Saturday 16 December 2017

Royals rise to the occasion as Galway come up short

Meath’s Stephen Bray celebrates after scoring the winning point in his side’s victory over Galway
Meath’s Stephen Bray celebrates after scoring the winning point in his side’s victory over Galway


Two managers under pressure came face to face in Navan last night but there could only be one winner. Both Tomas O Flatharta and Seamus McEnaney had faced criticism in their adopted counties this season, and defeat would almost certainly spell the end for the losing manager.

As it was, Galway's 0-11 to 0-10 defeat, in a dramatic finale, sent them crashing out of the football championship despite a spectacular second-half comeback. Meath, showing the benefits of a motivational talk from former Tipperary hurling manager Liam Sheedy last week, were in control going in at half-time but they failed to score for the first 30 minutes of the second half allowing Galway to go one point with full-time approaching. However Brian Farrell got the home side back into the game with a superb point and Stephen Bray followed it up with the winner in injury-time.

On a hectic evening of championship fare, the most remarkable game was at the Morgan Athletic Grounds where Mick O'Dwyer's fairytale with the Wicklow footballers had another remarkable chapter -- not even extra time could separate them and they will have to meet again next weekend. O'Dwyer can thank Seanie Furlong for keeping his side in the game with two vital goals which extended his tenure as Wicklow boss.

In Portlaoise, Kildare made a convincing argument that they were very unlucky to have exited the Leinster championship as early as they did, romping to a 15-point victory over Laois. Kieran McGeeney totally overhauled his full-forward line ahead of the game, and the restoration of Tomas O'Connor to the edge of the square following his omission against Dublin was effective. O'Connor made a direct contribution to all bar one point of his side's first half tally of 2-3.

And in what has become typical of Kildare's championship performances, they were relentless in the second half, piling on 1-13 to win comfortably by 3-16 to 0-10.

The Laois back-line looked a tired unit towards the end of the game, but the ability of Kildare to punish their opposition when they get the better of possession -- as well as the emergence of O'Connor as a viable option on the square - makes McGeeney's team the least attractive proposition for today's draw.

"We're still in the qualifiers," said McGeeney after the game, "and we've got a long, long road ahead of us, hopefully."

London's championship run came to an end yesterday when they lost to Waterford 1-17 to 0-13 in Ruislip. The Exiles were on the back foot from the start, conceding a goal in the opening minutes. They fought hard against the strong breeze in the first half, however the sending off of Paul Geraghty and Ciaran McCallion combined with some bad passing sealed London's fate.

Tyrone had to work hard for victory over Longford in Pearse Park but a second half Mark Donnelly goal was the difference between the two. Tyrone, who made made five changes to the team they originally named, brought on Brian Dooher at half-time, and after an uncertain first half they went on the attack and ran out 1-17 to 0-15 winners.

Limerick were the first football team into the Phase 3 qualifier draw with a surprise victory over Offaly at the Gaelic Grounds. Limerick had to do without dual players Stephen Lucey and Mark O'Riordan, who lined out for the hurlers in the win over Antrim at Parnell Park last night, but Ian Ryan more than compensated for his missing team-mates finishing the game with a stunning personal haul of 1-7 from play.

And another year goes by without Leitrim getting a qualifier win. Mickey Moran's side were beaten by last year's All-Ireland beaten finalists Down in Newry. Benny Coulter was the main man for Down, scoring seven points from play but Leitrim didn't make it easy for the home side, and led at one stage early in the second half.

It was much closer in Casement Park where a 14-man Carlow came within one point of Antrim. A goal from Mark Dougan in the 54th minute combined with the sending off of Ed Finnegan, swung the game in Antrim's favour. However, Brendan Murphy, Carlow's hero from their win over Louth, almost rescued them with a last minute goal.

On a day when there were 10 championship games, eight in football and two in hurling, the lack of television coverage drew widespread criticism. Only Kildare's win over Laois was broadcast, on TV3.

RTE was inundated with queries and complaints yesterday. The volume of texts and calls was so high that on several occasions the afternoon radio presenters had to explain the black out was the result of the GAA's decision to reduce the number of games available for live television broadcast.

In hurling, Galway again answered their critics at the Gaelic Grounds with a convincing 12-point victory over Cork in the third phase of the All-Ireland hurling qualifiers. It took John McIntyre's men a while to find their range, hitting four wides in the opening seven minutes, but when they did they were unstoppable, winning 2-23 to 1-14.

A Joe Canning penalty was saved after 23 minutes but that didn't deter him -- the Portumna man finished the game with a tally of 10 points, five from play. Canning was helped by Damien Hayes who found the net for the Tribesmen for the second week running and also hit three points.

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