National Football League gets big welcome as push for points begins

Dublin continue where they left off as Kerry punish a callow Donegal in Letterkenny

 

The National Football League can never say it doesn’t get a decent welcome. A bumper crowd of 16,500 enthusiasts showed up in Cavan to acknowledge the return of the Blues to Division One on the Allianz tables – and to see the All-Ireland champions promptly pick up where they left off last September. This is the 30th win in succession for Jim Gavin’s team. Who can stop them and when?

If you traced your finger along the border on Sunday, you’d have come across Kerry, their old rivals, firing 2-17 in the sunshine in Letterkenny over a Donegal team shorn of so many of their boys of summer. With Tyrone bossing Roscommon in Omagh and Monaghan edging Mayo in a terse Saturday night in Roscommon, the sorting-business has already begun in the top tier of Division One. And the March 18th date set for Dublin and Kerry – under candle-lights and soft music in Tralee – might be special.

In Letterkenny, the encounter between Donegal and Kerry carried none of the edge of last year’s brutal battle in Tralee. Both managers went for youth but Donegal were particularly callow and bucked the odds to string off six late points and push Kerry to a 1-17 t0 2-17 conclusion.

Learning curve

“This league will be a huge learning curve and we have got to be united and keep digging when things aren’t going well on the pitch,” said Rory Gallagher afterwards.

“But the boys are aware that that is what we are expecting from them. Wee bit disappointed that towards the end of the first half we didn’t battle as well and some of the heads did drop. Naturally when you play a team with Kerry’s quality that will happen sometimes. The last number of years we haven’t been able to get enough scores. It is something we have challenged the lads on. We need more of an outlet, more people able to get the ball over the bar. We have centred on Patrick [McBrearty] and Michael [Murphy] and Ryan [McHugh] too much over the last year or so.”

For most teams, that’s the balancing act of the league: learning your trade and making your plans and trying to pick up points on the hoof. Mayo’s opening-night defeat brings their trip to Kerry next weekend into sharp focus. Kerry have been notoriously sluggish in February over recent seasons. But not this year.

“We’ll have what we have for next weekend,” said Éamonn Fitzmaurice as the Kerry coach driver warmed the coach up for the six-hour spin south.

Bangs and bruises

“We’ve a few bangs and bruises but hopefully the lads will be alright. Shane Enright. obviously I’d be surprised if he was available next weekend but other than that everyone else will be available. Another tough game but a home game and a Saturday night so there should be a good atmosphere in Tralee. Mayo came strong last night at the end but they just managed not to get anything out of the game. They’ll be anxious for points as well next weekend.”

Anxiety is the calling card of the league. After a day of draws in Division Two, the most acute anxiety surely centres on the citadels of Meath. The Royals went down to a 3-17 to 0-16 defeat against Kildare in Navan. It doesn’t bode well. But the big consolation for Meath and the other losing counties is that it is early February. Believe nothing yet.

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