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Ulster SFC quarter-final At Casement Park, Belfast

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Derry 0-16, Antrim 0-6 By Malachy Clerkin

In the fifth championship meeting between Derry and Antrim in the space of four years, the result of this Ulster quarterfinal was wholly and tiresomely predictable. Derry yawned their way past an Antrim on a rotten rainy day in Belfast in a game that served little purpose for either side.

Long before the end, the whole fiasco had been reduced to nothing more than extended target practice for the Derry forward line. Gavin Diamond and Paddy Bradley gorged themselves until they had their fill and Enda Muldoon sauntered on near the end to stitch in his own nifty contribution. All in all, the more interested and interesting team strolled away with it.

Antrim had a couple of brief spells where they could have made a fight of it, but they fluffed every line that came their way. Kevin Madden had the best of their chances to keep within touching distance, but he hit the post from 10 yards out at a stage in the second half when there was only four points between the teams. After that, Derry effortlessly stretched their legs and their lead until the end. The fact that Antrim goalkeeper Sean McGreevy could convincingly claim to have been the man of the match tells its own story.

Derry now meet Donegal in the Ulster quarterfinal, while Antrim summer will more than likely splutter to a close against Westmeath on Saturday.

Donegal 3-12, Down 1-6

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For a few years, Down people have been whispering and chattering in corners about Pete McGrath. His race is run, they reckon. He’s had his good times and he’s shared them with the rest of the county, but they’re memories now. Time for him to fade to gray.

Well, for 20 minutes at Ballybofey last Sunday, he was well within his rights to allow himself the hint of a smile. All week he’d taken criticism for turning to James McCarten and Mickey Linden yet again and here they were, destroying the Donegal defense. Linden was providing the bullets, McCarten was pulling the trigger. Down were 1-2 to 0-3 up and everything was grand.

And then Donegal shook themselves awake and ruined McGrath’s day.

Adrian Sweeney turned out to be nuisance-in-chief, ending the afternoon with a total of 1-5, and only a solitary point of it from a free. Each of his scores were praiseworthy, but the goal deserves special mention. Collecting on the 20-yard line, he tricked and twisted his way past Ciaran Byrne, the Down captain, to leave himself straight through on goalkeeper Peter Travers. Travers advanced, Sweeney shimmied, Travers committed himself, Sweeney scored. It’s a simple game when played to perfection.

And perfection is pretty much what Donegal achieved after that. Brendan Devenney and Brian Roper joined in the fun, clipping handy points and clinical goals themselves with the result that there wasn’t much for the sparse crowd to be hanging around for with 15 minutes to go. So many of them left.

Donegal go on to meet Derry in the Ulster semifinal, while Down get a chance to keep Pete McGrath in a job against Longford in the qualifiers.

Galway 0-12, Mayo 1-7

When people say they’d prefer a quick death, they don’t bargain on first being given the chance to live. What happened to Mayo last Sunday in the Connacht semfinal at McHale Park in Castlebar wasn’t the first time they’ve had the rug pulled from under them, nor, knowing them, will it be the last, but as painful punches go, it will really have hurt.

But they have no right to be hurt. Two measly points was all they could muster in the second half. OK, Galway are All-Ireland champions and past masters at defending with zeal and caution in equal measure, but two points? Shed no tears for Mayo.

Galway won on Sunday because they’re winners and Mayo are, for want of a better word, losers. They had umpteen chances to seal the deal but they hit wide after wide after wide in the second half, the worst of them a 21-yard free from Trevor Mortimer just as the last grains of sand were falling through the glass. Faced with a chance to grab glory, he filled his pants. Galway went straight down the other end, gave the ball to Padraic Joyce and let him get on with what makes him a winner and what makes the likes of Mortimer a loser.

He collected the ball in midfield and did exactly what he and the rest of the ground knew he would do — slither and slalom his way to a spot 45 yards from goal, fashion a barely believable scoring chance and split the posts. Pure class. Then he set up his brother Tommie and from staring down the barrel, Galway were ready for their 21-gun salute.

It should all have been so different. Mayo were a goal up after 18 seconds when Michael Moyles drove home a gem from 20 yards out and thereafter, Mayo comfortably stayed just ahead of the All Ireland champions. But that was exactly the problem — they never got any more than just ahead.

When it came down to it, they were always within Joyce’s sights, if and when he decided to beat them.

***

Leinster SFC quarter-final

At O’Moore Park, Portlaoise

Meath 1-12, Westmeath 0-11

This was the most comprehensive four-point win you could ever wish to see. Westmeath hung on to Meath’s coattails for a half an hour in this Leinster quarterfinal at O’Moore Park in Porlaosie before Evan Kelly scored a goal and Meath won the game. Oh, it was always close after that, but it was never exciting. The teams were never more than a decent Westmeath spell apart, but nobody who watched the game ever truly believed the spell would come.

And so Sean Boylan’s team ground out yet another win in which they did as much as they had to do and no more, playing with the air of men who just couldn’t be bothered with the intensity needed to dish out a hammering. Trevor Giles was his usual imperious self, as was Darren Fay. Graham Geraghty put himself about with vigor but suffered from a wonky aim and Ollie Murphy got involved whenever he was needed, but not too often besides.

As for Westmeath, you get the feeling they’re going to suffer from second album syndrome this summer. They still seem to have a pathological fear of winning and at no stage last Sunday did they look like they believed they could beat their neighbours. And until that attitude changes, they never will.

Dublin 0-15, Wexford 1-10

Hardly the auspicious championship start Dublin were looking for in this Leinster quarterfinal at Dr. Cullen Park in Carlow. The whistle was in the referee’s mouth, waiting to be blown for the final time, when Wexford full forward Matty Forde rose, caught, turned and shot from 10 yards out. Somehow, a Dublin body insinuated itself between the ball and the goal and Tommy Lyons’s side were safe. For now.

They were the better team, but they could have had few complaints had Forde’s shot found the net. They should be throttling teams like Wexford and they played with exactly that attitude, if not the skill level, needed to prove their superiority. Nobody really stood out for them and another such performance in three weeks’ time against Meath will just not be good enough.

As for Wexford, their luck ran out as soon as Forde’s shot skittled wide. They got Tyrone in the qualifying round.

Munster SHC semi-final

At Pairc Ui Chaoimh

Tipperary 1-20, Limerick 1-13

Somebody’s going to have to do something about this Tipperary team before they walk away with the next three or four All-Irelands. Sunday’s Munster hurling semifinal at Pairc Ui Chaoimh was supposed to be a mouth-watering clash, a severe test of their bona fides, a Munster match like they used to make ’em. Instead, it was a brief stop off at a gas station, a quick sandwich and back out on to the road that leads to the first great hurling team of the century.

There was only one stage in this game where Limerick looked like doing what they came to do. Ollie Moran’s flashed ground stroke after 12 minutes hit the net before Brendan Cummins could wave a stick in its direction and Limerick were in the lead. Eight minutes later, they were behind again, a situation that would remain unchanged.

That it did was down to many factors, most of them Tipp-hued. Brian O’Meara was immense, showing the country that the best way to keep Mark Foley quiet is to be a foot taller than him and have the ball played in high to you all day. So simple, it’s a wonder nobody ever thought of it before. Tommy Dunne, Noel Morris and Conor Gleeson again vacuumed up everything around midfield and the defense was granite hard to a man.

But it was Eoin Kelly who sprinkled his magic across the afternoon like an impish genius. His haul for the day came to 12 points, but the cold statistic does him no justice. He ran like a colt and shot like an archer, his every contribution a gift to those watching. June isn’t yet a week old and already the Hurler of the Year title is as good as sown up.

Limerick were crestfallen afterward, their abject display tantamount to them being out back in their box for their impertinence in thinking they could live with the big boys again. They’ll go to the qualifiers now in sore spirits but they shouldn’t.

After all, nobody blames the house that gets destroyed by a hurricane. Best just to mark it down as a freak of nature.

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