Derry look strong
Well, the first weekend of knockout championship action has passed off and for the footballers of Cavan, Monaghan and Waterford, their season in the county colours has already ended.
The big game in the Ulster Championship was the meeting of Cavan and Derry at Breffni Park. As reported in earlier columns, the Derrymen have had a congestion of fixtures resulting from their drawn National League Final. However, this distraction did not affect their focus on Sunday and they proved to be far too strong for a rather disappointing Cavan side. Derry fielded a potent attack with Enda Muldoon and Paddy Bradley looking sharp and taking some good scores. Their defence, which creaked somewhat against Meath, improved and tightened up, although an uncharacteristic loss of concentration from the peerless Sean Martin Lockhart allowed Fintan Cahill through for Cavan's only goal.
For their part, Cavan never really got their challenge off the ground, which must be of great disappointment to their loyal supporters. Derry now have a League Final replay against Meath to look forward to on Saturday. Their irrepressible manager, Eamon Coleman, has played down the fixture but with championship places up for grabs, the players will hardly take the game lightly.
Fermanagh met neighbours Monaghan in a repeat of last year's encounter. The result this year did not change, with Fermanagh running out comfortable winners. In the two Gallaghers, Fermanagh possess two forwards who could walk onto any county side in the country. With Paul Brewster as the driving force in midfield, Fermanagh could cause serious problems for Donegal on 11 June.
The Munster Championship kicked off with Clare proving less than impressive victors over an improved Waterford team. Clare will have to seriously up their performance when they face Tipperary at the next hurdle.
It wasn't all championship action at the weekend. There was still the matter of the National Hurling League final to be decided between Tipperary and Galway. Both camps were probably operating to different agendas approaching this game. Galway needed the game, both as a morale boosting national title and as a genuinely competitive fixture approaching the championship. Tipperary obviously had one eye fixed on their upcoming clash with Waterford in the Munster Championship.
On the day, the Tribesmen looked the hungrier team and were full value for their five-point winning margin. The problem now facing Galway is the hiatus now enforced upon them before their next competitive match. The challenge for Mattie Murphy and his selectors is to keep his team sharp during the intervening period. The game will have provided some food for thought for Tipperary manager Nicky English. His team lacked that crucial sharpness needed on championship Sundays, but as mentioned earlier, their focus could have been elsewhere. The defeat could provide a useful motivational tool for the management team leading up to the Waterford game.
On Saturday, Cusack Park in Mullingar provided the venue for the clash of Limerick and Tyrone in the All-Ireland U-21 football final. The Limerick team have had a fairytale run this year, but as we are all well aware, more often than not the fairytale ending just doesn't happen. Tyrone were strong favourites leading up to this game and this proved well founded. Limerick had their moments, but they were facing a truly classy Tyrone team who are worthy champions. The successful Tyrone side of `95/'96 had its previously victorious under-21 team led by Peter Canavan as its backbone and this team could provide a similar platform for the County Team within the next couple of years.
Wexford are in the driving seat of the round-robin football championship series in Leinster leading into this week's final round of fixtures. In hurling, Dublin outclassed Westmeath but their next fixture versus Laois should be a more accurate yardstick of how they are progressing.
Two costly Ballyboden exits
It was a bad weekend for the Ballyboden St. Enda's Club in Dublin. On Monday night, they made an unexpected exit from the Senior Football Championship at the hands of Trinity Gaels. On Sunday, their ex-hurler, Padraig Harrington, was disqualified from the Benson and Hedges Tournament at the Belfry for not signing his card, blowing a probable £166,000 stg first prize in the process. Regular readers of this column will know that I am already an avid fan of Harrington's (even though he played for `Boden) and I think his maturity in coping with this embarrassing debacle will have won him more admirers. Too often, our sporting stars turn out to be spoilt prima donnas living lives detached from reality. Thankfully, Padraig Harrington is neither.
BY PADDY SWAINE