Something from the weekend: Our GAA team’s views from the pressbox
Front-running Donegal . . .Westmeath bolters . . . Midlands fear factor . . . Galway too loose
Martin McElhinney’s goal came in injury-time at the end of the first half as Donegal went in ahead of Tyrone at the break in their Ulster SFC clash in Ballybofey. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Seán Moran: When Donegal get ahead, they stay ahead
Under new management Donegal’s talent for front-running remains intact. Sunday’s Ulster preliminary round in Ballybofey was the 25th championship match since Jim McGuinness’s first year in 2011 signified a revival in the county’s fortunes.
In that time the county has trailed at half-time on just six occasions. More strikingly Donegal have been defeated after leading at half-time on only one occasion in those 25 matches – by Dublin in the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final. They were level at the break in last year’s All-Ireland final defeat by Kerry.
Two of the half-time deficits arose in the disappointing campaign of 2013, the only year to date that the county hasn’t won Ulster during this period. Both defeats that season, against Monaghan and Mayo, saw Donegal behind at half-time – well behind in the All-Ireland quarter-final wipe-out by Mayo.
But leading at half-time has been a significant statement in a few of Donegal’s biggest matches of recent years. On Sunday Tyrone looked to have weathered a poor start and to be about to go in ahead – until the champions struck for 1-1 in injury-time.
Similarly in last year’s ambush on favourites Dublin, all of their opponents’ dominance and fine shooting were overturned before the break to leave Donegal leading 1-8 to 0-10. In the All-Ireland winning year of 2012, Cork played their best football of the season in the first half of the semi-final but the last two points before half-time put Donegal ahead.
Conversely, Tyrone who lost to Donegal on Sunday for the fourth championship match running actually led at half-time in two of those fixtures, in 2011 and 2012.
The other two matches in which Donegal were behind at the break were the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat of Kildare in 2011 and last year’s Ulster win over Derry.
Malachy Clerkin: Best of the rest - Try Westmeath as your Leinster bolter
Westmeath are probably the best of the lower orders in Leinster. Against Louth, they were so much more professional and organised in how they went about their business. Strong through the middle with Kieran Martin and Ger Egan to the fore, they have a scoring machine in John Heslin and decent potential around him in Shane Dempsey, Callum McCormack and Ray Connellan.
With Wexford next and then probably Meath, they could have a puncher’s chance of making a Leinster final. If there’s a bolter in Leinster and an impediment to a fourth Dublin-Meath final in a row, they look the most likely.
Fear Factor: Offaly and Longford show trauma of years of struggle
Fear of winning is a terrible thing. Offaly and Longford both should have put their game to bed on Saturday night and still it came down to the last save of the last flick from the last free down in front of the Longford goal.
Kicking 10 points in a row – as Offaly did either side of half-time – and not winning the game is inexcusable at any level. Kicking 11 of the last 12 – as Longford did in the closing 25 minutes – and still needing a fingertip save to avoid a draw at the death is almost as bad. Rank fear set in as soon as either side got on top, an obvious legacy of having spent so many years struggling.
Ian O’Riordan: Páirc-life was lovely but Galway need to up game for Mayo
Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada is a lovely venue, easily accessible, loads of parking, and the men at the gate always extremely welcoming. But it felt like a million miles away from a proper Championship afternoon on Sunday, as Galway effectively walked past Leitrim to book their place in the Connacht football semi-final.
Of the 5,458 spectators that spilled into the tidy old ground, not one left with a hoarse voice. In fact a good few of them left early, as Galway limited Leitrim to two points in the second half – both those coming in the closing 10 minutes. It was a game with far more nibble than bite, leaving nothing much to chew on afterwards.
One thing was left certain: Galway – who hit 1-13 – cannot afford to concede 40 frees the next day, when they face a Mayo team looking to win a fifth successive provincial title.
One thing less certain was just how much Galway were holding in reserve. Standout forwards Shane Walsh, Danny Cummins, Michael Lundy and even Damien Comer only played with flashes of their true ability, and as manager Kevin Walsh admitted afterwards, the first thing they’ll need to improve on against Mayo is their creativity in front of goal.
It’s highly unlikely 1-13 will be enough to beat Mayo. Galway are certainly better than what they showed against Leitrim. But in a game bereft of any true Championship feeling there’s not much in the way of telling how much better then can actually be.