Gaelic GamesFive Things We Learned

Five things we learned from the GAA weekend: Eastern Promise and Southern comfort?

Galway and Kilkenny still top dogs in Leinster; Donegal find hidden depths; Limerick tweak a winning formula; Leinster football needs a road show

Leinster hurling suffering from an air of predictability

Galway somehow conjured a draw out of very little in Pearse Stadium on Sunday. It meant that the county still hasn’t lost a round-robin fixture in Leinster against perennial champions Kilkenny in the provincial championships since 2018.

It was Galway chair Paul Bellew who made the point this weekend last year that the entertainment value of the Leinster hurling championship was frequently overlooked when the province was compared to the more traditional brand of Munster hurling.

“People forget that Leinster has provided all the last-day drama that Munster has been missing,” he said.

The final day of last year’s competition certainly didn’t disappoint. Neither of the top two counties won and an extraordinary match between Wexford and Kilkenny saw the former within a hair’s breadth of being dropped into the McDonagh Cup.


Yet Munster also had great excitement on closing day with a presumed final between Clare and Tipperary being disrupted and Limerick coming within two points of not getting out of Munster.

This weekend, Leinster has again provided the unexpected. Saturday saw Antrim take down Wexford in Corrigan Park whereas Carlow ran Dublin very close in Dr Cullen Park. Kilkenny went to Pearse Stadium, trailing bad luck stories and injury-related absences. Undaunted, Derek Lyng’s team made light of the missing personnel to draw a match they could well have won.

The problem over the past two years, notwithstanding the excitement of the final day, is that Galway and Kilkenny have been such predictable Leinster finalists from the start. In fact, in only one of the four round-robin years to date has there been a different final pairing – and few would bet against that becoming four in five years next month.

You could argue that Munster has also had the same provincial finalists for the past two years but both Limerick and Clare have had to absorb setbacks along the way that seriously threatened their progress, certainly last year, and if Clare make it back for a third successive final, also this season. – Seán Moran

A Patton the back for Mulreany

Shaun Patton’s rocket-launching kickouts were Donegal’s primary weapon in destroying Derry last week, so his absence for Sunday’s semi-final because of injury should have come as a boost to Tyrone. Patton’s quad injury meant Gavin Mulreany, who had come off the bench to replace him against Derry, was making his first championship start. But rather than put pressure and ask questions of the debutant goalkeeper, Tyrone persisted with their pregame plan of dropping players back and allowing Donegal get their restarts out to unmarked defenders.

Despite the change of goalkeepers, Tyrone were so anxious to avoid getting caught with long deliveries over the top that they chose not to squeeze the Donegal kickouts. Mulreany, who played for Finn Harps in the League of Ireland in 2022, had featured during the National League for Donegal this term and apart from an early foul on Darragh Canavan he was solid between the posts at Celtic Park on Sunday. Donegal retained 22 of his 24 kickouts – though 20 of those restarts were short, popped, uncontested passes to players standing in acres of space.

However, what will have pleased Jim McGuinness and the rest of the Donegal management team is the fact this was a very different type of victory, won in a very different type of way. Patton was the key against Derry but he wasn’t even on the pitch against Tyrone, and Donegal still found a way to win. They had scorers from all lines of the pitch on Sunday – from the full-back line to the full-forward line. There were 11 different Donegal scorers in total, including 10 starters.

McGuinness says Patton will be available for the Ulster final in two weeks, but either way Donegal now appear to have match-ready backup options in all areas of the field. – Gordon Manning

Attitude first, questions later

Whatever else changes about the game, or the calendar, some principles are immutable. When the championship was straight knock-out, or even when the backdoor came in, the first round focused every team’s minds for months. With the introduction of the round-robin system that feeling was diluted a little because there were other opportunities to gather whatever points were needed.

This year, the importance of the first round will not be lost on Cork and Tipperary. On Sunday Cork brought the kind of aggression and energy that they neglected to bring to Walsh Park a week earlier, and the cost of losing their opening game against the team widely regarded as the bottom seeds put their season into a pop-up crisis.

After the Clare game the Cork manager Pat Ryan described the previous week’s performance against Waterford as “abysmal”. Even though he didn’t use that word, the same description was available to the Tipperary manager Liam Cahill after their worst defeat to Limerick since shortly after the second World War.

They must go to Walsh Park on Saturday, knowing that a second defeat will hole their season below the waterline. Cahill spoke about bringing “everything that wasn’t there today. We need to bring massive energy and aggression.” Which is precisely what Cork were missing on the opening day too.

Bringing a knock-out mentality to the opening round of a group system might sound old school, but maybe it is still the best way. Cork and Tipp will have 11½ months to think about it. – Denis Walsh

Limerick still finding ways to improve

The most noticeable aspect of Limerick’s win over Tipperary was how little they had to do to attain it. For the 20 minutes either side of half-time, they essentially just knuckled down, passed around in their triangles, made no mistakes. Maybe that shouldn’t be enough to ease you clear of another team in the Munster Championship. But it was.

For the chasing pack, the worst thing about Limerick’s win over Clare the previous week was that it sent them home from Ennis with two prizes – the points on the board and specific things to improve. Late on Sunday, as the traffic inched down the Ennis Road and headed for home, John Kiely reflected on what they’d done in the meantime and once again highlighted the role of his coach Paul Kinnerk.

“All of our play was more accurate – our tackling, our shooting, it was a really good improvement from last week to this. I was delighted because the lads put a real emphasis on it this week, what they wanted to go after. What they did with Paul this week, they really brought to the pitch there.

“You’d say, ‘How much can you do during a week to improve?’ But once you sow the seed and identify something that you want to go after, that can often be just enough. Maybe build a small piece of work into addressing it, or bringing it to the front of fellas’ mind. Paul did a really great job on that this week.” – Malachy Clerkin

Time to bring the Leinster show on the road

Depending on several different factors the journey down from the Dublin Mountains to Croke Park on the Sunday of a championship match can be an unpredictable exercise. Especially if the Dublin footballers are involved and it’s a double-header too.

You just don’t know if or when you’re going to run into little pockets of traffic, and those free-on-Sunday parking spots inevitably fill up closer to throw-in. The old advice is to always give yourself plenty of time, and no harm soaking up some of the prematch atmosphere anyway.

I had to check my watch a couple of times on that final approach to Croke Park on Sunday, wondering out loud if I’d got those throw-in times wrong, such was the complete dearth of people and deadness of atmosphere around the place. My journey was made in world record time.

Gill’s Pub on the corner of Jones Road only opens on big match days now, but there were days of old when they’d cash in on Dublin playing no matter what the opposition, but on Sunday it was closed. Like an attendance weather vane.

Kildare and Louth threw-in at 1.45pm, and both teams were greeted by a tiny ripple of applause. Dublin against Offaly started at 4pm, and by then, the majority of the Kildare and Louth had long since scattered.

After Dublin beat Offaly by 20 points, the official attendance for the double-header was given at 21,957. Louth return to Croke Park on Sunday week to play Dublin, a repeat of last year’s final, which Louth lost by 21 points.

“I’m not going to go into the pros and cons of the Leinster championship again,” said Dublin manager Dessie Farrell afterwards, and it’s true he must be a little blue in the face when it comes to answering questions about the merits of these occasions in Croke Park.

It should, however, be a final reminder to the Leinster Council that if they are so intent on continuing with the provincial championship, especially at this time of the year, the least they could do is bring these games to neutral venues, or better again, offer the toss for home advantage.

Dublin team and city would have no complaints. – Ian O’Riordan