By Malachy Clerkin
Waterford 2-23, Tipperary 3-12
There were paroxysms down at the old Pairc. Waterford’s hurlers came to Cork last Sunday with pat-on-the-head endorsements from every quarter, close-but-no-cigar platitudes ringing in their ears. A team for the future, the papers said. A team to keep an eye on. But not Munster champions. Surely not yet.
Well, they are. Now. Today. At this very moment. Champions of Munster, dancing on the grave of supposedly the finest team Ireland would see for a decade. Few would grumble at their joy.
And they did it in style, too. A goal and 18 points from play against the previously granite hardness of Tipperary’s defense. Before the carnage had ceased, Eamon Kennedy and Tomas Costelloe were kicking their heals on the bench, called ashore having leaked 11 points from play between them. Ken McGrath and John Mullane weaved their mercury-wristed magic across the afternoon, but they were just the neon-lit names. Every Waterford forward troubled the scorekeepers at some stage.
To be fair, all but one of Tipp’s forwards did likewise and up until the final quarter, the game was as much theirs as it was Waterford’s. The afternoon had a kind of tit-for-tat nature to it for long periods — Paul Flynn rifled in a 20-meter free for Waterford when nobody expected it after 13 minutes, Eoin Kelly merely sneered and did the same on the stroke of halftime. With their experience of tight matches and the undoubted class they had in their attack, it wasn’t an unreasonable estimation that if one team was to pull away, it would be the champions.
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But no. As the last grains of sand thought about falling through the hourglass, Tipperary faltered and Waterford kicked on. With 17 minutes to go, there wasn’t an eyelid between the sides. The ever-sprightly Benny Dunne had just plundered his second goal for the All-Ireland champions, but the feeling was starting to pervade that Tipp were living on borrowed time. And so it proved.
Tony Browne took a gamble on a long free by Waterford goalkeeper Stephen Brenner and stole in behind Tipp full-back Philip Maher. Maher, balked by the considerable bulk of Waterford full-forward Seamus Prendergast, misjudged the flight and a flick of Browne’s wrist later, Waterford had a 3-point lead. They would never relinquish it.
From there on, it was nothing more than fun in the Cork sun. Ken McGrath stitched seven beautiful points into an immense afternoon, his brother Eoin, Mullane and Eoin Kelly (the Waterford one) chipping in at their leisure. Tipp looked for another gear but found nothing, Nicky English, shoveling on substitute after substitute to try to staunch the flood of Waterford scores, succeeded only in creating positional chaos among his men. It was all well over with 10 minutes left.
And so a first Munster title in 39 years was Waterford’s. On their way back to Dungarvan, they stopped the motorcade at Youghal bridge and walked the cup across. A lifetime’s scrapbook in one heady day.
Galway 1-11, Sligo 0-11
On a day you wouldn’t put a cat out in, Galway came away with the cream, deserving it much more than the 3-point margin they ultimately had over Sligo suggests in the Connacht Senior Football Final at McHale Park. In front of a dismal crowd (each member of which should really be given a free ticket to the All-Ireland final for braving the almost biblical conditions in Castlebar), they dug in and rolled up their sleeves heroically to reveal a tough side previously hidden from view.
They still have as much style as any team in the country, but on Sunday, they showed their steel. The defining image of the game was Joe Bergin, so often a languid, almost timid presence, chasing back 45 yards to effect a fabulous blockdown on Padraig Doohan just as the Sligo wing-back looked odds-on to bring his team back to within 2 points of the All-Ireland champions. The last remaining doubt hanging over John O’Mahony’s team disappeared in that cameo.
The driving wind and rain decreed that this would be a game in which each side would enjoy a half of dominance apiece. Galway used the 16th man well in the first half up to a point, but were a touch fortunate to go in 7 instead of 3 points up at the break. Sligo had just about managed to stay in touch when a long ball from Tommie Joyce found his brother Padraic, Sligo full-back Mark Cosgrove having mislaid him for the first time since the national anthem. Corner-back Neil Carew came across and hauled Joyce to the floor. Derek Savage nailed the penalty and sniped a point from the kick-out just for good measure. A score of 1-7 to 0-3 at the break was more than Galway deserved.
But for much of the second half, it looked like being more than enough. Sligo came out for the second half looking surprisingly sluggish, although much of that had to do with the fervor with which Galway attacked their task. They produced a lesson in fair tackling, repelling each Sligo attack with a technique and a discipline that commanded utterly commendable concentration from each Galway player. It was little wonder that it took Sligo a long time to get any change from them.
But get change they did, eventually. Eamonn O’Hara began streaking through with rousing runs, one of which ended in a well-taken point. Other scores came from Dessie Sloyan, Gerry McGowan and Paul Durcan and Galway began to hear the footsteps.
But the All-Ireland champions had the clock on their side. Sligo came up a goal short, the legacy of the only time Cosgrove let Joyce slip through his fingers all afternoon.
On such moments are empires built.
Tyrone 1-22, Leitrim 0-7
This was one of the dreariest of turkey shoots. Seven minutes in, James Holohan sent over a nice point to bring the scores level again after Stephen O’Neill had opened the scoring for Tyrone. It was the last time the sides saw parity in this football qualifier at Carrick-on-Shannon.
Tyrone have sleepwalked their way to this stage in the qualifiers and they hadn’t much to do last Saturday except yawn and stretch. All the marquee names got on the scoresheet, with O’Neill, Cormac McAnallen, Peter Canavan and Brain McGuigan doing most of the damage. Leitrim had nothing to offer in reply, with four of their points coming in the last 10 minutes when nobody but the umpires could be bothered rousing themselves into action.
Back to sleep then for Tyrone. They’ll have to wake up fairly soon — Derry are next.
Kerry 5-15, Wicklow 0-7
There was nothing proven in Portlaoise’s O’Moore Park, except that football isn’t dead in Kerry, and that it may as well be in Wicklow. As the woefully meagre crowd (what genius came up with Portlaoise, anyway?) slipped away long before the end, they’ll have spoken of knowing nothing they didn’t already know:
Kerry have some magical forwards who, when given time and space, will destroy anybody. Mike Frank Russell is as good as the country has seen for a decade or is likely to see for another. The likes of Eoin Brosnan, Ian Twiss and Colm Cooper will keep the flame burning long into Paidi O’Se’s dotage. And whatever it is they’re good at down in Wicklow, it’s certainly not football.
The bare stats pretty much tell the story. Brosnan filched 2-2, Russell 1-3. Kerry were out of sight by the 15th minute and after that it was just target practice. The one secret the figures don’t let you in on is the performance of 18-year-old Cooper. Ignoring all the genius that surrounded him, he assumed the role of string-puller-in-chief for the afternoon, bamboozling Wicklow’s defense with the guile of a man twice his age.
But then, a man three times his age would have bamboozled Wicklow’s defense on Sunday. Kerry face Fermanagh in the next round.
Meath 3-8, Louth 2-9
Injury time had just begun on Saturday evening at Pairc Tailteann in Navan and Meath were 4 points behind to a well-drilled and technically superb Louth side. Meath had been lifeless and tepid all evening and Louth were deservedly going through to the next round. And then what happened?
Exactly what you think. Meath woke up, splashed some water on their faces, scored two goals and stole the victory. First Richie Kealy stabbed Louth in the gut and then Graham Geraghty twisted the knife. It was cold, heartless, ruthless and utterly exhilarating.
It was also deeply unfair. Louth were the better side, played the better football and showed the better attitude. Meath were labored, listless and at no stage before that injury time burst did they looked like they cared about going out of the championship. Trevor Giles, of all people, missed three easy frees and but for Ollie Murphy — pointedly unfit but sprung from the bench for the second week in a row — they wouldn’t have even been within touching distance as the clock ran down.
Laois are up next for them. What ridiculous way will they find to win this time?
Cork 1-16, Limerick 1-15
Waterford deserve the hurling headlines of the week, but it’s something of a shame that this wonderful encounter from last Saturday at Semple Stadium is consigned to the agate type. Cork and Limerick fashioned a thing of immense beauty from a rugged rivalry down in Thurles and in the end, neither team would have grumbled had they been forced to plan for another day.
As it was, Ben O’Connor drove over a marvelous point from underneath the old stand with no time left and the umpire’s white flag precipitated the referee’s final whistle, which in turn precipitated the end of Eamonn Cregan’s career as Limerick manager. He departed with a few choice words for referee Barry Kelly, but they can be put down mainly to the emotion of the day.
For it was an afternoon of high emotion and even higher skill. Between Mark Foley, Brian Begley and Mark Keane on one side and John Gardiner and the O’Connor twins on the other, some of the standout performances of the summer were splashed across the Semple stage.
Cork go on to meet Galway in the next round.