Big guns advance, but Kildare show they'll likely test Dubs

LAST year's Leinster Football champions Meath were the main casualties as three of the big guns Cork, Kerry and Dublin moved through to the next stage without too much of a problem.

Well, to be more accurate, Cork and Kerry won pulling up in the Munster Championship against Limerick and Waterford, while Dublin were given more to do when beating Laois by 1-16 to 0-11. But the real contests were Meath's meeting with Kildare, and the clash of Tyrone and Monaghan in the Ulster Championship.

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Both involved some controversial refereeing decisions. In the case of Meath, they had a man sent off and a goal disallowed before going down by 0-16 to 0-10 at Croke Park.

Up at Healy Park, Monaghan had two players sent off as they lost by 1-13 to 1-11 to Tyrone. With no fewer than 14 yellow cards handed out, it's probably fair to say that Meath referee Cormac Reilly wasn't the most popular man at the Omagh venue.

Neither, it seems, was Wexford official Syl Doyle with Meath supporters after their team had lost out to Kildare in the Leinster quarter-final. Meath will undoubtedly feel they got a raw deal as television evidence appeared to show that substitute Graham Geraghty should not have had a goal disallowed.

Furthermore, the straight red card shown to another substitute Brian Farrell after a 56th minute clash with Emmet Bolton was very harsh. For all that, there was the general feeling that Kildare would have won anyway.

Manager Kieran McGeeney has put a very useful team together, one which is going to give Dublin a real run for their money in the June 26th Leinster semi-final. It is well organized, extremely fit, and has a natural leader in John Doyle.

Once again, they showed that they are at their best in the second half. Amazingly, they restricted Meath to just three points in the second period.

At the time of Geraghty's disallowed goal, Kildare were four points in front and could have been put under some presure. As it was, the regained control to finish comfortable winners.

No doubt, some Louth fans might argue that what goes around comes around, as they lost out to a Meath goal that should never have been allowed in last year's Leinster final. Either way, Meath have now to get on with life in the qualifiers.

To give him his due, their manager Seamus McEnaney didn't blame their defeat on the two controversial decisions. "Some days decisions go for you, some days they don't. Unfortunately, they went against us today and that's disappointing."

But there were other reasons for Meath's defeat. The main one, according to McEnaney, was that Meath didn't maintain the same intensity after being in a good position at half-time.

McGeeney was in a much happier place. With two victories against Wicklow and Meath under their belts, there are it seems in a good position for the semi-final against Dublin.

"We struggled at times in the first half but were much better after that." said McGeeney. "Our score-taking improved as the game progressed which was encouraging."

He's right. Kildare were 0-7 to 0-5 behind at the interval before finding their best form in the second half. Once again, John Doyle was a major contributor, while the impressive Eamonn O'Callaghan also finished with four points.

The O'Rourke cousins, Shane and Paddy did most of the damage for Meath, scoring three points each. The second Corke Park match, before a crowd of 41,786, saw Dublin doing no more than they had to do to see off the challenge of Laois by 1-16 to 0-11.

Had it not been for a couple of brilliant early saves by Laois goalkeeper Eoin Culliton from Diarmuid Connolly, Dublin may well have gone on to win a lot easier. As it was, they secured a comfortable enough victory which really told us very little about their prospects for the future.

Clearly, they are going to have to play much better against Kildare, but maybe they will raise their game as the occasion demands. In truth, they didn't have to be brilliant to see off a very brave but somewhat limited Laois outfit.

To give him his due, Dublin boss Pat Gilroy made some excellent substitutites when Laois threatened to get back into contention. Fortunately too, Alan Brogan was on the top of his game, giving a Man of the Match performance to score 0-5.

The dangerous Connolly was the other main contribution, scoring a goal and three points. At least the weather was reasonable at Croke Park, which is more than can be said for the meeting of Tyrone and Monaghan at Omagh.

It rained, both in terms of the weather and yellow cards, at Healy Park. Sadly, from Monaghan's point of view they also saw their skipper Dick Clerkin and Dessie Mone sent off.

Mone's dismissal came in the dying minutes but the loss of Clerkin for two yellow cards in the first half was crucial. Despite his loss, the young Monaghan side, inspired by Darren Hughes, made Tyrone work for their victory.

Hughes's well struck Monaghan penalty gave Monaghan hope but, in truth, Tyrone always looked capable of withstanding the challenge. Manager Mickey Harte will appreciate that they can and will play better when they face the winners of Donegal and Cavan in the Ulster semi-final.

Brian McGuigan sets the standard. After scoring an early point, he scored a superbly taken goal in the 19th minute.

Elsewhere, Colm Cooper was very much the star of the show as Kerry saw off Limerick by 1-26 to 3-9 in the Munster semi-final. Although Limerick managed three goals, there were outclassed by far superior rivals.

Cooper finished with 0-7, just one coming from a free, while Darran O'Sullivan contributed 1-3. But the match told us very little about Kerry as Limerick, deprived of some of their leading players, are nowhere near as good as they were last year.

Kerry manager Jack O'Connor was disappointed to have conceded three goals, but it much have been encouraged with the slick work of his forward line. Give them any space, and they will bury you.

The problem, of course, is that Cork will not give them anything like the same room in the Munster final at Fitzgerald Park on July 3. Cork again demonstrated their huge strength in depth to demolish Waterford by 5-17 to 2-8 at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

Cork were 3-7 to 0-2 clear after the opening quarter. It was a stroll with Daniel Goulding finishing as the defending All-Ireland champions leading scorer, with two goals and two points.

Tribesmen get past Westmeath

GALWAY found themselves in a surprisingly tough match against Westmeath at Mullingar before winning by 4-17 to 2-14 to qualify to face Dublin in the Leinster Hurling semi-final.

All credit to Westmeath for contributing to an entertaining encounter. At one point in the second half they were actually level at 3-9 to 2-12.

Only then did Galway really get going to finish them off with Cyril Donnellan finished with three goals and a point. While it was hardly the performance one expected from a side of their calibre, Galway will surely raise their game considerably for the Dublin encounter.

"We know we weren't good and a similar display will be nowhere near good enough against Dublin. But I think you will see a different Galway in two weeks time," stated Galway manager John McIntyre.

Westmeath will now face Antrim in the preliminary phase of the qualifiers, with the other preliminary round game seeing Cork take on Laois. The Antrim/Westmeath winners will be at home to Carlow in the next round, while Cork or Laois will be at home to Offaly.

Meanwhile, Kerry, London and Donegal captured the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups respectively. Kerry beat Wicklow by 2-21 to 2-8, London got the better of Louth by 2-20 to 0-11, while Donegal defeated Tyrone by 2-12 to 0-17 in the three hurling deciders.