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.
Patrick McBrearty announced himself as Donegal captain with a magnificent point deep in injury-time as they beat reigning league and All-Ireland champions Kerry by the minimum in their Division One clash at a wintry MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey.
However, at the end of a week in which decisions involving GAA match officials earned the Prime Time treatment, Kerry manager Jack O’Connor was keen to throw the spotlight on Caolán McColgan’s 30th-minute score.
“Donegal had a point there that was blatantly wide,” said O’Connor. “Everyone in the stand could see that. That was a yard wide but anyway, look, sure it is what it is, you don’t get many breaks when you come to away grounds like this.”
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McColgan’s score, which made it 0-5 to 1-6, was initially awarded but when the linesman appeared to question its validity, referee Liam Devenney consulted his umpires, after which the white flag was raised again.
“I must have been the only one who thought it went over,” said Donegal manager Paddy Carr. “I think Jack can be happy enough – a lot of decisions have gone his way over the last year or so.
“In fairness, I turned around because we were putting a sub on at the time so I can’t say that I saw it for definite but you need those things to go your way now and again. Certainly, Donegal, we needed a big performance today and it was nice to start off with that.”
It was the second of McColgan’s three points on his senior intercounty debut.
“I had the confidence to kick on after the first one,” said the 20-year-old, before adding with a smile, “I might have got a wee bit lucky on one of them, but you take everything you can get.”
Did you think it was wide?
“Ah, I’ll say nothin . . . ah, it was over.”
There were no question marks over McBrearty’s winner deep in injury-time. Time will tell how Donegal will get on in this post-Michael Murphy era, but events in Ballybofey over the weekend will have done them no harm. The way it all played out was good for Donegal, good for Carr and good for McBrearty.
“Patrick McBrearty has been playing a colossal role the last few months, the way he’s welcomed and nurtured all these young lads coming in,” added Carr.
“It was said to me that Patrick had a quiet game by his own standards, but you underestimate him at your own peril. What he did there, he was a good 45 yards out and the ball just crawled over the crossbar.”
Kerry weren’t the only ones crawling home with tails between their legs.
Tyrone shipped three goals as Roscommon ran out 3-11 to 1-12 winners at Dr Hyde Park. Ben O’Carroll’s injury-time goal sealed a famous victory for the home side in Davy Burke’s first game at the helm.
It wasn’t just in the top flight where new managerial kids on the block were getting their tenures off to winning starts. Meath beat Cork on the banks of the Lee, giving Colm O’Rourke an opening day win in Division Two.
But one of the game’s most experienced managers was left picking through the web that is timekeeping after Clare scored four injury-time points to beat Mickey Harte’s Louth in Ennis, 0-13 to 1-9.
“I don’t know where the seven minutes of added time came out of in the second half,” sighed Harte afterwards. “It’s devastating that we got nothing out of that game for the effort our players put in.”
On Saturday night, Dublin rolled out of the garage with all the grunt of a car that still had some issues under the hood. As they might say in Kerry, Dublin were blowing out the dirty diesel. But they won. And they’ll get better.
If modern history has shown us anything it’s that Mayo folk never seem to know when they are beaten.
And on Saturday night they again proved that steeliness lingers, snatching a draw against Galway thanks to Ryan O’Donoghue’s 76th-minute equaliser.
“We were a point up and five minutes injury-time was up and he played a sixth one,” said Galway manager Pádraic Joyce.
Ah, yes, the ball has been well and truly thrown in now for the 2023 season.
Play away, lads.