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28 April 2005 Edition

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Small crowds in Croker, violence at the Oval

BY Matt Treacy

The attendance at Croke Park last Sunday for the Division One Football Semi-Final between Armagh and Mayo, and the replayed Leinster Under-21 Final was disappointingly small at just under 20,000. One possible reason for this was that the fixture clashed with Glasgow's re-enactment of the Thirty Years' War. Apparently, the forces of the counter-reformation were triumphant. Excellent start to the new Pontificate!

Of course, True Gaels were in Headquarters, with at least half the crowd present for the replayed Leinster Final between Dublin and Kildare. Unfortunately, ten or eleven thousand people in a stadium the size of Croke Park can seem fairly sparse but those who were there more than made up for it by the amount of noise they made.

Dublin, who had lost Mark Vaughan to a red card in Navan the week previously, and who were also without two other first team players, hit the ground running and following an early Kildare point, built up an eight-point lead entering the last five minutes of the first half. Any tendency on the part of Dublin supporters towards complacency was tempered by memories of previous occasions on which Kildare teams had pulled back similar deficits — most notably in the 2000 Leinster Senior Final — and we were not to be disappointed.

The Lilywhites, replete with their new post-modern county crest, had three points in the closing stages, to leave just five points between the teams at half time. Kildare maintained their dominance at midfield in the second half and closed the gap to a point. Disaster might have followed the sending off of St Vincent's Willie Lowry but Dublin kept their nerve and a combination of steely defence, long relieving runs from Bryan Cullen, and an excellent point from Bernard Brogan, were enough to ensure a hard fought victory.

Ciara, who is clearly related to the dwarves of MiddleEarth, was suitably pleased by the shining trophy and she will be back to see the hoard added to over the course of the summer! Dublin now meet Down in the Under-21 All Ireland Semi-Final in Navan on Saturday. In the other semi, Cork play Galway at Limerick.

Mayo must look forward to visiting Croke Park in the same spirit that Aztec maidens relished a trip to Tenochitlan. I have always had a soft spot for them but they often give the impression that they are only going through the motions. They briefly confounded that by decisively defeating Tyrone last year, but against Armagh they displayed a similar lack of fire as was apparent in the All-Ireland Final last September. The game was close enough but it was Armagh who wanted it more and did so with relative ease in the end.

I wonder if the Mayo dressing room before a big game sometimes resembles the scene prior to a Kildare-Dublin junior match some years ago, when after the manager had given a ferocious pep talk exhorting his charges to heroic endeavour, he turned to each of them demanding: "Who's going to win lads?" To which one of the players replied: "Jaysus, you'd have to fancy the Dubs."

Mayo have some of the best individual players in the country. Foremost among these is Ciarán McDonald and he showed flashes of this on Sunday, particularly in some of his passing. McDonald was marked by Kieran McGeeney, who demonstrated that he has lost little of his tenacity and power. The first half was by far the more entertaining, with both sides starting brightly. Mayo hit the crossbar and were unlucky not to have been given a penalty when Paul Hearty hauled down Andy Moran. The attack was broken up and Armagh won a penalty at the other end, only to see Oisin McConville's effort smothered by David Clarke in the Mayo goal. Mayo did draw level again in the second half at 0-13 apiece but from then on Armagh dominated the final quarter and won easily enough in the end by five points.

Setanta Cup violence

The Setanta Cup, bringing together soccer teams from both jurisdictions, must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Instead, it may mainly be remembered for violent incidents that have taken place at some of the games. Three weeks ago, a group of Linfield supporters brought their own unique brand of sectarianism and racism to Flancare Park in Longford. In fairness, the Linfield club unequivocally condemned what they described as "filth" but unfortunately, the same element was to the fore at last Saturday's Irish League game against Glentoran at the Oval.

Both teams have a large loyalist following and there have been clashes between them in the recent past. Linfield supporters were able to get onto the pitch when the game ended and attacked the Glentoran stand. Fighting continued on the pitch and there were clashes outside the ground. Obviously, none of those involved reflected too much on the lessons of Heysel.

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