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24 June 1999 Edition

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Sportsview: Derry back to dazzling best

by Dan O'Neill

The signs are that things are on the up for Ulster football as was evident at Breffni Park on Sunday. Derry gave a tremendous display of football as they destroyed Cavan by 15 points in their replay.

This win set the Oak Leaf county up for a mouth-watering clash with Armagh, who were also hugely impressive in their victory over Donegal the previous week.

These two sides showed that they will be serious threats to Galway's crown this year if they can get out of Ulster. We are also still to see how good Tyrone are. They open their championship campaign on Sunday against Fermanagh - I reckon they will also come strong this year and were my tip for Ulster. So we could have three sides from Ulster with genuine aspirations for All-Ireland glory! Since Tyrone fell at the final hurdle in 1995 against Dublin, Ulster sides have not seriously challenged for the Sam Maguire as Derry showed against Galway last year.

So far it is difficult to see exactly how they will cope with what the best in Connacht, Munster and Leinster have to offer.

Dublin and Meath had easy first round wins over Louth and Wicklow respectively a fortnight ago while Cork and Kerry also progressed comfortably this weekend. The champions Galway were also untested against London, and we will have to wait for the coming weeks to see how strong the big guns really are. Mayo and Offaly proved they cannot be ruled out after impressive victories in their recent outings. Even at this stage, the football championship is wide open, with possible challengers for the title coming from every province.

A week ago, Cavan staged a great late comeback to earn a replay with Ulster champions Derry, but I'm sure by four o'clock on Sunday they'd wished a replay wasn't necessary.

In front of their home crowd, Val Andrews side were totally outclassed by a new look Derry team, which looked a lot more focused than the previous week.

Captain Anthony Tohill was inspirational but Enda Muldoon for me was the man of the match. The Ballinderry youngster proved he's one of the best players around at the minute scoring a fabulous goal and three points.

Down also made it to the Ulster semi-final after they overcame Antrim by four points at Newry. Mourne manager, Pete McGrath will be the more concerned of the two bosses, despite the win he will wonder how his side conceded 0-14 against Antrim whose four point defeat flattered them. One good point for Down though was the performance of Mickey Linden who at 36 looked as sharp as ever.

National Football League champions Cork had 16 points to spare at the finish against Limerick, but the result did scant justice to the efforts of the Shannonsiders, who remained well in the hunt until a Joe Kavanagh goal in the 43rd minute.

It is hard to assess Cork's credentials after this game. There is no doubt that they have a lot of talent at their disposal such as Sean Og Hailpin at full back while Kavanagh and O'Mahoney were strong in attack. Their Munster final game with Kerry will be the making or breaking of this side.

The Kingdom county booked their final place with an easy win over Clare. Three first half goals effectively killed off any hopes the Banner had in a one sided contest at Killarney.

The return of John Crowley to the Kerry attack after a lengthy absence through injury worked wonders as he grabbed two of his sides goals and no doubt Cork will have to watch him in their encounter on 28 July at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

It wasn't all football action at the weekend, as the Leinster and Ulster hurling championships were played.

All-Ireland champions, Offaly, overcame Wexford to book a Leinster final place against Kilkenny, a repeat of last year's Leinster and All-Ireland final.

Last year, Offaly needed that famous late Johnny Dooley goal to sink Wexford, however, this time round the champions had plenty to spare and were easy winners in the end.

After the game the Wexford boss, Rory Kinsella, called it a day and a number of their ageing players may also follow.

But what about Offaly? Only a few months ago they had people wondering if they would be able to field a team at all with a spate of injuries against the backdrop of a dismal league campaign. On Sunday they showed they are back to their best though and will not relinquish their crown without a fight.

Last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists, Kilkenny, also looked impressive in their demolition of Laois in the other semi. It was hard to believe that only a year ago this same Laois side were denied a victory over the Cats only by a late goal.

There has been much talk of the strength of hurling in Munster of late but KIlkenny and Offaly showed that Clare or Cork will have to be at their best to overcome these two.

Like Leinster, the Ulster hurling final this year will be a repeat of 1998's decider.

At Casement Park on Saturday Derry progressed to their second Ulster final on the trot with a win over a Down side in turmoil. There is no doubt that Derry have some fine hurlers in the likes of Ollie Collins and Geoffrey McGonigle, but this side would struggle against the Kilkennys and Clares.

Antrim will have learnt little from their easy win over London in the other semi-final, but they didn't look like a side that could challenge for the Liam McCarthy cup either this year.

Despite the poor quality of opposition there were some weaknesses shown up in the Saffron's game.

This weekend's fixtures.

Sligo v Galway (Markievicz Park)

Sligo have improved dramatically in recent years, topping Division 2B this season and were unlucky to lose the NFL Quarter-Final game against Armagh.

They have a solid midfield pairing in Paul Durcan and Eamonn O'Hara backed up by a sound defence. However, they are unlikely to match Galway in firepower.

Although the All-Ireland champions were unimpressive in their victory over London in the last round, they have the best attack in the land and should reach the Connacht final.

Dublin v Laois (Croke Park)

Laois were very impressive in the easy win over the fancied Westmeath in the last round and they have some of the brightest young players in the game at the minute.

Dublin also had an easy route to the semi-final overcoming a poor challenge from Louth, and this Laois team will be their first real test. With Stynes and Whelan strong in midfield and Dessie Farrell and Jason Sherlock in attack the Dubs should progress.

Tyrone v Fermanagh (Clones)

Fermanagh surprised many people with their fine victory over Monaghan in the preliminary round. In Tom Brewster they have one of the best forwards around, though he won't get as much possession against Tyrone as he did in his last outing.

Tyrone have a very strong defence and if Peter Canavan, Adrian Cush and Brian Dooher are firing on all cylinders in attack, the Red Hand county should have enough to go through.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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