By Mark Jones
This game was the true start of this summer’s hurling championship in more ways than one. Two great Munster rivals battled it out right down to the wire at Pairc Ui Chaoimh with Tipperary holding sway at the end of a compelling contest.
For the victors, a semifinal against Limerick awaits; for the losers, there is an opening though the back door of the qualifier series. Clare’s chance of a provincial title may have gone, but there were enough signs that they could yet have a say in the ultimate destiny of the McCarthy Cup.
“At least all the work wasn’t for nothing,” was Clare captain Brian Lohan’s view. “We have a few weeks to prepare now and we know that we need to work on our fitness because we faltered at the end.”
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The breathless finish was a reflection of how the match had been played out. Clare had been trailing by four points when David Forde fired in his second goal of the game. With five minutes remaining, his stinging shot past Davy Fitzgerald seemed the ideal boost for Clare, but a composed and collected Tipp responded immediately.
First, team captain Tommy Dunne sent over a point, and then his brother, substitute Benny Dunne, added another crucial score after Eugene O’Neill had done the spadework. “We seemed to respond well,” Tommy Dunne said. “Whenever they got a big score we came straight back at them.”
The pattern was the same during the first half after Forde had netted following a strong run by Tony Carmody. Tipp snapped over three points to lead by 1-8 to 1-5 at the changeover.
The performance was all the more sweet for manager Nicky English as five of last year’s All-Ireland-winning lineup were missing. In came Conor Gleeson to produce an exhilarating display at center forward, while midfielder Noel Morris crowned his championship debut with a brilliant all-around game.
Elsewhere, Eoin Kelly was a thorn in Clare’s side, finishing with an impressive 1-8. That total featured a stunning first-half goal which came after Brendan Cummins had made a fine save and Morris had whacked a long clearance downfield. Frank Lohan lost his footing as the ball dropped, and Kelly finished with a rasping shot.
In defeat, there were some positives to take away for Clare manager Cyril Lyons. Debutant Tony Griffin hit six points from play, Colin Lynch won more than his share of ball at midfield, while John Reddan was on target with three points before he was surprisingly taken off to make way for Ollie Baker.
With Brian Lohan an inspiration during the second half, Clare still found it hard to close the gap as Tipp picked off their scores. When Forde goaled for the second time, a replay looked the most likely outcome. At least under the new system, Clare will get that second chance.
After last Sunday’s performance, they deserve it.
Galway 3-12, Roscommon 1-8
The eagerly awaited clash of the All-Ireland football champions and the Connacht champions turned out to be a non-event. Galway were too precise, too organized and too clinical for Roscommon, whose provincial success of last season now seems a distant memory.
Reports and pictures of player antics in a hotel during a training weekend in a British tabloid newspaper — two of the panel were captured on CCTV playing pool in a state of considerable undress — could have affected Roscommon’s preparations.
They started briskly enough with a series of early points but soon fell away and only managed a single point from play from the six starting forwards. Their goal, by Paul Noone, came courtesy of an uncharacteristic mistake by Galway keeper Alan Keane, and late in the game Roscommon’s depressing day was encapsulated when Frankie Dolan fired a penalty wildly over the bar.
While their opponents struggled, Galway moved the scoreboard along with Padraic Joyce’s frees and scores from Derek Savage, Joe Bergin, Michael Donnellan and Paul Clancy. When Joyce was fouled, Savage calmly converted a first-half penalty, and even though the scorer had to retire with a damaged hamstring, Galway’s progress wasn’t halted as substitute Alan Kerins came on and finished with two goals himself.
“The first round is never easy,” said manager John O’Mahony. “We won but we didn’t play particularly well. That performance wouldn’t be good enough in Castlebar.” That reference to the next game against Mayo was predictable given O’Mahony’s habit of playing down his team’s chances. Clearly, there is room for Galway improvement, but that is exactly how the manager would like it at this stage of the championship.
While Roscommon trailed by 0-5 to 1-6 at the interval, it was already unlikely that they would be able to mount a serious challenge during the second half. By now Galway were getting into their stride, and even if Raymond Cox, Frankie Grehan and Noone did their best for the losers, there was only going to be one outcome.
Soon, defenders Kieran Fitzgerald, Declan Meehan and Sean Og de Paor were pushing forward and if Kerins’s first goal wasn’t a thing of beauty, his second was superbly taken following an assist by Meehan.
“Our inexperience showed, and maybe we should treat the next round as the first round of the championship,” said losing manager John Tobin. “When Galway move with purpose, they are at times absolutely superb and you would really have to admire them.”
Tyrone 1-12, Armagh 1-12
If Tipp and Clare were involved in the first collision of the hurling championship last weekend, the football equivalent came alive with a dramatic, breathless draw between the Ulster rivals in Clones. If Armagh confounded most of the commentators by dominating in most areas of the pitch, it was revealing that Tyrone showed enough poise to grab a replay at the death.
Interestingly, the score that ensured survival for the reigning Ulster and league champions didn’t materialize from one of the wise old heads as 19-year-old Sean Kavanagh, making his senior debut, shot low through the Armagh defense for a priceless goal with the game heading into injury time.
Even if Tyrone had been rightly touted as the form team, there is always so little between the leading counties in Ulster in early summer that Armagh’s strong performance came as no real surprise. With Oisin McConville back to his best, and with John McEntee and Paddy McKeever causing untold problems for the Tyrone defense, Armagh were probably the more disappointed of the teams.
“I suppose we won most of the battles out there,” said manager Joe Kernan philosophically, “but you have to give Tyrone some credit. We did go to sleep a few times, but they just kept coming at us and maybe the draw was a fair result.”
Level at 0-6 at the break, a dour enough contest burst into life during the second half when Steven McDonnell showed brilliant opportunism to guide the ball past Peter Ward following McEntee’s long pass. Almost immediately, substitute Ronan Clarke added point and Armagh were four clear and seemingly on their way to a semifinal date against Fermanagh.
With limited influence from Peter Canavan, Steven O’Neill, Ger Cavlan and Kevin Hughes, it was left to substitute Declan McCrossan to to chase the game. Kavanagh, a last-minute replacement for Brian McGuigan, was on the end of Ryan McMenamin’s delivery, and even though it looked like his shot would be blocked, it found the net past a despairing Brendan Tierney.
With the score level, there was still four minutes left and Tyrone had the best chance to win the game when Richard Thornton ballooned his shot wide when it looked easier to take a point.
“We were pushed all the way,” admitted Tyrone co-manager Art McRory. “So we’re glad we’re still in the Ulster championship. Armagh will probably feel like they lost it rather than us holding on to it. We paid the penalty for those recent league games when we were given too much time on the ball. We weren’t prepared for the pressure we were put under. Knowing it and coping with it are two different things.”
Back to Clones on Sunday.