John Mullane laughed in Davy Fitzgerald’s face as Waterford beat Clare in the Munster SHC semifinal on Sunday -- but Fitz had no problem with his former player’s reaction.
Mullane literally had the last laugh, on live television, as Waterford held out for a narrow win (2-17 to 1-18) against the Clare side managed by their former boss Fitzgerald.
The sideline celebrations caused something of a stir but Fitzgerald, who managed Waterford for four years before taking charge of his native Clare this summer, wasn’t bothered.
He said, “I think John Mullane was told something that was untrue about me saying he was finished as a player.
“Listen, I have no problem whatsoever and let me say this 100% on the record -- John Mullane is one of the best players I’ve ever seen and John Mullane has another two or three years in him big time if he wants,” Fitzgerald said.
“Sometimes people tell players things to get them riled up and to perform in a game. And I still think there’s a savage amount in that Waterford team. I have nothing but admiration and respect for them. They’ll have a say in this championship before it’s over, but don’t write off Clare.”
Fitzgerald also refused to criticize referee James McGrath for the first half penalty decision that cost his team an Eoin Kelly goal.
“You can say hard done by or whatever - I don’t read into that,” he added. “We had our chances. I’m not going to go into it. The analysts will see that themselves on television.
“I have no cribs whatsoever. Waterford won, end of story. Some days you’ll get breaks. Other days you won’t.”
Kelly insisted McGrath was right to award Waterford a contentious first half penalty after a tussle between Kelly and Clare defender Cian Dillon on the edge of the square.
“Oh, it had to be a penalty,” joked Kelly. “It was a free out first! The referee had a good game. There were no big decisions going one way or the other. We won -- that’s the main thing.”
Waterford boss Michael Ryan was delighted his team made it to their fifth Munster final in a row with the victory over former mentor Fitz.
“It was a real tough Munster championship battle and I was delighted to come out on top,” said Ryan after the win over Clare.
“There were times when the game seemed to be slipping away from us in the last six or seven minutes. They were on the crest of a wave and they’re a very fit, formidable side.”
Waterford will look to do better in this year’s final than they did against Tipp last year when they lost by a whopping seven goals.
Ryan added, “It’s a big result for us, there’s no two ways about it. The last time we played in the Munster championship we lost by 21 points in the Munster final.
“We had a poor enough start to the league campaign, we were missing a lot of lads, but we’re getting fellas back now, we’re seeing the benefit of getting fit. There’s a long way to go but we’re on the road.”
GALWAY boss Anthony Cunningham was more than happy with his team’s 14-point win over Offaly in the Leinster semifinal on Sunday.
The westerners will now meet Kilkenny or Dublin, who play this Saturday, in the provincial final next month after they hit the goal trail in Portlaoise.
“We would be happy any day you get into a Leinster final and get over the semifinal,” said Cunningham. “We were happy with our display today but we have a bit of work to do I have no doubt.
“We would probably be unhappy also that we conceded some scores that we will be looking hard at. It’s a great win for the lads, they have done everything we asked, but we will need to improve to get over a Leinster final.
“We need to be sharper in our play all over the field. It’s another step up for us the next day, but we have the players and we are well up for it.”
Forward Cyril Donnellan said that the Galway players are excited by the prospect of a first Leinster title.
“It’s massive -- no-one ever from Galway has won a Leinster medal. The lads inside the dressing room know the importance of it,” said Donnellan after he scored three points against Offaly.
“It was a great move for Galway to go to Leinster and a Leinster medal would be as important to anyone in there as anything. We’re four years in there and we’ve only contested one final in 2010.
“Kilkenny killed us off after 20 minutes and we would have been disappointed with it at the time. We’ve a chance to build on it now and see where it goes.
Offaly boss Ollie Baker was critical of his team’s defending against Galway.
“It was suicidal defending for the first 15 minutes and Galway got goals,” said Baker. “It was just defenders not standing up, not turning the man backwards and once they got past us.
“We just gave away one or two soft goals and once you do that you’re fighting an uphill battle completely.”
KILDARE were 13 point winners over Offaly in Sunday’s Leinster SFC semifinal, but manager Kieran McGeeney was unhappy about their failure to find the back of the net.
“We created a lot of goal-scoring chances, but we didn’t take them,” said McGeeney as his team booked a semifinal date with Meath.
“Definitely though it was a decent day out. We did well with 19 scores and we had eight points from play. You can be happy with it, but there’s loads of room for improvement.”
Offaly boss Tom Coffey had no complaints as his team were sent packing for the All-Ireland qualifiers and a trick tie with Tipperary.
“Beaten by the better team by far,” he told reporters afterwards. “We knew coming into it that Kildare had brought it to a different level, and I suppose themselves and Dublin have broken away from the pack in Leinster anyway, and are in the top three or four to win the All-Ireland.
“That’s the reality. The lads trained hard the last eight weeks, which would have been six weeks hard going, plenty of matches, and we put our best team on the field, but there was still 13 points separating us at the end.”
DONAL Og Cusack won’t play for Cork this year, but the injured goalkeeper is helping the squad prepare for Sunday’s big clash with Tipperary.
Cusack is acting as goalkeeping coach to the Cork team despite his recent Achilles injury.
He told the Irish Examiner, “A couple of weeks after I got hurt, Jimmy Barry-Murphy came down to me and asked if I would get involved in the coaching side of things.
“I work now for Jimmy and Ger Cunningham and do whatever I’m told to do. That’s the atmosphere
Jimmy created. It’s not just goalkeeping; it’s any part of it. Ger might say to me, ‘I want you to take this bit tonight.’ That’s the journey I’m on now.”
DONEGAL captain Michael Murphy surprised everyone with his return from injury in Saturday night’s Ulster semi-final win over Derry – even manager Jim McGuinness.
Murphy roved between midfield and the half-forward line as champions Donegal booked their place in the provincial final.
“Michael kind of made the decision to play himself, in the warm up, he felt that he was good to go,” revealed McGuinness.
“He felt that he wasn’t going to be put himself under major pressure by deciding to play. We decided the best thing for him would be to get the game time under his belt. We took a wee bit of a chance with him that way. Thankfully, he got through all right.”
MEATH made no mistake second time around as they won their Leinster SFC replay against Carlow on Saturday night with relative ease.
“We are absolutely delighted -- our dressingroom is delighted to be back in a Leinster semi-final,” said Meath boss Seamus McEnaney.
“I often wonder where the expectation comes from -- maybe it comes from the media. We have worked extremely hard against a lot of different things, but we put in seven debutants, the young fellas are playing really, really well and putting pressure on other lads for places.
“They are working extremely hard and we are just absolutely delighted to be in a Leinster semifinal in two weeks time.”