Offaly upset at red card as Meath's forwards impress

By Kieran Rooney

AFTER all the fuss the previous week about the amendment of the hand pass rule, it was an old fashioned straight red card that had the biggest impact in last Sunday's provincial Senior Football Championships programme.

The card was handed out to Offaly midfielder John Coughlan in the 39th minute of their Leinster Senior Football Championship opening round clash with Meath at O'Moore Park in Portlaoise. Offaly were trailing Meath by a single point, 0-11 to 2-4, at the time.

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From then on, there was no question as to which side was going to emerge victorious. Meath were impressive in their use of the extra man and eventually won by the comfortable margin of 1-20 to 2-7.

Although you would have to think that Meath would have won anyway, Offaly supporters will wonder what might have been. Certainly, their manager Tom Cribben was adamant that the dismissal of Coughlan was the defining point.

He said: "I know John caught him with his forearm but I thought he was going forward and had momentum. You feel gutted for a team when a game turns on an incident like that."

In truth, it was a tough call for referee Derek Fahy. Dublin based Coughlan, who had declared for his father's county, unquestionably caught Meath's Anthony Moyles with a flying elbow.

Television footage showed that it might have been clumsy rather than vindictive but Fahy did not have the benefit of that. So, Coughlan paid the ultimate price for his indiscretion.

Meath supporters will, however, argue with some justification that they were the better side even when Offaly had all their players on the pitch. Had it not been for some poor defensive work, and the brilliance of Niall McNamee in the Offaly full-forward line, Meath could have had this match wrapped up by half-time.

As it was, they somehow found themselves only a point ahead. They really do have a lot of very good forwards, with Shane O'Rourke, Joe Sheridan and Stephen Bray all dangerous, while Cian Ward is a top class free-taker.

The problem was that their defence could not contain McNamee. He set up two goals for Brian O'Connor and Ken Casey, and then provided another opportunity right on half-time.

But, just when it seemed as if Offaly might have been awarded a penalty, referee Fahy blew for half-time. If that didn't go down well with the Offaly fans, neither, needless to say, did his decision to send Coughlan off for what he deemed to be a deliberate flying elbow.

Either way, Coughlan's dismissal took the pressure off Meath. They outscored Offaly by 1-9 to 0-3 until the finish and were never put under any further pressure.

Unfortunately for Offaly, they were unable to get the ball to dangerman McNamee and finished a well beaten side in the hot conditions. Ward finished with 0-8, with seven points from frees, Sheridan got 1-3, O'Rourke, a son of the former Meath great Colm, contributed 0-4, and Bray 0-2.

Everything considered, Meath look a capable outfit, particularly up front, but they will need to tighten up their defence for their next outing against Laois. They were fortunate on Sunday that Offaly's Niall Darby had a bad day with his free-taking.

As for Offaly, they are going to have to improve considerably for the qualifiers. Once again, the intrepretation of the new hand-pass rule was an issue, but nothing like to the extent of the previous weekend.

The answer is seems is to revert back to what you know, the fist pass. Not that it was a real factor for the other Leinster first round match between Louth and Offaly, played after the Meath-Offaly encounter at Portlaoise.

This was a poor enough standard with lots of mistakes. Just the same, it was an important 1-11 to 1-7 success for Louth and they can now prepare for a quarter-final against Kildare.

They had easily the best player on the field in their captain and midfielder Paddy Keenan. But they will need more big performances if they are to have any chance against Kildare.

In Ulster, Tyrone moved forward to a semi-final meeting with either Donegal or Down by beating Antrim 2-14 to 1-13 at Casement Park. For much of the match, Tyrone were impressive, leading by nine points at one stage, and seven at half-time.

Yet, somehow, Antrim pegged them back to within a goal with 10 minutes remaining. So, although Tyrone eventually got home by four points, some question marks remain following their disappointing league campaign.

Still, manager Mickey Harte seemed pleased enough. "When they scored a goal, the whole landscape changed. They asked questions of us but I'd be happy that we answered them to a degree."

Antrim boss Liam Bradley felt that his team had missed an opportunity, stressing: "I firmly believe we had a team good enough to beat Tyrone, so I'm gutted. But there will be no one wanting to meet us in the qualifiers."

In Munster, Waterford got the better of Clare 1-10 to 0-9 in a quarter-final match at Dungarvan. Their considerable reward is a semi-final meeting against Limerick at the seme venue on June 6.

This was a hard fought encounter between two countries better known for their hurling exploits. Clare played very well in the first half, leading by four points at one stage, but Gary Hurney's goal for Waterford, eight minutes after the restart, turned the tide.

Manager John Owens is now hoping for a more consistent performance against Limerick. "We didn't want the tag of favourites and it put extra pressure on us. Now we have the chance of making a Munster final. Limerick are going to be difficult to beat, but we are going to give it our very best shot."

In hurling, Laois set up a Leinster Championship quarter-final meeting with Dublin by getting the better of Carlow by 1-13 to 0-10 at O'Moore Park on Saturday night. While Carlow have made tremendous strides, the absence of real belief cost them dearly.

The fact that Laois have been at this level for longer was a decisive factor. They also had a hugely important contribution from Joe Fitzpatrick who contributed 1-3, his second half goal being the turning point.

[ INPHO/CATHAL NOONAN: Michael Burke of Meath, left, challenges Offaly's John Reynolds in the first-round game of the Leinster Championship.]

TV plan upsets rugby

WHILE there was no action on the rugby front, the game still generated a lot of newpaper headlines. The reason is Minister Eamon Ryan's proposals to have Ireland's Six Nations and Heineken Cup matches designated free-to-air.

According to the IRFU, this represents the biggest threat to rugby since the game went professional in 1995. Philip Browne, the IRFU Chief Executive, has claimed the proposal would result in the Union losing €12 million euro of its annual television income. The end result could, he argues, mean the destruction of Irish rugby as it stands. In other words, the success of the game in more recent years has been based on the current set-up.

Without the money from Sky Sports, there would be the danger of the provinces losing top players. "It would take a generation or more to turn it around if Eamon Ryan is wrong." emphasises Browne.

"He's playing and gambling with the future of Irish rugby. Does he want that on his head, that he personally brought down Irish rugby on the back of a hunch?"

Subsequently, Minister Ryan has hit back. He disputes the loss of €12 million and maintains that increased sponsorship could materialise though increased television audiences.

Clearly, the argument has still some way to go before, hopefully, some sort of comprise can be reached which does not impact of the future success of the Irish team.

Morgan gets his chance

IRISHMAN Eoin Morgan could prove a key figure for the English cricket team during the summer following his major contribution to their World Twenty20 success.

Previously, the big hitting left-hander had been known as a limited over player. But his efforts were such in the World Twenty20 competition in the Caribbean, the England management now believe he can also make his mark at full test level.

Morgan has been included for a two-match series against Bangladesh, which starts at Lords this week. He replaces Paul Collingwood who will sit out the series with a shoulder injury.

Trapattoni praises doctors

IRISH soccer manager Giovanni Trapattoni, and everyone linked to the game, was enormously relieved to hear that Shane Duffy seems to be making a good recovery from a serious injury in training.

A collision with goalkeeper Adrian Walsh in the Irish training camp resulted in Duffy's hepatic artery being punctured. For a time, there were concerns that he would not pull though as he lost blood at an alarming rate.

Fortunately, the worst is now over and there is even some hope that the 18-year-old Everton defender could be back playing in the autumn.

Trapattoni described it as "a freak accident". Irish midfielder Keith Andrews added: "It's shocking when you hear something like that about someone who is so close to everyone here, one of your own.

"Thankfully, the people who were around here at the time, our surgeons and doctor, made the right calls. If they hadn't, it could have been a different outcome."