National leagues back with a bang; weak refereeing led to Ferguson’s injury

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Driving rain, howling wind, last-gasp winners and aghast managers spitting January venom over disputed scores and questionable timekeeping. Yes, it’s great to have the National Football League back, writes Gordon Manning. Champions Kerry suffered a one-point defeat in Ballybofey as Kingdom manager O’Connor claims one of Donegal’s scores “blatantly wide”. Patrick McBrearty announced himself as Donegal captain with a magnificent point deep in injury-time as they beat the reigning league and All-Ireland champions Kerry by the minimum at a wintry MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey.

Three-goal Roscommon started their league campaign with a victory over Tyrone. Ryan O’Donoghue’s 76th-minute equaliser tied it all up between Galway and Mayo with neither side objecting too much to the outcome. Armagh found their shooting boots to beat Monaghan after a strong start to the second half in Castleblayney.

Ireland’s starlet Evan Ferguson is the victim of an inept refereeing culture, writes Ken Early in today’s subscriber only piece. The primary duty to protect players being forgotten as referees (and VAR) seem more concerned about “letting the game flow”. “A tackle from behind that endangers the safety of an opponent was made an automatic red card offence in 1998; but 25 years later referees are waving these tackles through.”

Brighton’s Mitoma winner dumped Liverpool out of FA Cup. From a position of strength, a goal to the good through Harvey Elliott, they were reeled in by a Brighton team that are attracting fresh superlatives from week to week. In women’s transfer news, Arsenal have dismissed speculation linking the Ireland captain to a big-money move to Chelsea. The window closes at 5pm on Tuesday afternoon, so Chelsea have until then to up their bid. Sky Sports News opts for BREAKING NEWS alert on Chelsea bid for Irish star, writes Mary Hannigan.


Forget the acrimony, Irish rugby owes Warren Gatland a belated “thanks”, writes Denis Walsh in his Monday column. Before the fallout over dropping O’Driscoll and not picking Sexton, Ireland’s golden period started with the Kiwi coach. Reviving Wales is Gatland’s greatest challenge yet, writes Gerry Thornley, as three wins out of 12 Tests is a disastrous 2022 return under Wayne Pivac. Without the internationals present, Max Deegan continues to impress for Leinster. Fit again after an ankle injury, he was a deserved recipient of the man-of-the-match against Cardiff. “His athletic qualities are obvious, but he has refined aspects of his game, not least of which is an ability to win collisions on the gain-line,” writes John O’Sullivan. For more rugby news, sign up to The Irish Times’ new “Counter Ruck” email digest for the view from the press box with Gerry Thornley.