Monday 20 November 2017

Colm O'Rourke: No respite from summer's heat

The end was quick for some but too painful for others

A dejected Gary O'Donnell, Galway, at the end of the game
A dejected Gary O'Donnell, Galway, at the end of the game
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

A long summer's journey from afternoon through evening and into night marked the end of a season's football for some and the promise that others may yet be around to enjoy the last of the summer wine.

Starting at the end, Tyrone against Meath had a very cagey opening, as if the two teams were mostly concerned with their back line, but after Eamon Wallace slid in a goal for Meath, Tyrone came out to play and the half was dominated by Sean Cavanagh both from play and frees, even if the referee bought a dive that Jurgen Klinsmann would have been proud of.

It is amazing at this stage how everyone buys his dummy, but he drops the shoulder and sends his marker the wrong way with incredible regularity.

As the half wore on more support came from Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly and Meath had to wait until nearly half-time for their only point from play, a fine effort from Stephen Bray.

At this stage the Tyrone backs were smothering the Meath forwards and there were few occasions when a forward was just left with one man to deal with. Conor Gormley was playing the spare man well and often it was three backs against one forward. It was a bit like that on the other side too with Donal Keogan keeping his finger in the dyke for Meath.

Meath just would not go away and a few frees went against them, the second half was slowed down by a lot of yellow cards which took an age to hand out. If Meath were very gritty in keeping up the chase they were let down by the scoring return. Nine points is never going to win a game at this level and Wallace needed a bit of help from play as he caused plenty of problems with his pace

Tyrone do not look like All-Ireland material on this evidence. There are a lot of cracks and if Cavanagh is held then the scores and the assists for others will dry up. Yet the system employed is still carried out with purpose and discipline and when the game was up for grabs they outscored Meath by four points to two in the last 15 minutes.

It was supposed to be shooting fish in a barrel for Cavan and it certainly looked like that for a long way in the first half until Paul Geraghty fisted a goal for London.

It took Cavan a long time to recover from this and they spent the latter part of the first half hand-passing back and sideways. There must have been a lot of Cavan cemeteries heaving with some of the legends of the past when Ronan Flanagan kicked a free from near halfway back to his goalkeeper. That would have been a mortal sin to Higgins, O'Reilly, Duke and the others who made Cavan the true and original aristocrats of Ulster football. But needs must.

Cavan are now in a quarter-final and David Givney, Killian Clarke, Eugene Keating, Martin Dunne and Cian Mackey continue to improve.

What Cavan are is a young, fresh, fit team who should get better over the next few years. They are well organised and their physique will improve with time and even if they are very unlikely to figure in the All-Ireland final it still has been a year of major progress.

London have built a profile for their team for all the emigrants in that great city and they put on a performance of heart and spirit. It was only when their legs gave way in the last 10 minutes that Cavan were able to relax.

Before this year very few in the GAA would have known the colour of the London jersey, now at least they have a profile and it might help to get even more players in the city to try and get on the team as it has not been very attractive up to now.

Their great voyage is over for this year but it has been a huge boost to the internationalisation of the GAA.

After the Munster final the consensus was that Cork would be much better organised and consequently blow Galway away with pace and power. It did not work out that way and the first half was played on Galway's terms. They brought much more energy and passion to the game and kicked marvellous long-range points with Michael Meehan back to his best, ably assisted by Paul Conroy and Sean Armstrong.

The foot passing of the Galway players was excellent and created space for forwards to run on to. Cork on the other hand looked just as flat and disorganised as in the first half of the Munster final.

Galway also won a huge share of the breaks in the second half which is always the sign of a hungry side.

Yet for all that Galway went through a long barren spell in the third quarter with poor shot selection and many bad wides. Cork, with most of the old guard back on and fighting for survival, reeled them in from five down.

Even though Conor Doherty played the covering role very well for Galway there were holes through the middle of the Galway defence and after creating several clearcut goal chances Cork eventually took one through Aidan Walsh. The tide turned and the experienced Cork players like Walsh, O'Neill, Goulding put Galway to the sword.

The real hero for Galway was goalkeeper Manus Breathnach who saved shots, kicked out well and early on embarked on the longest solo run of a keeper this year. He was inspirational.

Meehan's incredible strike from a free which gave Galway a goal came too late but they deserved a bit more from this game. At the very least they have a concrete base to build on for next year which is saying something after the destruction by Mayo in the first round in Connacht.

Cork limp on, their street sense and personal pride got them through but they are not really firing and Conor Counihan must wonder if they can lift it for the quarter-final. The tests ahead will be much greater and yet if they could build on the resolve shown in the last quarter then they have a chance. Time though is running out and nobody will fear Cork on the basis of this performance.

Sunday Independent

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