Category: Archive

Tyrone win Ulster, but Cavan impress

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Malachy Clerkin

It was Clones on a sun-kissed July afternoon and an Ulster final for the ages. Against all the odds, contrary to all expectations, flying in the face of all reason, Tyrone and Cavan squared up to each other like two stags on a hillside and somehow fashioned a thing of beauty from the chaos.

It all seemed so easy to predict beforehand. Ulster finals are always thump and thunder, never silk and satin. This was supposed to have been no different. This was supposed to be a good team rising above the fair means and foul employed by a mediocre team and strolling home by five or six points. The gamboling, galloping young steeds from Tyrone against the dull-as-dishwater no-hopers from Cavan. Nothing to see here, folks. A straightforward victory.

Yeah, right. Cavan turned convention on its head with a performance that was filled with grit and guts. We knew they would be tough, we knew they would be ferocious in the tackle, we knew they would chase every cause, no matter how lost it appeared.

We knew all these things. What we didn’t know was that would spear points from all angles or that they would construct intricate passing movements to befuddle and bewilder their classy opponents or that they would come within a kick of a ball of victory.

We knew none of this before the start and, to be fair, the first 10 minutes gave no inkling of what would follow. Tyrone started as brightly as their favorites tag suggested they would. Their forwards roamed wild and free on the Clones turf. Every pass found its target, every run found its reward.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Peter Canavan lobbed over a point to begin proceedings and he was followed by Kevin Hughes and Brian Dooher. Cavan were three points down and at least 10 of their players had yet to touch the ball.

And then, they suddenly came out to play. Their half backs clung tighter, their midfielders swept up more loose ball, their forwards got more service. Paul Galligan converted on the run, a rousing score to let Tyrone know the settling in period was over. Two frees later and they were all square. Parity, both on the scoreboard and in the mindsets.

Tyrone took umbrage at this insubordination and decided to put the Cavan whippersnappers to the sword. Their opportunity came when Cavan corner-back Michael Brides dithered over a clearance and was robbed by Owen Mulligan. Screams rang round the ground. Mulligan took two strides, three, four. The blue blanket converged. Mulligan, wilier than his years should allow, delayed and delayed and at the final possible moment, released. Cormac McAnallen arrived on cue and fisted home without a blink or a breath or a break in stride.

Cavan quashed? Not a bit of it. Back they came, ever back. Their points came from frees but that doesn’t demean the quality of their play. They were sprightly and spry in attack, suffocating and stern in defense. And as ever, they had Jason Reilly to snaffle a goal.

And what a goal. Dermot McCabe slung a free out to him wide on the right and straight away, despite being 40 yards from goal, he had one thing on his mind. Chris Lawn had been charged with marking him, the thinking being that the Tyroneman’s pace and tenacity would put manners on the upstart. The thinking was wrong. Reilly, slippery as a bar of soap in the shower, wriggled and shuffled his way to within striking distance. His shot was low and hard and true. The net danced. The crowd roared. Cavan 1-5, Tyrone 1-4. Game on.

Cavan had the whip hand now and, oh, how they let it rip. Reilly sniped a point, then Anthony Forde got in on the act. The half ended with Cavan seemingly teasing their opponents, passing for the fun of it before Galligan decided to end the torture with another point.

The turnaround was the turning point. Tyrone came out refreshed, Cavan cold. Four straight points from the favorite and the old order was restored. Finbar O’Reilly and Peter Reilly landed a free each, but it was finger in the dyke stuff. Tyrone were rampant and further points from Declan McCrossan, Eoin Gormley and Stephen O’Neill (twice) meant that Cavan were a fast disappearing speck in the rearview mirror.

That the second half didn’t live up to the first was mainly down to Cavan. Their three points came from frees and the vim and vigor was gone, replaced by lethargy and desperation. Defeat will have hurt, but not as much as the fact that it was all their own fault.

Tyrone, on the other hand, will be happy to have escaped. They are still one of the top five teams in the country and with the qualifier series rooting out Armagh and Kildare, well, you’d have to have a sneaking regard for them come September’s end.

Kilkenny 2-19, Wexford 0-12

The worst thing about this Leinster Hurling final was that it was bad as we had feared it would be. Kilkenny swatted Wexford aside as if they were killing a bluebottle with a rolled up newspaper and the most disappointing aspect of the day was that they hardly broke sweat.

There is a pall hanging over Leinster hurling, an inescapable specter of doom. And the shame of it is that it overshadows everything else. We should be walking out of Croke Park bubbling with the enthusiasm of schoolkids, rambling and babbling about the great Charlie Carter (13 chances in two games, 13 points) or the magisterial grace of this great Kilkenny team. We should be comparing them to other great teams of other eras, spending hours of pub-chat weighing up their pros and their cons.

But no. We can’t say how great they are because we don’t know. We just don’t know. We haven’t seen them stretched in a Leinster final for years. We can’t eulogize about Carter’s achievements because without serious competition, his team can basically score when they feel like it and how they feel like it. It’s sad to see, but it’s a fact of life.

Anyway, the match. Wexford started slow and got slower. It wasn’t just that they were tactically outclassed, they were technically embarrassed too. Whether it was nerves or tension or just good old-fashioned ineptness, they didn’t seem capable of mastering the rudimentaries. Their striking was poor, their passing was poor, their running was, well, you get the picture. And then D.J. Carey got his ritual Croke Park goal and the game was as good as over. Nine minutes had elapsed.

To be fair, Wexford pretty much matched Kilkenny point for point from then until the interval, but they still went in six points down at halftime. Hope surfaced briefly seven minutes into the second half, when Kilkenny center forward John Hoyne was sent off for a second bookable offense. But then hope toddled off back to bed as Kilkenny slashed 1-6 without reply in the ensuing 15 minutes.

And that was that. Nothing more to be said, really, other than if this is what Kilkenny are like in second gear, first gear must be a sight to behold.

Galway 0-13, Armagh 0-12

When a man asks for a quick death, he doesn’t bargain on first being given the chance to live. Armagh had to endure a detestable agony at Croke Park last Saturday, that of clawing their way back up the cliff-face, only to find Galway standing over them, waiting to stand on their fingertips. The fall will now surely kill them off for good.

As the third-round qualifier breathed its last, Armagh corner-back Justin McNulty had time and space to pick out a team-mate to launch one last attack. Unfortunately for him, and disastrously for his team, the one blinking light on the radar was that of the fast-encroaching Michael Donnellan. He ate up the space and McNulty’s time ran out. Donnellan flicked the ball from his possession and found substitute Paul Clancy, who duly pointed from 40 yards to send Galway through. McNulty dropped to his knees, aghast and vanquished.

Fifteen minutes earlier, however, Armagh could only have dreamed of such agony. Then, they were lagging on the wrong side of a 0-12 to 0-5 scoreline, having been outplayed and outclassed by a Galway side of true fluidity and class. Donnellan, as ever, was the heartbeat, scrambling here, scything through there, generally being the most talented footballer in the country. Armagh had no answer to him or to the point-scoring prowess of his teammates. Ja Fallon chipped in, as did Tommie Joyce, and Padraic Joyce continued to be the reliable old free-taking automaton that he is.

But Armagh had to shake from their torpor at some stage, and with 15 minutes to go, they did so. They began to run at Galway, the kind of menacing, arrow-straight runs that always scare defenders. They picked off points almost at will. Cathal O’Rourke roared off the bench and pocketed three frees. Barry O’Hagan realized that he could get in on the act too and knifed a couple of points of his own, the second to equalize.

Armagh were on a roll. The game was there for them, they just had to reach out and grab it. And then came Donnellan.

Sligo 0-16, Kildare 0-15

A strange kind of revolution is sweeping the Gaelic football world. History is being ignored in the most ungracious manner possible and boy is it fun to watch.

So, who are these imposters who laugh through their sleeves at the status quo? Who are these ne’er-do-wells who before this year have, well, never done well? They call themselves Sligo. But wait a minute.

Aren’t Sligo the crowd who got torched in Tuam last summer? Aren’t they the Sligo of the Galway 0-22, Sligo 0-4 scoreline?

Apparently, they are. And they came to Croke Park last Saturday for the first time in 26 years to apparently make up the numbers against a Kildare side for whom it is basically a holiday home. But far from making up the numbers, they made off with a victory.

Sligo. Victory. In Croke Park. The kind of event to make you think that maybe the world isn’t round, after all.

So how did they do it? Well, they were helped by the fact that Kildare were missing a clatter of key men from Glenn Ryan to Niall Buckley to Ken Doyle. By the same token, however, they were hindered by the absence of Paul Taylor and the early, somewhat harsh, sending off of corner-back Neil Carew. So, basically, it came down to the fact that in a suffocatingly tight game of nip and tuck, they nipped more than Kildare tucked. Dessie Sloyane was the nipper in chief, ending his afternoon eight points better than he started it and generally directing operations with the ease of a man at the top of his powers.

Kildare, absentees notwithstanding, should still have been better than the Westerners, all joking aside. But Brian Lacey had a rare off day, Tadgh Fennin failed to score, Willie McCreery couldn’t gather enough ball in midfield, and so on. Little things that proved huge in the end.

Derry 1-8, Laois 0-8

Derry are going to have to do better than this. Much better. They have sleep-walked their way to this stage of the summer and were it not for the odd stand-out individual display, they would have long since been sent packing.

Laois are a poor team, make no mistake. Rudderless, leaderless and incorrigibly wasteful, they should have presented Derry with no real difficulty in Breffni Park last Saturday. And, in truth, they didn’t.

Derry’s biggest opposition was themselves. They fired goal chances wide, they dropped the ball into Laois goalkeeper Fergal Byron’s hands, they spiraled wildly wide on way too many occasions.

The one exception was Enda Muldoon. A joy to watch in everything he did, his first-half goal turned out to be the difference between the sides. It is no exaggeration to suggest that Derry would have lost without him, the only downside of which from a neutral’s point of view would have been that it meant Laois going through. And we just couldn’t have that. At least Derry can get better. They will.

Westmeath 1-13, Louth 0-13

Louth will be crying into their beer for the rest of the summer knowing that if only they had had someone to chip in with a five- or six-point haul, they would have taken this third-round qualifier in Navan on Saturday. As it is, their wides tally against Westmeath is the millstone they will have to wear round their necks until next May.

Westmeath, for their part, are the happiest team in Ireland when anybody asks them what they think of the restructured championship. Football until late July is a previously unimagined bounty for them and they are grabbing every chance they get, especially Ger Heavin.

The nippy forward has all but guaranteed himself an All-Star selection with his displays so far this summer, his three points on Saturday bringing his season’s total to 2-24.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese