By Kieran Rooney
IF the GAA authorities, and more obviously the television cameras, were looking for drama during last weekend's All-Ireland football program they certainly got it.
Kerry and Dublin were heavily involved. Both of their ties went to extra-time, Kerry making their usual comeback before eventually getting the better of Cork by 1-15 to 1-14 in the Munster semi-final replay at Paric Ui Chaoimh.
Dublin also needed extra time to see off Wexford in the quarter-final of the Leinster Championship at Croke Park by 2-16 to 0-15. Unfortunately, for much of this game it was a case of dismal Dublin as they trailed by 0-10 to 0-3 at one stage in the second half.
Elsewhere, things were even closer. Meath and Laois, in fact, could not be separated after extra-time in their Croke Park Leinster quarter-final and must meet again after drawing 2-13 to 1-16.
Remarkably, the only tie that didn't go to extra-time was the Ulster quarter-final between Fermanagh and Cavan at Breffni Park. Again though, this was desperately close with Fermanagh just getting the better of their rivals by 1-13 to 0-13.
The logical conclusion at the end of it all is that defending champions Kerry remain the team to beat. Certainly, Cork must be wondering just what they have to do to defeat them.
As was the case with the previous weekend's drawn match at Fitzgerald Park, Cork had their chance to seal the deal in Sunday's semi-final replay. Cork were a point ahead, thanks to a Ciaran Sheehan point going into injury time, but back came Kerry to force the game into extra-time with a point from Marc O Se.
The depth of each squad was tested in extra-time, and it was Kerry who came out top, John Hayes kicking the winning free to give them their 1-15 to 1-14 victory.
While the Kerry substitutes played a major role, it was the incomparable Colm Cooper who really proved the difference.
"The Gouch" finished with six points from frees and was a thorn in Cork's side throughout. Afterwards, there was a lot for Kerry to feel pleased about prior to their Munster final meeting with Limerick, but one potential downside is that Paul Galvin could be in trouble with the disciplinary authorities after an incident involving Cork substitute Eoin Cadogan.
For all their disappointment, Cork could yet mount a challenge for the All-Ireland title though the qualifiers. They only have to look at what Kerry achieved last year for inspiration.
"The qualifiers is the only door open to us now. We'll regroup and we'll rally. We've worked too hard and too long to give in that easy." stressed Cork manager Conor Counihan.
Dublin could so easily have been in those qualifiers alongside Cork. By the 47th minute outsiders Wexford had established a seven-point lead, and there seemed no way back for Pat Gilroy's largely untried young Dublin team.
But as Wexford ran out of gas, and probably self-belief, Dublin somehow drew level by full time, the all-important goal coming from Bernard Brogan. By the finish, the Dubs were reduced to 13 men following two sendings-off, but, crucially, they were restored to full strength for extra-time.
The decision to bring on from the substitutes bench some of their more experienced players such as Mossy Quinn and Bryan Cullen helped as they made sure of victory. Again, it was Bernard Brogran who secured the all-important goal, he finished with 2-4, 2-3 from play.
But as Dublin wait to face the winners of the Meath/Laois replay in the Leinster semi-final, manager Gilroy has more than his share of problems. Their new system simply didn't match up for much of Sunday's game.
So much so, that some of the 49,757 crowd jeered them as they went in at half-time. Still, Gilroy refuses to be too downhearted, stating: "We're delighted to get away with what we did here today. We didn't get to grips at all with the game until the second half."
Wexford, who dominated midfield for so long, were left wondering what went wrong. But manager Jason Ryan probably put his finger on it when admitting: "We didn't have the killer instinct."
At least Wexford have the consolation of what would seem to be an easy first round qualifier against London. The losers of the Meath/Laois replay will face Tipperary in those qualifiers, but obviously both much much prefer to meet Dublin in the Leinster semi-final.
For much of their quarter-final meeting, Meath looked the more likely to go through but Laois showed great spirit to fight back. Their goalkeeper Micky Nolan will be particularly pleased as he let in a soft goal during the extra-time, dropping a high ball over his own line.
Fortunately, Laois sub John O'Loughlin came up with the goods, firing two superb points to level matters at 2-13 to 1-16 for Laois at the finish. The replay has been fixed for Tullamore on Saturday.
In Ulster, Fermanagh qualified for a semi-final meeting with Monaghan by virture of their 1-13 to 0-13 victory over Cavan. The all-important winning goal was scored by Ryan Carson with six minutes left.
Cavan will now face Wicklow in the qualifiers. The full first round qualifying draw is: Armagh v Donegal, Carlow v Derry, Kildare v Antrim, Offaly v Clare, Longford v Mayo, Cavan v Wicklow, and Tipperary v Meath or Laois.
[INPHO/JAMES CROMBIE Derek Kavanagh and Alan O'Connor of Cork and Kerry's Seamus Scanlon and Anthony Maher all have trouble catching the ball in the Munster semifinal replay.]
Ireland come 2nd in medals table
Ireland's amateur boxers have returned from the European Championships with their reputation greatly enhanced. The captured three bronze, a silver and a gold medal.
The gold went to 23-year-old Paddy Barnes from Belfast at light-flyweight. Kilkenny's Damien O'Neill won a silver, and Ken Egan, Eric Donovan and Tyrone McCullough were responsible for the bronze medals.
It was a marvelous return, leaving Ireland second in the medals table to hosts Russia. These are extraordinary times for Irish amateur boxing, much of the credit for which must go to coach Billy Walsh.
The next stop is the World Championships in Korea next year followed by the 2012 London Olympics. "We look to be a very healthy position," Walsh said.
"To end second in the table to Russia is a remarkable achievement. They have about 100,000 boxers, while we have about 70 seniors.
"Thankfully, we have an abundance of talent, but we mustn't get ahead of ourselves. We've exceeded our expectations in the European Championships and now we must put our heads down and keep working."
Irish tour Down Under gets off to bad start
EVERYTHING that could go wrong did go wrong for the Irish rugby team as they lost their opening tour game to New Zealand 66-28, conceding nine tries, at New Plymouth last Saturday.
As if facing the All-Blacks with an understrength team isn't difficult enough, Ireland had their outstanding forward Jamie Heaslip sent off after 15 minutes. To compound matters, Ronan O'Gara was then sin-binned leaving Ireland with just 13 men.
Needless to say, the All Blacks took full advantage to lead 38-0 after 34 minutes. It was, as coach Declan Kidney admitted afterwards "a horror show" with Ireland consistently falling off their tackles.
Thankfully, Ireland did improve, scoring four tries through Dan Tuohy, Brian O'Driscoll, Tommy Bowe and Gordon D'Arcy. But the damage was already done and Kidney now faces a huge task to pick the squad up for the remaining games against the New Zealand Maoris and Australia.
To make his task even more difficult, his already injury hit squad has been further reduced with a five week suspension for Heaslip for using his knee on All-Black captain Richie McCaw in a ruck, and flanker John Muldoon's broken arm.
Rather surprisingly, Kidney has called up Rhys Ruddock from the Ireland Under 20 squad to join the tour, instead of going for the more experienced Alan Quinlan or Neil Best. Either way, Ireland face a tough task for the remainder of the tour.
Quite apart from the uncharacteristic sending off of Heaslip, and O'Gara's yellow card, Ireland made far too many mistakes in a dismal first half at New Plymouth. Most obviously, they simply didn't make their tackles.
One of the plus points in an improved second half was the performance of Tony Buckley, a late replacement for the unavailable John Hayes in the front-row. Andrew Trimble also marked his return to the international side with a fine performance on the left-wing, while Tommy Bowe was his usual effective self on the right-wing.
Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Donnacha O'Callaghan and David Wallace also tried hard, but, overall, there is a lot to do. Kidney was at loss to explain what happened, particularly in regard to Heaslip's sending off.
"It's out of character," stressed the Irish coach. "You never want to have days like this and we now must take a look at how it happened.
"I thought we showed reasonable skills after the interval but we had already made a mess of things in the opening half."
Meanwhile, on a disappointing weekend for Irish rugby the Under 20 team lost 24-21 to Argentina in Rosario to finish bottom of their group. The defeat meant that they had lost all three of their matches, having earlier suffered defeats to France and England.