I never thought to put the option of a draw into the poll that was running here on the site over the last few days about the outcome of the Leitrim/London semi-final but maybe the close result of the poll – which came out 51/49 in favour of the home team – carried some kind of implicit support for the possibility of a stalemate outcome. A draw it was – with Leitrim, cast in the unfamiliar role of favourites in a Connacht championship match, snatching a reprieve with two late points – and now they have to do it all over again this day week to see which of them gets to meet us in the provincial final in a month’s time.
The departure from the contest after only 15 minutes of Leitrim’s most potent forward Emlyn Mulligan certainly helped the Exiles’ cause today, as did their ability to notch goals (two of them) at crucial periods of the game. Mulligan went off with a calf injury and Leitrim’s ability to close this particular deal the next day could well depend on whether or not the Melvin Gaels clubman is fit to play. Barry Breen and George Dugdale might also want to consider if the four lads who broke curfew the other week have spent long enough on the naughty step.
The Connacht Council have, by the way, now fixed the replay for Hyde Park next Sunday with a 3.40pm throw-in. Our minor semi-final against Galway will be the curtain raiser to the replay, with the minor game throwing in at 1.30pm.
Today’s draw also means, of course, that we’re none the wiser either about where the final will be played. That decision was due to be made tonight but this now won’t happen until the result of next Sunday’s replay is known.
Up at Breffni Park, meanwhile, Donegal made their way through to a third successive Ulster final but only after Down gave them a far more searching examination than many would have expected. Only for their poor ball handling and some woefully misdirected passes – with Benny Coulter one of the main culprits in this respect – the Mournemen could well have done it. At least their ballsy challenge showed that the defending champions are far from beatable, especially when they start to lose their key men.
Once again, though, it was amazing to see Donegal being allowed to commit foul after foul after foul for an entire seventy minutes and largely get away with it. They didn’t pick up their first yellow until the 26th minute and, once again, they got through the full seventy minutes without the punishment their style of play deserved.
If you look at how Donegal’s two championship games this year have been reffed and compare it, for example, to how the Duffy sisters have handled ours it’s as if we’re playing different codes. Michael Duffy blew for 61 frees last Sunday and while I haven’t seen the free count for today’s match yet, I’d be surprised if it were as high as this, despite the constant, unremitting fouling that took place at Breffni Park today.
I have to say that I’m astonished at how Donegal continue to get away with this. Any opponent that takes the ball into contact against them can be sure, at a minimum, to get a slap and to be pulled back. Both are fouls, the first arguably a straight red, yet every time it happens they get away with it. It’s almost as if they get a free pass because this is what refs expect them to do.
That’s all fine and dandy if the same rules are applied to both teams but, as we saw in last year’s All-Ireland and as Down found out today, that isn’t always the way it pans out. More than once today, Down were penalised for very similar infringements to ones that Donegal got away with and, in a match as finely balanced as today’s was, these calls were crucial. Had those decisions gone the other way, though, the result could have likewise but instead Donegal march on, with an unprecedented Ulster three-in-a-row now in sight for them.
Finally, @MayoGAA have full details on all of the club championship matches played over the weekend. Thankfully it appears as if all of the county panel who lined out in these matches came through unscathed.