Sparks didn’t exactly fly, but neither was the squib as damp as feared. Much of the play was forced and little came smoothly but a closing 10 minutes during which the lead changed hands three times and the end of which was decided with a fine point with the last puck of the game doesn’t get any fairer.
There were no winners and if there was a loser, it was definitely Clare who will now meet in whoever comes out the other side of Saturday’s replay a side with the benefit of two hard games in their pocket. Neither of them showed much on Sunday to suggest that Anthony Daly should be shaking in his boots, but another evening’s crisp hurling will do wonders for the winners.
This was a pure and simple draw, with neither team deserving of defeat and nobody making much of a case for victory, either. Limerick led by five points with 23 minutes left, and Tipperary were a point up with 15 to go. There were plenty of scores from frees, few points for the scrapbook.
TJ Ryan finished with 1-7 at full-forward for Limerick, but only two points of the total didn’t come from a placed ball. The Kelly brothers chipped in with 11 of Tipperary’s points, but only managed three between them from play. Even Brendan Cummins had a poor afternoon in the Tipperary goal — his first for as far back as anyone can remember — spilling Andrew O’Shaughnessy’s shot in the first half for Donnacha Sheehan to tap home from a foot out and failing to get his stick onto Ryan’s second-half penalty.
And yet, for all the lack of quality, the width was there to be felt. Redser O’Grady came on at half-time with Tipp two points behind and despite slaking wides with his first three shots, turned the game with a goal at precisely the right time to keep his side in touch. And when Paul Kelly lined up a sideline cut in injury-time, his precision didn’t desert him at the one point where he couldn’t possibly have afforded for it to. His cut was long, high and hanging and when it dropped in the Limerick square, John Devane swished it to the net to put Tipperary a point up.
That Limerick went down the other end of the pitch and forced a replay with the only attack left in the game — a 45-meter effort from midfielder Paul O’Grady — was as much as both sides deserved.
DOWN 4-25 LONDON 1-17
London would have kept the margin here last Sunday down to a perfectly presentable eight or nine points, had they not leaked two goals in injury-time at the end of the game.
That in itself indicates progress of sorts, as does the fact that they were within four points of Down right up until the 27th minute. Indeed, had full-forward Fergus McMahon finished what wasn’t the most difficult of chances to the net instead of fluffing it in the direction of Graham Clarke in the Down goal, there would only have been a point in it approaching half-time. As it was, Clarke saved, Down attacked, Martin Coulter goaled and the sides went in at half-time with eight points between them. London never recovered.
ARMAGH 2-12 FERMANAGH 1-7
Fermanagh were nothing more than breakfast, lunch and five-course for Armagh in Clones on Sunday, so much so that had Joe Kernan’s forwards taken time at any stage to look at the posts, it would have turned into a massacre. Armagh shot a barely-credible 21 wides, 13 of them from the normally-reliable boots of Steven McDonnell, Oisin McConville and Ronan Clarke.
On another day, against another team, they’d have been punished. As it was, they got away with the most untidy eight-point win they’ll have all year.
McDonnell had his worst afternoon anyone could remember him having in an Armagh jersey. His sole point came from a free and he had clearly struggled to shake off the virus he was said have been carrying last week. Still, he’s carried Kernan’s side through enough poor afternoons to be the difference between winning and losing; it was probably about time they dug him out of a hole for a change.
This game was all about the control of midfield — Armagh had it, and emphatically so. Paul McGrane was lordly throughout and owned that patch of Monaghan grass utterly for the whole afternoon. They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result and if it is, Fermanagh should be submitting their measurements for straitjackets. Why they did nothing to vary their kick-outs away from McGrane is a mystery only they can solve.
They went in at halftime only a point behind when they were clearly at least six points worse than the Ulster champions. Rory Gallagher had replaced Tom Brewster 10 minutes beforehand and had engineered a way back into the game for Fermanagh, first setting up a Mark Little point and then scoring a lovely goal set up by a throw of the eyes that fooled both Francie Bellew and Paul hearty into thinking he was going to pass instead of shoot.
But Armagh came out and killed the game off in the three minutes after half-time with a Clarke goal. From there, they freewheeled home. It wasn’t spectacular but it was enough. They surely won’t be as poor again — but if they are, Donegal will relish lying in wait.
DUBLIN 2-23 LONGFORD 0-10
Of all the teams that were beaten last weekend, only Longford really let themselves down. Even Fermanagh showed in patches that all doesn’t necessarily have to be lost for the road ahead.
Longford had no crumbs of comfort to take away from their trip to Croke Park. Niall Sheridan managed to catch a couple of balls above Paddy Christie’s head but that was it. The qualifiers might well see the back of them with little fanfare.
As for Dublin, they can only beat what’s put in front of them and that they did, with the minimum of fuss. For a team with a supposed scoring crisis, they had 11 different players raise an umpire’s flag, including every player from seven to 15 and two substitutes. Conal Keaney had his best day as a footballer, scoring 1-4 at full-forward and Alan Brogan stitched in another 1-3 from wing-forward.
It was as satisfactory a first day as Paul Caffrey could have hoped for, even if he’d probably have rathered a bit more energetic a run-out than that which Longford gave his side.
KILDARE 1-17 WICKLOW 2-12
There isn’t a luckier side than Kildare to find themselves still in the Leinster championship.
Lucky because they came through an off day not only unscathed, but warned as to their future conduct.
Lucky because they know that whatever the qualifiers could have held for them, they’re much better off making their way through the weakest province. And lucky — blessed, their manager Padraig Nolan called it — to have come up against a young, green and nervous team in Wicklow that just didn’t have it in them to hammer them with the mallet after they had them dangling on the hook.
Wicklow will rue this for a while. They were six points up 10 minutes into the second half but like a quixotic racehorse, they had hit the front to early. To hold out for 25 minutes was going to take settled heads, wise heads, experienced heads. Wicklow had very little going for them in this regard. They’d built up a lead through the sorcery of the feet — shakiness of their nerves did them in.
Straight after Thomas Harney’s goal put them 2-9 to 0-9 up, Kildare set about reeling them in. Eamon Callaghan hoisted a high ball in on top of Robert Hollingsworth in the Wicklow goal and as it bobbled in his hands, Tadhg Fennin flicked it to the net. Kildare rattled off the next five scores and were never led again, although Paul Earls looked like he might have nicked a draw with a late, booming point.
But Kildare scored twice through Ronan Sweeney and Johnny Doyle to seal it. Westmeath await. There won’t be more than a kick between them.