The weekend that was: Dublin slip ominously into gear
Davy Fitz-factor showing no sign of slowing down with Wexford league contenders
Brian Fenton is challenged by Kildare’s Cathal McNally during Dublin’s Division One win. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Dublin slip ominously into gear
Dublin have hit the ground thumping: okay not straightaway, but it didn’t take very long for Dublin to pick up exactly where they left off last season - and we all know where that was. Their quest for that fourth successive All-Ireland couldn’t have begun much more ominously, or with more familiarity.
What they did to Kildare in Croke Park on Saturday night will have been noted by any county will the slightest aspiration of beating them this year, league or championship. Dublin eased into it, perfectly expected for a team not long back from a New Year holiday in South Africa, with precious little collective training. When they found themselves two points behind at half time, they came out with more intent, hit 2-6 inside 10 minutes, and suddenly Kildare were broken. It wasn’t just the ease with which Dublin took them apart, but the sense of control, calmly laying off ball at exactly the right time, always playing within themselves.
Jim Gavin was in pretty good form afterwards, admitting his team had given away a lot of ball in the first half: but not even Gavin could deny Dublin had played some excellent football too.
And say hello to Brian Howard: in his six years as manager, Gavin has unearthed a new weapon each season, and the Raheny man is already to make 2018 his year. Dublin have not lost to a Leinster team in the league since 2008, and Kildare were considered their closest rivals in the province this year. Here we go again.
Davy Fitz-factor still strong with Wexford
There force is still strong with the Davy Fitz-factor: it’s never easy for a new manager like Davy Fitzgerald to extend his novelty factor into his second season, but so far there is nothing to suggest he won’t be doing exactly that.
After giving Kilkenny a lesson in resilience in the Walsh Cup final in Nowlan Park last Sunday, Davy Fitz took his Wexford team to Walsh Park where expectations are always high: indeed the match was delayed for 10 minutes due to crowd congestion, although the home support didn’t have a whole lot to shout about. It took Waterford 20 minutes to score, and in truth Wexford were a notch above for most of it, especially in the second half.
It finished with Wexford’s 2-20 to Waterford’s 0-19, two goals and two points from David Dunne more than just the difference. Back in the top division for the first time in seven years, Wexford now look real contenders for this league title, while Waterford, unlike the Mayo footballers, still seem to be nursing something of an All-Ireland final hangover.
Pauric Mahony missed half a dozen frees, Austin Gleeson at one stage failing to rise one himself, which are signs perhaps of a team still under the weather. Not Wexford however, and especially not with the Davy Fitz-factor still so illuminating their game.
Mayo unbowed and ready to go again
There is no keeping down the Mayo footballer: there were few if any signs of their latest All-Ireland final hangover in Clones on Sunday, as they fought tirelessly hard with Monaghan for the opening two points of the league, then sealed them with an injury-time winner. No disguising their motivation either.
It was actually the first time Mayo manager Stephen Rochford has opened his league campaign with a win. It would have been entirely understandable if Mayo had looked a little forlorn; there are certainly more inspiring places than Clones on the last Sunday of January. Monaghan were always going to be up to this game, and duly took it to Mayo in the first half - and possibly should have been ahead at half time, rather than level.
Only Mayo came out and played the second half with all their old battling qualities, Aidan O’Shea, Colm Boyle, Andy Moran all in the thick of it. More importantly corner back Eoin O’Donoghue and forward Neil Doughlas look ready to step up a grade in 2018, and even if there’s a very long way to go to get back to Croke Park, Mayo are certainly off the mark and that’s good enough for now.
Offaly well worth their thrashing of Dublin
Offaly hurling has got pride again: not even the most faithful of supporters could have expected the 13-point win over Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday evening, or could they? There was plenty of talk about the no-nonsense approach of new Offaly manager Kevin Martin, himself one of the finest exponents of Offaly’s once highly productive and ruthlessly executed game.
It’s fair to assume new Dublin manager Pat Gilroy didn’t expect it, who although fielding just four of Dublin’s last championship side, saw his team handed a lesson in skill and commitment. Offaly out-played Dublin all over the field, were good value for the win, and were rewarded with a first league win in Croke Park since 1991 (an impressive stat even if they rarely play here). Shane Dooley came off the bench to score 1-5, Liam Langton’s reaction to his goal another indication of the newfound pride at hand.
Gilroy took a few trimmings in his early days as Dublin football manager, and perhaps it was the wake-up call he wanted for his players. Offaly have certainly jumped right out of their slump of recent years.
Kerry’s new generation off to a good start
The sweet taste of the new Kerry football generation: all eyes were on 2017 minor star David Clifford as Donegal made the trip to Killarney on Sunday, although in the end one of Clifford’s fellow senior debutants dazzled the most.
Sean O’Shea kicked seven points and ended up playing around midfield where his influence grew even further. One of five Kerry senior debutants on the day, O’Shea is exactly the sort of player Kerry are seeking: young, fearless and blessed with skill. And well able to kick the ball over the bar, placed or otherwise.
Not that Clifford didn’t catch the eye either - demonstrating his intelligence by laying off the ball to Stephen O’Brien for Kerry’s first goal. The 27-year-old Daithí Casey also marked his return to the team by scoring the injury-time winner.
Overall then exactly the sort of start Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice would have wanted, although Donegal manager Declan Bonnar won’t mind the end result to much given his team played with equal fervour. The two teams should have a big say in this league.