14 June 2007 Edition
The Matt Treacy Column
Two more classic games a possibility at Croke Park
I suppose it is a measure of the gap between the current expectations of Dublin hurling followers and those who have a peripheral interest centred on the footballers that the latter thought that Dublin “only” getting beaten by a point by Wexford was good.
Indeed. In which case Dublin “only” getting beaten by Mayo in last year’s football semi-final represented a similar triumph. I also trust that none of them will be pestering people for tickets when the hurlers do make the breakthrough and are there on one of the big days in Croke Park!
Dublin didn’t deserve to beat Wexford, although they might have done, but they probably deserved a draw. They had weathered a sustained period of pressure from Wexford but were five points down heading into the last ten minutes. Wexford did miss chances but most of their failure to pull away from Dublin was down to the tenacity and determination of the Dublin backs. On another day, Rory Jacob might have had 2 - 6 or 2 - 7.
Dublin narrowed the gap and levelled on the cusp of injury time with a Ross O’Carroll goal. Now they had the momentum but the game turned on a fluffed sideline resulting from a passage of play in which Dublin might have been awarded a free. Instead Kevin Flynn miss hit the ball and the resulting tussle for possession led to a Wexford free.
So instead of Dublin holding the advantage and putting pressure on the Wexford backs as time ran out in what was the last piece of play, Barry Lambert was able to keep his nerve and post a huge free from the sideline. On such twists of fate do championship matches often turn.
While some might question the value of Wexford being subject to a hammering by Kilkenny in the Leinster final, at the very least Wexford are now into an All Ireland quarter final and hopefully they will give the Cats a run for their money prior to that.
Dublin, meanwhile, will be in one of the qualifier groups along with Offaly, who did well enough in the first half before collapsing against Kilkenny in the other semi-final, and the losers of Tipperary/Limerick and Waterford/Cork. At least there is the comfort blanket of knowing that the danger of relegation to the Christy Ring Cup no longer hangs over the bottom teams.
Indeed, Dublin’s ambitions are higher than mere survival and will be hoping to reach the quarter finals the hard way. On the face of it, two wins seem unlikely but much will depend upon who the other teams are and where the matches are played. We live in hope.
In Munster Limerick defied the odds and being a man down for most of the game, to draw with Tipperary. They might in fact have won it had not the referee pulled them up for an alleged over carrying offence near the end. The question now is whether or not Tipp can raise their game for the replay.
That might indeed be posed in starker terms: will Eoin Kelly raise his game? He only scored two points last Sunday, demonstrating once again the dependence Tipp have on him. He rarely has two quiet days in succession so the odds must still favour Keating’s team to advance.
If they do they will meet the winners of Waterford and Cork who are in Thurles on Sunday for the most eagerly awaited match of the championship so far. Unfortunately events off the field – specifically at the Central Hearings Committee – may now have a large bearing on the outcome.
This is on foot of the decision to impose a four week ban on seven of the players who were involved in the pre match jostling between Cork and Clare players prior to their quarter final. Four of the seven are from Clare, and they will miss their first qualifier match, but of more immediate import is that the Cork defence will be severely weakened by the absence of goalkeeper Donal Óg Cusack, full back Diarmuid O’Sullivan and left half back Sean Óg Ó hAilpin.
All three have been a huge part of Cork’s success over the past three or four years and their absence clearly tips the balance in favour of Waterford, a fact likely to be reflected in the bookmakers’ odds. Not that Waterford did not have a chance without this – I think they might have shaded it anyway – but their prospects have been immeasurably enhanced. Unfortunately for we neutrals the possibility of another classic have in consequence perhaps been diminished. Not that Waterford will mind, and why should they. Too often they have been at the other end of classic games.
Two more classic games are a possibility at Croke Park where Dublin and Meath meet in their replay, and Clones for the Ulster semi-final between Tyrone and Donegal. More likely however are two uncompromising struggles between teams that will be waiting to see the whites of one another’s eyes.
Dublin and Meath could turn out to be anything, such is the rising level of expectation and tension. On the face of it Dublin would appear to have more scope for improvement from the last day but science does not come into this. Be prepared for anything!
Donegal are the new pretenders in Ulster and will relish this opportunity to put one over on the former, but possibly vulnerable, champions. Tyrone had a bad year last year and while it was thought they would have overcome injury and other problems that has not been the case. It is also the fact that no matter what they might say, they are not the same team without Peter Canavan. Could go either way but maybe Donegal to emerge on the day and provide Mickey Harte with more headaches facing the difficult route through the qualifiers.