Five things we learned from the GAA weekend: New injury rule has enough grey area to cause problems

Cork’s talent is coming through, just slowly; the football provincials still have some fans; hurling brings the sun and the spenders

If an injury is genuine, is it fair to punish the team?

A prediction – this new injury rule is going to cause ructions somewhere along the line. On Saturday night in Celtic Park, Donegal goalkeeper Shaun Patton went down with a muscle injury in the first half. His team was leading by 1-5 to 0-5 and it would not have been a bad time to take the sting out the game for a bit.

David Gough was having none of it though, telling the Donegal physio that if he wanted to treat Patton, the goalkeeper would have to leave the field. On top of which, he could only re-enter at midfield at the next break in play.

Donegal needed someone to take the kick-out. Dara Ó Baoill grabbed the tee but dithered – seemingly in genuine confusion – and the whole thing ended with Gough throwing the ball up on the 20-metre line. There was no doubt the referee applied the rule correctly. There is equally no doubt that had the throw-ball gone Derry’s way and they’d nicked a goal, there’d have been hell to pay. Patton had indeed pulled something – he was replaced midway through the second half.

“I know it’s a new rule,” said Jim McGuinness afterwards. “But I don’t agree that if a goalkeeper gets injured and it’s genuine, he should have to come off the pitch. I can’t get my head around that. We could have conceded a goal.”


One way or the other, you suspect there will have to be a little tidying up done around what is clearly a well-meaning rule, designed to prevent time-wasting. If Ó Baoill was now the designated goalkeeper, could he then pick up the ball in the small square and not be penalised? Did he now have privileged status? If so, how would anybody have known? Shouldn’t the crowd have been informed?

Confusion never leads anywhere good. There’ll be war over this yet. — Malachy Clerkin

Heaven knows that Cork are miserable now

In Morrissey’s words, how soon is now? Cork waited more than 20 years to win an All-Ireland under-21/20 hurling title and then won three in four years. They have contested five of the last six finals in that grade and are favourites to win it again this year with a team that romped to the minor title three years ago.

Pundits such as Jackie Tyrell on The Sunday Game keep wondering where these players have gone when in fact there is no mystery. On the 26-man Cork panel for the Waterford game there were 11 players who had medals in that grade. The question is what difference have they made?

After the revolution in strength and conditioning young players across the board are finding it harder to make a breakthrough, but it is reasonable to expect that the Cork under-20s from 2020, for example, should be having an impact now. From that team, Alan Connolly and Shane Barrett were Cork’s best forwards on Sunday, Tommy O’Connell was Cork’s best player in the league, Ciaran Joyce was poor on Sunday but has solved Cork’s long-standing issue at number six and was shortlisted for Young Player of the Year last season.

Sean Twomey couldn’t grasp his first big opportunity in the championship on Sunday and Brian Hayes came off the bench, when many thought he would be starting. Those seven players are going to be around for years to come.

Eoin Downey and the sub goalkeeper Brian Saunderson are the only players from last year’s under-20 panel in the frame for the seniors at the moment and they both have the wherewithal to make a breakthrough. Downey has already been blooded in the championship and will probably start on Sunday.

The challenge for those players is to grab this Cork team and make it theirs. That’s not how it feels right now. — Denis Walsh

Provincials not going down without a fight

If the provincial championships are the problem child of the intercounty season, a couple of protective guardians jumped to their defence over the weekend. Just moments into his post-match interview with the print media on Sunday, Kevin McStay was asked what it meant to Mayo to be back in a Connacht final, and just one win away from a first Nestor Cup since 2021.

“It’s huge for us,” replied McStay instantaneously. “We want to win it. Even our fans, I think, need to understand what winning the Connacht means as well. There are a lot of young players in our group who haven’t won Connacht championships.”

A couple of hours later, Mayo GAA posted a video on social media of McStay essentially sending out a call to arms to the county’s supporters to fill Pearse Stadium in green and red for the final against Galway in two weeks.

“I really believe the Mayo roar, the Mayo support is going to mean an awful lot to us in a fortnight,” stated McStay. “So, I’m asking everybody to do their very best to get behind them, in those moments when we need that support it’s vital that you are there for the group and we are hoping we will pay that back in spades.”

McStay’s comments came just one day after Jim McGuinness, following Donegal’s victory over Derry, talked up the significance and importance of the Ulster SFC.

“The Ulster Championship will always be number one for myself anyway and trying to instil that in the boys as well, which I don’t think is a hard job, they are special nights,” said McGuinness.

It is easy of course to put stock in a competition when you are just one or two victories away from lifting the silverware, but McGuinness has come out batting for the Ulster Championship on several occasions over the years when writing columns for The Irish Times.

Dessie Farrell and Colm O’Rourke questioned the merits of the provincial championships recently, and the place they occupy in the calendar remains an ongoing debate. But if managers the calibre of McGuinness and McStay are prepared to come out swinging as protectors of the competitions then chances are they won’t be going down without a fight. — Gordon Manning

Home comforts stretch beyond what happens on the field

Sunday in Ennis was a measure of how the round-robin format has transformed the hurling championship. A mini-league with five teams is an ideal size for optimising the importance of each match without declaring campaigns a lost cause at first defeat.

In fact, the fatality figures for teams who are beaten on the first day out is 50 per cent, the definition of a fighting chance.

Clare themselves know this, as they recovered from an opening day home defeat by Tipperary in last year’s championship to top the table and reach a second successive final.

The incorporation of home advantage for two matches is an important element of the format, theoretically helping to level the playing field for teams. It also brings great business to provincial towns, as was in evidence on Sunday in Ennis with a crowd of 20,055 creating the usual demands on hospitality around the town.

Proof that hurling is indeed God’s game came with the best weekend weather of this year coinciding with the start of the small ball championship.

In one statistic that emerged, it could be seen what the GAA has been missing over the years. Sunday was Clare’s first defeat by Limerick in Cusack Park for 34 years but this is largely because, up to the introduction of the round robin, matches between the two at Clare’s home venue were extremely rare.

For instance, in the 25 years up until the introduction of the round robin, there were 12 championship matches between the counties. Clare were at home for only two.

Over the past 100 years, that 1990 meeting is one of only six (winners in brackets) in Munster, along with 1993 (Clare), 1986 (Clare), 1945 (Limerick), 1943 (Limerick) and 1941 (Limerick) that took place in Ennis.

Thurles and on one occasion, Nenagh were used as neutral venues for the majority of these matches. In more recent times, there have been qualifier matches and All-Ireland meetings in Croke Park.

Cusack Park hasn’t been a fortress. Sunday was the third home defeat since the round robin was introduced in 2018 but for Clare supporters and presumably the team, an unusually sunny day with a capacity crowd, the hours that led to the match must have been incurably optimistic – a whole championship stretching ahead of them. — Seán Moran

Dublin and Wexford hurlers keep alive some summer hopes, in April

Two months out from midsummer’s day and the straight drive down the M11 from Dublin to Wexford is marginally deceptive. Sure the southeast sun is blinding and the blue skies blissful, but the hawthorn is nowhere near in bloom, nor the raging golden gorse either.

True summer days aren’t yet here. Only for Dublin and Wexford, this is already billed as the day to keep alive any hopes of a properly fruitful summer in the Leinster hurling championship. Lose this opening round, and the clouds will close in.

Though the sides are level at halftime, Wexford deservedly press ahead in the last quarter – before Dublin score two late, late goals and it ends all square. All those who assured us it would be close get their answer.

Afterwards Dublin manager Micheál Donoghue is bullish, insisting that win or lose, this wouldn’t be the game to define their summer. “I know that is the narrative, whoever lost today was essentially going to be out,” he says. “Today was game one of five, for every team going out. You’ve four more opportunities. That’s the way we’re looking at it.”

Still, Donoghue signs off by saying, “just happy to get a result and still be breathing.” And that is the truth it. Had Dublin lost this, or indeed Wexford, the chances of them securing that third place in Leinster would already be badly wilted.

Should the Leinster Council had fixed this game for the last round, knowing the pivotal importance it would likely be for both teams? For now, the summer forecast for both teams remains relatively bright, such was the luck of the draw. — Ian O’Riordan