Sport

Kevin Madden: A week to forget for Matthew Fitzpatrick

Matthew Fitzpatrick is carried off against Donegal during Sunday's Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final in Ballybofey Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

YESTERDAY morning, for the first time in manys a year, I woke up on Ulster Championship day with a few butterflies in the stomach.

As I contemplated why, it dawned on me that exactly 20 years ago this year, I made my senior Championship debut against Donegal in Ballybofey.

That particular day in 1997, Antrim had a favourable result in the minor game and, in the senior encounter, we lost narrowly after giving Donegal a hell of a fright.

To be honest, I was hoping for a similar outcome yesterday. After a great start for the Saffrons, this senior tie turned on its head after 31 minutes with only a point between the teams.

A good goal chance spurned by Matthew Fitzpatrick at one end finished up with Jamie Brennan netting at the other. Instead of going in a couple ahead at half-time, Antrim were now five points down and the game was effectively over.

The fact that Donegal kicked on to win handy was hardly surprising given the blistering end to the half that saw them able to dictate the second half on their own terms.

Meanwhile, what an unbelievable performance and result from Hugh McGettigan’s Antrim minors.

To lose in extra-time, after leading for 58 minutes of normal would have been devastating. But the resilience and never-say-die attitude, coupled with some serious quality, made them deserving winners.

It was a turbulent week for the Saffrons off the pitch too and, for young Matthew Fitzpatrick, it was a week to forget all round after ending it with what appeared to be a bad injury.

I was disgusted with the CCCC decision to go after him so robustly in the first place and then hand out a crazy 48-week suspension.

The alleged incident relating to the suspension was only brought to the fore after looking at the DVD in relation to a different incident in the League game with Armagh.

The question must be asked why does our organisation continue to trample over the weak?

Finally, the abuse of power to try and eventually settle a score by hammering this young man was pathetic. You don’t need to crack a nut with a sledgehammer.

Mathew Fitzpatrick didn’t create the culture of players and their representatives doing whatever is required to avoid a suspension irrespective of whether they are guilty or not. With the inability to govern their disciplinary procedures effectively, the GAA did that all on their own a long time ago.

So the ‘misleading an investigation’ line doesn’t wash and it certainly didn’t merit the embarrassing outcome that followed. Thankfully common sense prevailed... eventually.

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MONAGHAN boss Malachy O’Rourke will be delighted to have won Saturday’s Ulster SFC preliminary round clash against his native Fermanagh by nine points with so much room left for improvement.

Monaghan had many untidy passages of play during the match where they coughed up possession very cheaply and, for 40 minutes, Fermanagh gave them a hell of a game.

I suppose it was a typical nervy Ulster Championship opener.

There were quite a few incidents that resulted in some poor calls by a referee who looked unfamiliar with the pressure cooker of the Ulster Championship. But to get such a stern test before going through the gears to pull away so convincingly will leave the Farney army a very happy camp.

During the first half, Fermanagh were more than a match and perhaps they could count themselves unlucky to go in two down at half-time. But this game changed very quickly in the second half for three obvious reasons:

You will see all sorts of stats bandied about after a game. Kick-outs won and lost, turnovers in the tackle, number of handpasses, ball kicked or fisted away. The list will go on.

But sometimes amidst all the analysis you can forget the most obvious stat. The most important of them all. How many times did your team take a shot at goal and how many of those chances were converted into scores?

Monaghan managed only one point (Neil McAdam) from their first six attempts at goal in the second half but, at that juncture, with only the bare minimum between the sides, their attacking game finally clicked into gear. Incredibly, from their next 10 shots at goal, they scored, yes you guessed it, 10 points. That’s the type of efficiency you would normally only associate with the likes of Dublin or Kerry in their pomp.

From the ridiculous Vinny Corey (above) back-heel on 43 minutes until a wide by Karl O’Connell on 65 minutes, we were treated to an absolutely flawless display of attacking flair and accuracy.

The fact that Monaghan missed two good goal chances during that opening period of the second half, only highlights that the best may be yet to come.

If the status quo isn’t producing the goods then you have to change things.

In fairness to O’Rourke, he is rarely found wanting when it comes to using the bench.

Three Monaghan subs registered scores, but one in particular stood out.

Owen Duffy added that much needed spark as his pace and accuracy ran a tired looking Fermanagh defence ragged.

His three points from play were big scores, but his direct running also pulled some attention away from a very talented but overcrowded full-forward line of McManus, McCarron and McCarthy.

All three inside men looked very dangerous and, although 1-7 (between them) wasn’t a massive tally, it is fair to say that it could easily have been double that and you would feel they will only get better.

Tactically, Monaghan got it wrong in the first half as they sat far too deep inviting Fermanagh to run at them. In fairness, the Ernemen were very clever in possession with Ryan McCluskey orchestrating things superbly. With their full-forward line tied up, Pete McGrath reacted by pulling Sean Quigley out.

As a direct result it left the space in behind for a well worked goal created by Paul McCusker piercing the hole and Ryan Lyons providing the cool finish.

But when Monaghan changed things at half-time by pushing out and pressing up earlier it resulted in Fermanagh getting caught a lot more in the tackle closer to their own goal. With Tomas Corrigan roving deep and Quigley out of the game, it left nothing for Fermanagh to hit inside. Their approach became far too predictable and, in attack, they looked completely out of ideas.

 

 

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