Dublin’s rivals jostle to avoid league final booby prize
No county showing much interest in taking on record-breakers on eve of championship
Donegal and Monaghan: It may be time to ban these teams from playing each other for a while. Photograph: Trevor Lucy/Presseye/Inpho
Wanted: Smart, ambitious young men to take on unbeatable team in national final. Losses incurred at your own risk.
So does anybody want this? Dublin’s obliteration of Roscommon on Saturday night, a 21-point victory which gave them the outright GAA record for games unbeaten (35 and counting), led manager Jim Gavin to say he was “happy”. And he didn’t mean in a Pharrell Williams sense: he just meant that he was content his team are playing okay for March. So what sort of win or performance for Gavin to declare himself over the moon?
This question may be rattling around the minds of those managers and teams vying for the dubious reward of a place in the league final against the reigning league and All-Ireland champions. Sunday’s results leave just two league points separating Donegal, Monaghan (both on eight), Tyrone (seven) and Mayo and Kerry (six) going into the final round of the league next Sunday.
Mayo’s dramatic reversal of fortune, going into the bear pit in Omagh and emerging with a 1-10 to 0-12 win, was the big result in Division One Sunday. Kevin McLoughlin fired a 73rd-minute winning point to ease the relegation worries which have been hanging over the team.
“I probably think it was close to championship intensity,” said manager Stephen Rochford.
“Other teams have probably been a pitch ahead of us in some of the battles. We are edging towards there, but you know, you won’t be reflecting too much on this game, sort of using that to prep towards next week because that Donegal game, indications are it’s a massive game.”
Black tae and dry toast
Donegal had Monaghan beaten in Ballyshannon but still couldn’t win the game. It may be time to ban these teams from playing each other for a while. If you sent the Donegal and Monaghan teams to Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, they’d chuck the à la carte menu away and order black tae and dry toast. It’s all they know when they meet.
It was the usual crack here: black cards, hard hits, wides fired under pressure, no room to breathe and occasional glimpse of aesthetic and athletic brilliance. It hurts just to watch Donegal and Monaghan play: it must be crucifying to participate.
The one thing I will say about the boys is that it is a great trait to have, to never give up and to keep going, so no matter what team we are playing
Monaghan’s Ryan McAnespie was stretchered off early with concussion; Donegal’ s Ryan McHugh was carried off 10 minutes before time with an ankle injury. Others departed looking weary and sore before Conor McManus rescued a draw for Monaghan, at 1-11 apiece, with a 70th-minute penalty.
“The one thing I will say about the boys is that it is a great trait to have, to never give up and to keep going, so no matter what team we are playing, they would feel that,” praised Malachy O’Rourke. “That we are not going to lie down and accept it, that we will keep fighting until the end.”
That’s never in doubt and having pulled a joker card on Donegal yet again, Monaghan will quietly relish the arrival of Dublin to Clones next week. Whether they want to then play them in a league final is another matter. Both O’Rourke and Donegal manager Rory Gallagher both stressed that they had set no targets for this league.
Kerry’s fitful form continues: having spurned a chance to kill Dublin’s remorseless march through time and all counties just a week ago, they coughed up an injury-time free with which Seanie Johnston fired Cavan to a famous home draw.
“Of course it’s frustrating,” allowed Éamonn Fitzmaurice. “And I’m sure the lads are frustrated as well. We had been going well the last number of weeks and came close to winning last weekend and you’d like to see that graph continue upwards. But the big thing from our point of view is that we didn’t lose the game. And Cavan, to their credit, made it very hard on us.”
Barring an unlikely sequence of results next weekend, Kerry’s draw in Cavan deprives the public of another Kerry-Dublin chapter in the league final. That probably suits the Kingdom just fine. Dublin have been rampant in league finals over the past four years. Facing them at any time is a daunting task but with the provincial championships looming, it is hard to identify any team that desperately wants to be there. They might as well draw straws