Last Sunday’s clash between Cork and Kerry reminded me so much of Mayo’s All-Ireland final versus Meath in 1996. Mayo could and should have won in 1996. Cork could and should have won last Sunday. Cork were ahead by five points with 15 minutes remaining but were clinging on in those final minutes when Kerry came storming back into the game in typical bullish fashion. Cork have only themselves to blame as they should have been out of sight, notwithstanding the fact that referee Maurice Deegan stands accused of leaning very much in favour of Kerry in the closing stages of the match. He had indicated two minutes of additional time to be played in the second half, but left the clock running. Cork managed to edge in front with a converted 45 within those two minutes and appeared to have pulled off a sensational victory. But inexplicably Deegan managed to extend playing time by a further two minutes and, to add insult to injury, advanced the last free awarded to Kerry by 20 metres, giving Bryan Sheehan the easiest of chances to convert and level the game. The additional time played created a lot of debate after the game and Mick Curley, the chairman of the National Referees’ Association, was invited by RTÉ Radio 1 to discuss the matter. Curley, himself a former referee, understandably wasn’t ever going to land his former referee colleagues in the manure and went on to defend Deegan stoutly. I was on the same radio show and decided that I should come to the defence of both Deegan and Marty Duffy (Croke Park referee ), reminding listeners that a young Pat McEneaney, who refereed the All Ireland in 1996, had a terrible game and we here in Mayo managed to forgive him for some of his bizarre decisions in both the drawn and replayed final of that year. Mick Curley did go on to suggest that he would be personally in favour of a countdown clock similar to that used so effectively in ladies football, rugby, and basketball, that would make life so much easier for referees. You know I’m not so sure about this at all. I never minded a draw in football, as long as I wasn’t involved in any way with a participating team. A drawn game creates great debate afterwards. Also I am delighted to have the opportunity to see these two teams have another go at progressing to a Munster final tomorrow evening. TV3 has again decided to televise the match at 5pm, and with a live Leinster championship encounter involving Kildare and Wexford also beamed into our living rooms at 7pm, we can have no complaints about our national broadcaster. If Cork do manage to prevail next Saturday evening, they will advance with great confidence and it will take a very good performance to beat them later in the year.
The replay means an extra €400,000 approximately will find its way into the Munster Council coffers, with an expected turnout of 25,000 punters next Saturday. In fairness, the Munster Council has reduced its ticket tariffs by €5 across the board which somewhat helps ease the pain in these recessionary times. If the Gooch was to score a few points similar to the point he scored late in the second half when surrounded by half the Cork team, that would be worth the entrance fee alone. Finally, who do I think will win it? I genuinely expected Cork to win last Sunday and I see no reason why they can’t this Saturday. There is still a doubt about the fitness of the brilliant Tommy Walsh (remember they were without him for most of last Sunday ), and with their other giant Kieran Donnaghy also unavailable through injury they have a big decision as to whether to play a target man at full forward. Jack O’Connor was preoccupied all week trying to establish what his best 15 for this game would be. Darragh O Se did enough the last day to suggest there is no reason as to why he cannot limit the influence of Nicholas Murphy around the middle of the field and as expected he gets the nod to start. Young David Moran is another brilliant young star who can play anywhere around the middle, not to mention Bryan Sheehan. He scored five points in just over 20 minutes, proving that he can also be a match winner, and he has got a place in the full forward line from the start this weekend.
Conor Counihan, the Cork manager, once he got over the disappointment of coughing up a five point lead, will otherwise enter this replay in the knowledge that his team more or less picks itself and is playing with great confidence. While some might suggest Kerry’s stirring revival has ensured the momentum has swung in their favour, I still believe Cork will prevail.
I rushed home from the Crossmolina Breaffy league match on Sunday afternoon to watch the Dubs play Meath. I am always intrigued by the Dubs and look forward every year to see just how good they might be. The Dubs understandably generate huge media attention and with a few new players and a new management team this year there were great expectations for 2009. (Isn’t there always? ) Liam Moffatt (Crossmolina ) has been involved on occasions with them recently, albeit in a peripheral role as a physio, and he told me that they were absolutely flying in training in the last few weeks. However a team flying a week or two before a game can be a worry. I have always felt more comfortable heading into a game with a few little concerns about a team’s performance. For some reason, it invariably leads to a better team performance and more often than not a winning one. Anyway as it transpired the Dubs were definitely leaner and fitter than the 2008 model, but having watched them for 70 plus minutes the 2009 model does not appear to be any better at winning a game. The Dubs have never lacked for mobility, they just have that manufactured look about them and while they are all comfortable on the ball, they just aren’t good enough footballers to trouble the big four teams in the country. Again they had a monopoly on possession for most of the game, but some of their efforts for scores were awful. As it happens this young Meath side were not able to punish them fully for those missed chances, although they did make them sweat for their victory. All in all this was a poor performance and Pat Gilroy, the Dublin manager, will fully appreciate what senior football management can do to body and soul by the time he earns a breather some time later this summer. The Dubs lost their big powerful new full forward, Mark Davoren, early in the second half with what looked like a serious knee injury, later confirmed to be a cruciate injury, that has brought the curtain down on his participation for the remainder of the season. He is a loss. He had scored two points from play and was giving all the signals that he would have been a handful for full backs in this championship. Incidentally, Marty Duffy, the Sligo native officiating at HQ came in for lots of criticism after his handling of this game. He did appear to be a little over officious when it came to reprimanding players. Some refs can flash a yellow card to a player in a nice manner, almost apologising for having to do it. Duffy, on the other hand, appears to revel in it. He has often run the length of the field waving a yellow card in that sergeant major like fashion leaving no one in any doubt as to who was in charge, not that anyone would need to know when Duffy is refereeing. The real issue however that drew down criticism was the time keeping. It was explained during the week that one of Duffy’s two time pieces had stopped during the match - the one that starts and stops for breaks in play. The other one keeps track of total time played. Imagine if it was the other watch that had stopped, they might be still out there playing. Ah ya can’t beat the oul’ championship.