Tyrone's Hughes stars in win
Kevin Hughes was the toast of Tyrone after the midfielder’s powerhouse performance put underdogs Antrim to the sword in Sunday’s Ulster SFC final in Clones, which Tyrone won by a score of 1-18 to 0-15.
Hughes made a big difference to Tyrone’s share of midfield possession when he switched onto Niall McKeever, a fact recognized by centerfield partner Sean Cavanagh.
“I was finding it tough enough against Niall McKeever. He’s a massive player, 6’ 7”, and his arms felt like they were 6’ 7” too,” said Cavanagh.
“I was struggling early on. Kevin and myself complement each other very well. Kevin has that wee bit of muscle, that wee bit of fight and maybe he was able to wrestle McKeever out of it a few times, whereas I would not have that kind of body strength.
“I was lucky enough because Kevin was allowing me to break forward and I was lucky enough to get a few scores. But when you the likes of the fellas we have inside, the likes of Stephen O’Neill, Tommy McGuigan and guys like that, they’re able to retain the ball and pop it off.”
Tyrone took their time to gain the upperhand on the Antrim minnows, a point not lost on Cavanagh.
He added, “We had that bit of an edge in experience and maybe, when we five or six up, the complacency factor did kick in and no matter how much you talk about it, it really did.
“Maybe there was a bit of ring rusty there from being four weeks off and it wasn’t good for us. It is mission accomplished so far. We are in an All-Ireland quarterfinal and we wanted to go through the front door. We haven’t broken any records or ripped up any record books on the way to getting there.
“We probably haven’t been really in the white heat of a championship game where it has been ebbing and flowing. We know that the real football is going to start now and we are going to have to improve to be able to live with some of the best teams in Ireland.”
Antrim boss Liam Bradley was proud and defiant afterwards as his team face up to a huge game against Kerry in the qualifiers this weekend.
“These guys will be up for the qualifiers,” said Bradley. “We are not going to let one defeat end our season.
“We will meet this week and we know we have in a game. This team wants to be in Croke Park this year and I firmly believe that they will be in Croke Park in an All-Ireland quarterfinal.
“It is a learning experience for the lads and hopefully further down the line they will learn from these defeats.”
Tyrone boss Mickey Harte, meanwhile, has set his sights on back to back All-Ireland titles after his team’s latest Ulster crown.
“It’s what we said at the start of the year we wanted to do, and it was a daunting enough task at the beginning,” said Harte. “And it has got no less daunting because every team we came up against gave us a lot of bother, and we came out with the right result.”
Mayo’s Peadar Gardiner scored a late, late point to seal a dramatic 2-12 to 1-14 win over Galway by the narrowest of margins in Sunday’s Connacht final at Pearse Park in Salthill then revealed his delight at a first title win since 2006.
Gardiner told the Irish Daily Star, “I was delighted I was there to kick it. It’s a whole 30-man panel, a great management team and backroom team and we’re just delighted we won.
“Conor Mortimer got a great goal, well set up by Trevor Mortimer, and we were seven up but we stepped back. We’ll have to learn from that, but we’re just delighted to get over the line.”
Michael Meehan had scored a late goal to get Galway back on par, but Mayo responded with that Gardiner effort to the delight of manager John O’Mahoney.
He said, “It is never over between Galway and Mayo until the final whistle goes. There always seems to be a final twist and today was true to that form.
“What was important was when we conceded the goal was the response to it. We won the next ball and managed to set up the chance and fair play to Peadar Gardiner for finishing it off. He did tremendously to put it away.
“I stood in this position two years ago here in Pearse Stadium when Galway beat us by a few points and we realized that we had to bring in young players to build. Today is a little progress in that process. It is always a very thin line. Last year Galway had it, this year it is in our favor.
“I have been fortunate to win three Connacht titles with Mayo, a few with Galway and one with Leitrim and they are all special. This one is special because we have watched the team develop over the past couple of years, all of the frustrations and near misses, so it is great to have some silverware.
“Hopefully, we can build and give a good account of ourselves from here on in.”
Galway now meet Donegal in the playoffs with manager Liam Sammon adamant they can bounce back from this defeat. “It will be a hard week, but I think we will be ready,” said Sammon.
“The lads themselves realize it was only a kick of a ball in it. It’s just one extra game we have to play. We’ll be looking forward to it, maybe not right now at this particular moment, but yes, we will look forward to it.”
Kerry survived another scare in the qualifiers on Saturday night when Sligo ran them to within a point in Tralee -- and missed a penalty to boot when Diarmuid Murphy saved from David late on.
Coming weeks after the Munster SFC defeat to Cork and the narrow win over Longford in the qualifiers, this was nearly the worst result possible for the Kingdom -- a score of 0-14 to 1-10.
“It was tough,” admitted Kerry boss Jack O’Connor. “We needed to score a goal in the first half - we had two or three chances.
“They got one that gave them a lifeline to hang on to and they came at us in the end. We’re obviously struggling, lacking a bit of confidence, but we’re still there.
“It’s up to the senior players to calm fellas down. There will obviously be fellas on their back this week about the performance but I won’t worry about that.
“I just feel that one of these days we’re going to gel a bit because, up front, we’re getting a lot of ball. I felt if we had got one of those goals in the first half, you’d see a better performance in the second half. But it’s obvious we’re struggling.”
Sligo had their chances to send last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists crashing out of the championship, but Kelly’s late penalty miss proved crucial.
Not that manager Kevin Walsh held Kelly responsible afterwards. “We’re devastated,” said Walsh. “We threw everything at them. It took us a while to get into the game. I’d question an awful lot of the decisions out there today.
“I’d need to look at the video again. I’m disappointed for the lads. I don’t blame David Kelly for the penalty, he’s a great fella. I’m very proud of them.”
Tony Hannon maintained Wicklow’s love affair with the All-Ireland qualifiers when he pointed a last minute 45 to secure a 1-15 to 0-17 win over Down in Aughrim on Saturday night.
Naturally his manager Mick O’Dwyer was ecstatic afterwards as his team look forward to a date with former charges Kildare in the next round.
“I’m delighted for Tony Hannon, he was under a lot of pressure after missing that ‘45 against Westmeath in Tullamore,” said O’Dwyer.
“He hit it so well to the right post and over, it was a marvelous kick. Tony is a great man for pressure and he proved that today. A lot of people would say there was pressure in Tullamore but when he needed that kick today he got it. It was most important.”
Hannon said, “It was an amazing day and all 30 guys on the panel deserve this. We have been working every night, everything Micko asked us to do we have done and we are just reaping the rewards for it today. We are delighted.”
Donegal dug deep for their narrow extra-time win over Derry in the All-Ireland qualifiers, a result that manager John Joe Doherty hopes will silence the critics.
“We deserved the criticism we got before this,” said Doherty. “But we had a great night’s training on Tuesday and I saw in some of the boys’ eyes that there was a big match in them as they proved against Derry.”
Donegal defender Eamon McGee added, “It really, really hurts when people say that Donegal are finished. A lot of our own fans were giving us a lot of stick and that really hurt. People tend to forget that it was not so long ago that we were up there with the top eight teams in the country.
“We got a lot of stick after the last few matches and we sat down and had a good honest talk. A lot of lads stood up and showed leadership.”
Derry failed to start brightly against their neighbors, as manager Damien Cassidy acknowledged. “We probably lost it in the first 20 minutes of the first half,” said Cassidy.
“We lost the initiative at that stage and we were always playing catch-up after that. We got level, but we could never get ourselves in front. The goal at the start of extra-time was a big factor as we were chasing the game again but good luck to Donegal
“Their backs were against the wall and they were getting stick in the county but they responded really well to it.”