23 June 2005 Edition
Blue waves and red cards
BY Matt Treacy
Forget about your Nou Camps and your Celtic Parks and your San Siros. Croke Park on a hot June day, packed with 82,000 people, is the place to be. Not only did the two Leinster semi-finals succeed in establishing a new record attendance but that could have been exceeded had there been room for the many disappointed who were unable to get tickets on Sunday.
Conscientiously, I arrived in time for the game between Laois and Kildare but it was such a mismatch that it had little attraction for the neutral, other than to admire the efficiency with which Laois took Kildare apart. The question is, are Laois really that good, or did Kildare simply throw in the towel? I suspect that there is an element of truth in both theories. Laois were excellent but there were too many Kildare players who just didn't want to know, which was strange, given the stout-hearted display they produced to beat Westmeath.
The Dublin-Wexford match began badly for me when I lost my bet with Ciara that I could keep my mouth shut for 70 minutes. I had maintained my zen-like composure for all of 30 seconds when I found myself handing over a crisp tenner. I admire people who can sit stoically through any match involving their own county but I suspect that they may be doing themselves internal damage. Far better to get it out of your system, I say.
For about 15 minutes it looked as though Dublin were going to have at least as easy a victory as Laois. On top at midfield, the Dublin forwards were tearing the Wexford defence apart and scoring points almost at will. The few attacks that Wexford had were generally snuffed out and Paul Griffin was effectively shepherding Mattie Forde, who had possibly his poorest return from any game he has played in the purple and gold, scoring just three points, two of those from frees.
Then Wexford began to get on top as Lambert and Fogarty won significant ball against Whelan and Ryan. Redmond Barry, Wexford's best player on the day, was the main conduit for a series of points and netted the rebound when his penalty was saved by Stephen Cluxton after Colman Goggins brought Diarmuid Kinsella down. Barry celebrated in front of the Hill, as he was entitled to, having been the target of a missile attack from some imbecile as he stepped up to take the spot kick.
Wexford led by a point at half time and were four clear within a minute of the restart, when PJ Banville got through for their second goal. As in the Meath game, Dublin did not allow that to faze them and fought back to level the match with some well-taken points, interspersed with some poor wides.
Dublin had several attacks during that period that might have resulted in goals before Sherlock finished an incisive move by slamming the ball past Cooper. Unlike Dublin, who had used the second Wexford goal as an incentive to get themselves back into the game, Pat Roe's men never looked like winning after that.
Jason's goal was also the excuse for complete strangers to embrace passionately like old General Secretaries meeting on top of the Kremlin. Mind you, I am not sure that the Kildare girl behind me appreciated it.
The only potential threat to Dublin's dominance in the last quarter came with ten minutes to go, when Ciarán Whelan, like a young Vaslav Formich Nijinsky, launched himself into the path of Wexford's David Murphy. That move might have won him 9.9 in Olympics gymnastics, or the lead role in L'apres-midi d'un Faune, but it only succeeded in earning him a second yellow card and a despatch to the sideline. In fairness, Whelan was playing the ball rather than the man but you could see the referee's point, in retrospect.
Whelan departed the field clutching his jersey over his heart. The point was well made. The Dubs this year are like the Lion after his visit to the Emerald City. Lack of resolve will not be their downfall.
Donegal look like a team that could do with a visit to the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, although I am not sure what he might give them. Maybe he could stuff a few heads with the straw left by the Scarecrow. There was much criticism of referee Maurice Deegan after the game — indeed he was spoken to by both Brian McEniff and Joe Kernan at half-time — but in fairness, a referee and his assistants cannot be blamed if certain players decide that they are going to take out their opponents when the play is elsewhere.
I only saw the game on TV but from talking to people who were in Clones there was quite a bit going on and maybe the frustration felt by the two team managers had to do with the fact that much of this was being missed because it was not being drawn to the attention of Deegan. The only thing that was apparent to viewers was that Francie Bellew appeared to be unlucky in receiving a red card to add to the three awarded to Brian Roper, Eamon McGee and Adrian Sweeney.
Whatever about the nature of the game, and who did this or who did that, Armagh did what they had to do. They absorbed the early pressure, generally kept their heads and destroyed Donegal with three goals, although the match was over even before the second from Steven McDonnell, not least in the collective psyche of Donegal.
The nature of the match meant that Armagh looked strangely subdued at the end and even Kernan was not his usual composed self. No doubt, that will be worked on during the week but Armagh will have another tough one in Sunday's semi-final against Derry in Belfast, especially if Armagh do not succeed in having Francie Bellew's red card rescinded. They might need him to keep an eye on Paddy Bradley, who was in fine form in Derry's win over Monaghan.
As predicted last week, it will be a depleted, battered and demoralised Donegal that faces up to Wicklow on Sunday in Aughrim. It will be interesting to see what way the bookies price this one up. Normally, you would expect that Donegal would be long odds on — maybe 2/5 or 1/3 and Wicklow 3/1 and bigger. The latter would be well worth a bet at those odds.