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2 February 2006 Edition

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Incredible finishes - on the field and in the ring

BY Matt Treacy

Last Sunday's Junior All-Ireland semi-final between Ardfert and Monaghan Harps certainly lived up to its billing. Indeed it was possibly the most incredible finish to any game I have ever seen and will long live in the memories of all who were there. Sweet ones for Ardfert. A nightmare for the Harps.

It was a game that belied the belief that Junior football is an inferior vintage. This was a game played with passion, skill and whole-hearted commitment. If the Kerrymen gave an exhibition in clinical goal taking, Harps were equally impressive in point scoring with some excellent long-range efforts.

Indeed it was this ability to take their points that seemed to have guaranteed the Monaghan men victory in extra time after they had posted three unanswered scores at the end of normal time to tie the match. In the first hour Ardfert had struck for vital goals; first from Brendan O'Flaherty after four minutes, again by John Egan after Harps were skillfully dispossessed coming out of defence while Stephen Wallace seemed to have won the day with Ardfert's third goal in the last quarter. However, points by David Loughran and Nicholas Treanor evened things up.

Earlier, Ardfert lost their goalkeeper Dermot Dineen but Nicholas O'Sullivan proved to be a brave and worthy replacement. Extra time clearly took it's toll with players dropping around the field with cramp, but there was to be no slackening in the pace. If anything Harps may have had the greater stamina reserves and appeared to be powering home under a wet sail.

The wheels seemed to have come off the Ardfert cart altogether when a man was sent off. Harps went four points clear and only the most incurable romantic would have given Ardfert a chance of coming back as the seconds ticked away. Shane Griffin provided a glimmer of hope when he blasted the ball into the net after an incisive Ardfert attack, but that appeared to have been extinguished when David Loughran extended the lead again to two points.

By now, the game was already into extra time and the Harps sideline was half way onto the pitch in expectation of referee Fintan Barrett's whistle. In front of us the Harps mentors were asking the time-keepers how long remained and leapt with abandon when told. They might have heeded the advice of John Donne: "Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

John Egan tolled the knell. A last desperate Ardfert attack saw the ball moved quickly up along the right flank. Egan grabs the ball, and in a manner eerily reminiscent of his namesake of the 1970s blasts the ball low into the corner of the net. Delirium erupts. The whole of Ardfert pours onto the field. Indeed some of us who have no right to be there join them. It was that sort of match.

Last Saturday night, RTÉ went 'big' on boxing. The feature was live coverage of two professional bouts at the National Stadium and, as an appetiser, two episodes of the acclaimed TV series on the 'sweet science', The Fight. The first of these dealt with the manner in which 'the mob' controlled professional boxing for decades until Ali put an end to the career of Sonny Liston, widely believed to have been in the pocket of 'tough Italian guys from the Bronx'. We were assured that the days of crude fight fixing are long gone.

Or are they. The main event in the National Stadium was the contest between Bernard Dunne of Dublin and Noel Wilders in the super bantamweight division. Dunne, like Kieran McBride is an Irish boxer with great expectations. He confirmed them again by stopping Wilders for his 19th successive victory, and will get a tilt at the European title later this year.

The main talking point of the night, however, was the Irish lightweight decider between Michael 'Gomez' Armstrong and Peter McDonagh. Gomez, who looks like the sort of chap who you wouldn't use the ATM in front of, was 1/10 favourite. McDonagh, from Carraroe, bears an unfortunate resemblance to Spud in Trainspotting. You felt that only bad things would happen to him.

Gomez was aggressive and had McDonagh on the ropes for most of the first four rounds which he clearly won on points. Then in the fifth Gomez dropped his hands. McDonagh, fighting out of an umbilical crouch, looked up like a soldier in the trenches who has realised that the shelling has stopped. He threw five or six punches at Gomez, most of which connected with the back of the Longfordman's head because he was walking away. Gomez went down. Fight over. Perhaps it was my imagination but he seemed to peer into his corner for guidance as all this was taking place.

After the fight McDonagh unfortunately referred to the fact that he had been 125/1 with the bookies to knock Gomez out. Ger Gilroy then asked had Uri Geller been a help to him. Of course he had. "He can bend spoons". Joe Kernan checks the phonebook under G.

In the studio Mick Dowling believes that Gomez had some sort of existential crisis. An epiphany. "He just decided to quit boxing." Excellent timing for the chaps who took Boyle Sports for a nice few grand before they suspended betting! Steve Collins is not convinced. "I smell a rat... the whole thing stinks." The boxing authorities agree and neither fighter will be paid until an investigation is complete. Wherever tough guys from the Bronx go after the bell, Frankie Carbo is chortling over his chianti.

An Phoblacht
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