By Mark Jones
Tipperary 1-14, Galway 1-10
Better to win for morale’s sake, but last Sunday’s National Hurling League decider looked more like the final round of a shadow boxing contest. Just over 13,000 spectators turned up at Ennis. Co. Clare, to bear witness to Tipperary’s deserved victory, and even when captain Tommy Dunne lifted the trophy, the acclamation was muted.
Tipp followers know that the county’s first League title since 1994 won’t hold much sway if the players fail in the championship. There will be no silverware on the line when Clare are the opponents early next month. However, the stakes will be far higher than last weekend.
Still, manager Nicky English was quietly content at the way his team fought back from an early 5-point deficit to dominate the second half and at the way a revitalized Declan Carr, John Leahy and Paul Shelly made their mark.
"We don’t know for sure how good this team is," English said. "We’ve worked hard, but it’s only in the next few weeks that we’ll find out what we’re made of. We started very shaky and, to be honest, a lot of our defense was bad."
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Apart from a bright opening during which Kevin Broderick gave Brian Horgan an embarrassing run-around, Galway were playing second fiddle. For once, Eugene Cloonan didn’t make enough use of his free-taking. A goal all the way from a 65, which flew past Brendan Cummins, seemed to divert his attention from the basic duties of scoring points from frees and it cost Galway.
On two other occasions, he went for goal when a point was clearly the more sensible option. Meanwhile, Dunne was picking off scores for Tipp with impressive regularity. Asked to comment on Cloonan’s missed chances, Galway’s manager, Mattie Murphy, was not going to be drawn. "I’m not going to dance on anybody’s grave," he said. "Eugene has been my top scorer all through the league and he’ll stand to me again in July."
Clearly, Murphy has work to do. Broderick and Alan Kerins began brilliantly in the half forward line, only to fade just as quickly. Tom Kavanagh was subdued by Carr at midfield and the normally creative Cathal Moore had a poor game.
"Our inexperience showed in the second half," Murphy said, "but we’re not really too disheartened. Our priority is championship hurling."
Wing back Horgan, who was tormented by Broderick, had been replaced by Conal Bonner when Tipp finally got motoring. Brian O’Meara and Shelly combined to create a goal for Leahy and without ever finding top gear, the winners found themselves leading by 1-5 to 0-7 at the interval.
With Leahy warming to his task, Tipp outscored Galway by 5 points to 2 in the opening 10 minutes of the second half. Cloonan’s goal looked as if it might reestablish Galway’s equilibrium, but soon the advantage was increased when Declan Ryan and Dunne scored.
Tipperary now go on to meet Kerry on Saturday in the first round of the Munster championship. An expected victory would bring Clare into the equation on June 6. Then the first sparks of the season will fly.
Tipperary: B. Cummins; D. Fahey, F. Heaney, L. Sheedy; B. Horgan, D. Kennedy, E. Corcoran; E. Enright, D. Carr (0-2); T. Dunne (0-10), D. Ryan (0-1), B. O’Meara; L. Cahill (0-1), P. Shelly, J. Leahy (1-0). Subs: C. Bonnar for Horgan, 15 mins.; C. Gleeson for Enright, 53 mins.; G. Maguire for Shelly, 56 mins.
Galway: D. Howe; P. Huban, B. Feeney, L. Hodgins; N. Shaughnessy, F. Flynn, P. Hardiman; T. Kavanagh, L. Burke; A. Kerins (0-4), C. Moore, K. Broderick (0-3); O.
Fahy, M. Kerins, E. Cloonan (1-3). Subs: N. Kenny for Kavanagh, 46 mins.; F. Healy for Moore, 50 mins.
In the rest of last weekend’s hurling, Kerry ensured their survival in Div. 1 of the League when they defeated Down by 2-13 to 0-12 in a playoff at Portlaoise, while Wicklow made sure of their place in the Div. 2 playoff with a convincing 2-21 to 2-5 victory over Tyrone.
Wicklow’s opponents will be Derry who accounted for Roscommon by 2-14 to 1-8 and Louth stayed on course for the Div. 3 playoff when they were granted a walkover by Donegal. Louth now have to wait for Armagh to play Mayo to see if they make the playoff.
Longford 2-15, Wexford 0-11
Turning points don’t usually come early in games, but this Leinster football championship preliminary-round replay at Pearse Park was barely 3 minutes old when Wexford were dealt a crippling blow.
Their full-back, Mick Kavanagh, had been booked after a scuffle and when a few seconds later he went in for a tackle, referee Noel Cooney sent him off. The decision left Wexford manager, Ger Halligan, in a state of high dudgeon.
"You expect knocks, but it was a harsh decision," Halligan said. "It had a huge bearing on the game. You plan and train all year, delegate players for particular jobs and yet in a split second, everything went out the window."
Certainly, things never got any better for Wexford as they struggled to cope with Longford’s extra man. Frank McNamee took on the roving commission and cleverly set up wing back Trevor Smullen, whose barnstorming runs brought him an impressive total of 1-4.
Paul Barden also excelled, matching Smullen’s 1-4 and once Longford got to the break 1-10 to 0-3 in front, they were able to relax. Wexford had their moments with a couple of good points from John Hegarty and Jason Lawlor, but they never recovered from Kavanagh’s controversial dismissal.
Barden fired home the winners’ first goal and when Smullen added a second five minutes after the break, the game was over as a contest. It was a tough outcome for Wexford, who had contributed so much to the drawn match. "Now it’s back to October and the muck and the rain again," reflected Halligan ruefully.
Westmeath 0-12, Kerry 0-9
Westmeath wrote a new chapter in their history when they took the All-Ireland Under 21 football title for the first time with a courageous victory over favorites Kerry in last Saturday’s final at the Gaelic Grounds.
Kerry’s highly rated attack was snuffed out by a superb Westmeath defense and they could manage only 2 points from play. An impressive half forward line of Shane Deering, Fergal Wilson and Richie Browne was critical to the winners’ success and Deering and Fergal Murray had the satisfaction of adding an Under 21 medal to the team’s All-Ireland minor triumph of 1995.