While Dublin remain clear favourites to win the All-Ireland football title, Kerry and Cork served notice in dishing up a thrilling Munster final at Killarney that they are very much in the mix for the sport’s biggest prize.
Kerry eventually won an absorbing contest by 1-16 to 0-17, having managed to quell a dynamic last-quarter comeback by their great rivals after they had been 1-14 to 0-8 in arrears.
Colm Cooper’s goal proved instrumental in securing an interval lead of 1-10 to 0-6 for Kerry and with Darren O’Sullivan, James O’Donoghue and Declan O’Sullivan also finding the target, the Kingdom looked unstoppable.
But with former Antrim player James Loughrey epitomising their defiance, Cork showed immense character and skill by swiftly trimming their opponents’ advantage with Daniel Goulding helping himself to eight points and Brian Hurley also making his mark. Kerry just managed to hold on in the end but no team will now relish meeting a clearly wounded Cork in the qualifiers.
On a weekend that provided two managerial casualties with Mick O’Dwyer vacating his post with Clare and Maurice Horan stepping down as Limerick boss, the qualifiers oscillated between white-knuckle rides and strolls in the park. Armagh 2002 All-Ireland winning defender Justin McNulty saw his Laois side continue to improve at Clare’s expense by winning 3-17 to 0-10.
But it was all rather different for Galway manager Alan Mulholland whose team scraped past Waterford by 1-12 to 0-14, thanks in the main to a 65th minute goal from Michael Meehan.
To say that Galway have work to do would be an understatement — it took all of Paul Conroy’s experience and the guile of Sean Armstrong and goal-scorer Meehan to see the Tribesmen avoid what could have proved a huge embarrassment against a fiery Waterford side for whom the impressive Paul Whyte scored eight points.
And if football threw up its share of talking points, then hurling underlined its capacity for holding the attention of a rapidly-growing audience.
Dublin followed up on last weekend’s stunning victory over Kilkenny by sweeping past Galway in a pulsating Leinster final in front of 36,000 fans at Croke Park.
The Dubs fully merited their 2-25 to 2-13 win and at one stage it looked as if they might have had an even more convincing success only for Joe Canning and David Burke to pirate goals for Galway.
Kilkenny themselves roared back in style following their Leinster semi-final setback to thwart Tipperary in a thrilling qualifier at Nowlan Park by 0-20 to 1-4. Eoin Larkin’s ten points from frees and play and majestic defensive performances from J J Delaney, Tommy Walsh and Noel Hickey underlined an overall team performance that had manager Brian Cody purring with delight.
Laois proved no match for Clare, losing by 1-32 to 0-15 having been o-17 to 0-8 in arrears at the interval. A goal from sub Shane O’Donnell in the 69th minute merely embroidered a comprehensive Clare performance with Colm Ryan hitting ten points.