GAA pre-season kicks off with surprising gusto

Fans brave bleak January to see players test mettle on soggy pitches across country

The first spidery cracks in the shell of the GAA season appeared yesterday and it felt like more than the usual cadre of headbangers defying sense and poking their noses out of doors as the various pre-season competitions kicked into gear around the country.

In Gorey, a crowd of 3,000 turned out for a lunchtime throw-in to see Davy Fitzgerald’s first appearance on a Wexford sideline. In Clones, double the expected crowd pitched up and caused the throw-in to be delayed by 10 minutes. In January!

Men you'd have credited with more sense hopped aboard the merry-go-round with indecent haste. In Sligo, the country's longest serving intercounty footballer Mark Breheny suited up for his 18th season, losing out to Galway 0-10 to 0-13. Fermanagh's Ryan McCluskey faced the flag for the start of his 17th season, going down by 0-15 to 1-13 away to Monaghan.

Rebel yell

Much worth seeing? All in the eye of the beholder, really. Cork were put to the pin of their collar for a while by Kerry in the Munster Hurling League but scored 13 unanswered points in the second half to end up 1-28 to 0-18 winners. The much-touted Shane Kingston scored four points from play in the first half and later took over free-taking duties to finish with 0-9 by his name. Rebel ears prick readily at such figures.

A few counties sent out shadow squads with varying degrees of success. The Kerry and Dublin under-21 footballers came through against Tipperary and DCU without missing a beat. The Mayo team that took last year’s All-Ireland final to a replay spent the afternoon up Table Mountain in Cape Town; those next in line spent it getting beaten 1-21 to 2-16 by NUIG in Castlebar.

Waterford's hurlers included only Stephen Bennett of their frontline players against a Limerick side that started 11 of last year's team and led at half-time before going down 1-14 to 0-24. Offaly got a fright from Christy Ring champions Meath, trailing by three points at the break before turning it around with three goals in the second half for a five-point win.

Jack McCaffrey made his return to intercounty competition, not with a county but a college. He anchored UCD at centre-back during their 2-14 to 1-17 draw with Wexford in the second part of a double-header in Gorey. For the record, Davy Fitz’s hurlers savaged a scratch UCD side with a 35-point beating in the opener.

Not much of a mark

In football, the mark got its first run out, to no conspicuous effect. It being January and most of the pitches soggy, most teams hadn’t the volume of work done to be playing much in the way of short kick-outs so we got to see plenty of high balls hooshed out to the middle. But, as widely-predicted, balls were either punched clear or caught to general indifference. The stakes will have to be higher before we see the mark gain any sort of importance.

If there was a result worth noting anywhere, it probably came in Breffni Park where Cavan and Tyrone both fielded handsomely stocked teams and the home side ended up with four points to spare. It got cranky too, with three players sent off – including the usually mild-mannered Mattie Donnelly, of all people. These teams meet again in Division One of the league next month.

Might be worth keeping an eye on. At least by then it will be February.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times