TOMORROW will be mainly taken up with the suspensions and sanctions and the thundering disgraces. Of some teams undercooked and others overheated. Why there aren’t separate access and egress to dressing rooms? Why we have penalties? Why we don’t have a replay and a reminder of what football might be like with the manacles off?
For one day, it’s recommended that the constituency savours high-octane football excitement from a pair of sides, Galway and Armagh, balancing priorities between zone defence, low blocks and high presses, patient possession and rapid transition. To put the ball in flight and the game there with it.
There may be trouble ahead for some of Armagh’s extended group when Croke Park begins the review, but that will matter less to Galway now. Padraic Joyce has had some sobering afternoons since starting on the sideline, but if Sunday doesn’t stir something extra into the group, nothing will.
They filled Croke Park early in the expectation of something uplifting, but what followers got was as good as anything seen outside of the Kerry-Dublin rivalry in 50 years. When the eruptions eventually subsided, Joyce’s side had, after penalties, booked an All-Ireland semi-final with Ulster champions Derry, after a 3-18 to 2-21 belter.
How much solace the judge’s perfect scores for artistic merit will provide to Kieran McGeeney and Armagh is debatable. That they had a chance to win it via Niall Rowland with the last chance of extra time is remarkable, because once Galway had broken Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final open around 50 minutes, it appeared the plot might run dry on intrigue and twists.
But the fun was just beginning. It may be a coincidence that Kieran Donaghy, now part of the Armagh coaching ticket, was, in his pomp, the prince of the small parallelogram and thrived on creating carnage when the aerial bombs dropped to ground. Twice in the game’s injury time, Armagh cashed in with goals from above, and they would do it a third time in the second period of extra time, with Rory Grugan profiting to put them 3-16 to 1-20 in front.
Any faint chance the tie had of settling to some order at that stage was torpedoed when Galway went up the other end and man of the match Cillian McDaid goaled to edge the Connacht champions back in front.
Incredibly McDaid had to rescue Galway again in the final minute of regulation as Armagh replacements Eoin Woods and Jamar Hall tried to top off the definitive act of defiance with late points for Armagh.
They declared on 3-18 to 2-21 and then the unwelcome penalties, Galway’s sweetly converted four enough to spirit them from free of the madness. Each of their starters from seven-to-fifteen contributed on the scoreboard though it’s just as well they all have 13 days to recover. Shane Walsh barely made it back to his colleagues stationed in centre field after converting his spot kick, while Damien Comer was banged around like a car at Daytona.
And that was supposedly the warm up for a crowd that eventually topped off at 71,353.
Sadly, the main billing didn’t live up, afflicted by conditions, Mayo’s limitations, Kerry’s bluntness and to round off the tour of excuses, a one-hour delay resulting from the earlier drama. Besides all that, trying to match what went before was absurd. The last of the weekend’s quarter-finals was gruel and black tea, no sugar compared to the sweetness that preceded it.
The Kingdom, short again of competitive prep, hadn’t their Croke Park best with them to shake off their pursuers, though they eventually broke free in the final furlong or two to progress to a semi-final with Dublin, 1-18 to 0-13. Kerry turned over possession early and often and the likes of Gavin White, usually seamless in transition, was too frequently caught in possession.
David Clifford rolled his ankle early but still contributed the game’s capital moment, a 28th minute goal. His manager, Jack O’Connor reckoned Clifford would be pretty sore today but nothing like his compatriots will be if he is absent for the July 10th semi with Dublin.
Mayo were light at least two of their top forwards on Sunday but that doesn’t give them a pass for some of the poor efforts on Kerry’s goal – they kicked fifteen wides to say nothing of the other five they dropped short into Shane Ryan’s grateful arms. Demoralising stuff. To suggest the road is shortening ahead of this remarkable group is not being unkind. Their manager James Horan rightly cut short any immediate debate on his or some of his veterans’ futures, but they need something different and fresher in 2023.
Their Connacht neighbours are eyeing a first final appearance now since their win in 2001 against Meath. It was only their second win in Croke Park since to boot and the manner of it can only help.
Armagh looked poised and deliberate early as they sped into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead but importantly, at no point did the Tribesmen look troubled or exasperated. They were tied at 0-7 at the break, but a 40th-minute Galway goal from Johnny Heaney, fashioned by McHugh and Tierney, seemed to have swung momentum their way.
When Kieran Molloy made it 1-16 to 0-13 at the beginning of injury time, even the additional eight minutes signalled offered little prospect of what would unfold. Aidan Nugent batted a goal and though Comer replied, Turbett capitalised on defensive mayhem to goal and Rian O’Neill struck a sublime free from beyond halfway to force extra time.
In the midst of it all, an angry squall swept in from Dublin Bay but too late to cool tensions - the tinderbox was already igniting. Armagh players, in a state of frenzy and intoxicated by O’Neill’s wondrous equaliser, made for Damien Comer, who wouldn’t be buffeted more coming through a cattle gate at a rodeo.
Authorities will be fuming at the spectacle – not least the attempted eye gouge of a Galway player - but sheepish too that both sides are still using the same exit point from battle. It should not be happening after so many tunnel tantrums and if the circumstances of four dressing rooms in use precludes this, then officials should be pre-advised. Is it too much to expect that a team takes one changing area each on the Hogan side and the Cusack equivalent for each quarter-final?
Though both sides suffered reds, Sean Kelly and Aidan Nugent the fall guys, the ten-minute pause was welcome to take the heat out of the situation. Kelly's dismissal certainly looked worthy of further review this week.
Grugan’s 81st minute goal revved the engines again, but McDaid and Galway answered in kind.
They were doing that all day.