GAA. Down by nine points at one stage during the first half, and by five in the closing minutes, this was perhaps their greatest day of dogged determination.
Refusing to panic, the wily Sean Boylan shuffled his pack expertly from the sideline as his team were able to restrict Westmeath to just two frees during the entire second half.
But spare a thought for Westmeath before Saturday’s replay at the same venue. They played some magnificent flowing football before the interval, best summed up by the fact that defenders of the caliber of Darren Fay and Mark O’Reilly were run ragged by the pace and ball skills of Dessie Dolan, Ger Heavin, Joe Fallon and Paul Conway.
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Even if the surprise packages of the season, who have now played seven championship games, were frozen in the headlights of Meath’s relentless comeback, their exuberance and sheer quality turned a potentially one-sided mis-match into a riveting occasion.
“The critics have suggested that we were just making up the numbers in the last eight,” said manager, Luke Dempsey, “and we certainly proved them wrong. We had a great chance of winning the game, but I’m proud of every one of the players. It was a fantastic match and maybe we just stood off Meath a little at the end.”
Westmeath had been insisting that they were genuine contenders since they won the National League Division Two title, and since they were pipped by Meath in the first round of the Leinster championship.
The forecast came true in a big way in opening half when brilliantly taken goals by Conway, Michael Ennis and Dolan put Westmeath on their way to a stunning total of 3-7 by the break.
“They scored 3-7 against us in the first-half, so God forbid they’d repeat that in the second,” said a relieved Boylan.
“You had to fear they were going to pull away from us a altogether.” That fear was still a live one after the changeover because despite an earlier Murphy goal, Meath were still struggling to contain their opponents front line.
Martin Flanagan and Fallon both missed excellent goal chances, which if converted, would surely have killed Meath off, but gradually Weatmeath’s scoring opportunities dried up as Meath patiently clawed back the deficit. With Ray Magee, who was introduced at half-time, and Trevor Giles becoming more and more influential, Nigel Crawford surged through from midfield to reduce the gap to just three points with five minutes remaining.
If Maurice Fitzgerald had saved Kerry the previous day, now it was Murphy’s turn. There was an errie sense of inevitability about the outcome even when Graham Geraghty was driven wide of the Westmeath posts, but he cut back towards the danger zone and laid the ball off to Murphy.
Surrounded by defenders, he somehow got his shot away and a slight deflection did the rest. It wasn’t poor defending, more goal poaching brought to the level of an art form.
“I don’t know how many times Ollie can keep doing that,” was Giles’ verdict. “I just don’t know how he scored it and I suppose we’re happy enough to get out with a draw.”
Second installment on Saturday. Strap yourselves in.
Kerry 1-14 Dublin 2-11
This was an All Ireland football championship replete with the memories of great games between Ireland’s Big Two. Last Saturday in Thurles, Kerry and Dublin added another memorable chapter to one of Irish sport’s most fascinating rivalries.
Dublin were dead in the water, and trailing by eight points early in the second half. Reigning champions Kerry appeared confirmed on their way back to Croke Park, but somehow, from somewhere, Tommy Carr’s team dredged up a stunning comeback, and a burst of scoring. Goals by Vinny Murphy and Darren Homan earned them a replay this Saturday.
Dublin’s revival was so compelling that from their position of supremacy a matter of minutes earlier, Kerry were left trailing by a point going into injury time. With Carr sensing perhaps the sweetest victory of his career as player and manager, up stepped Maurice Fitzgerald to level matters with a sublime sideline ball from 40 yards out on the right.
Paidi O Se had only introduced Fitzgerald as a substitute five minutes earlier, but after being controversially left out of the starting line-up, Fitzgerald had a point to prove and he duly delivered with the sort of kick that most Irish footballers can only dream about.
So close to the Promised Land, Carr was still philosophical and his team’s remarkable resurgence has given them a psychological edge for next Saturday.
“The draw is excellent for confidence. To be able to come back at the All Ireland champions and come back in the way we did and even go ahead at a crucial time. I’m delighted,” said Carr.
Without ever finding top gear, Kerry were motoring quite nicely once Aodhan MacGearailt, who started and finished the move, fired home a goal in the 11th minute. A couple of Dara O Cinneide frees and points by Eoin Brosnan, the excellent Johnny Crowley and MacGearailt ballooned the gap to eight points and not even Dublin’s die-hards in the 50,000 crowd were giving their team any hope.
“I always felt there was a kick in this Dublin team,” Paidi O Se admitted afterwards. “It was disappointing to lose a big lead, but we showed real character once again when it was needed most.”
With the score at a forlorn 1-13 to 0-8, suddenly that kick materialized. Murphy and Wayne McCarthy were now off the bench to give Dublin some extra attacking options and Murphy immediately made his presence felt.
“We looked dead,” said Carr who could face a sideline ban for the replay following an incursion onto the pitch during he had a frank exchange of views with referee Michael Curley. “But really what can you say about the way the fellas played late one?”
A minute from unexpected Dublin glory, Fitzgerald’s perfect technique from a difficult angle earned Kerry their reprieve.
Play it again Sam.
Derry 1-9 Tyrone 0-7
On a weekend when not one of this season’s provincial champions made it to the last four of the All Ireland, it was no great surprise that Tyrone limped out lamely to the team they had beaten earlier in the summer.
Eight players went into referee Pat McEnaney’s book during the bad-tempered game, and Tyrone’s talisman, Peter Canavan, was sent off after half an hour following a clash with Johnny McBride. The loss of Canavan was a major blow, but it is questionable if his presence for the entire 70 minutes would have improved Tyrone’s lot.
Derry were clearly the more accomplished side and with the excellent Fergal Doherty and Anthony Tohill controlling midfield, the outcome was never in serious doubt. They led by two points at the break, and when Paddy Bradley got on the end of Gavin Diamond’s attempt at a point to fist a goal in the 48th minute, the margin was out to five.
“Tyrone scored seven points out there, the same as in the Ulster championship game,” said Tohill, “but the difference was they scored three goals that day. We felt if they didn’t get goals this time, we would win.”
Derry confirmed their superiority with a couple of points by Bradley and McBride and a free from Tohill.