The dominance of David Moran was a major talking point in Letterkenny yesterday but from a general perspective the urgency of Kerry in taking dead balls, particularly kick-outs, was obvious. Both of their goals came from quick-thinking and within seconds of Brian Kelly having put the ball on the tee. Both also immediately followed Donegal scores — Paul Geaney’s first coming less than 60 seconds after Michael Murphy’s penalty and his second in the wake of Paul Brennan’s point. Dublin are renowned as the masters of dictating the flow of games with the speed of their kick-outs or lack thereof but here it was Kerry who were showing they too can play on their own terms. The directness involved for those goals, but other scores too, was impressive, as was their success in putting the squeeze on Mark Anthony McGinley’s restarts in the first half when they turned over Donegal 10 times.
Tyrone were typically potent on the fast break from the back, but defensive security was another matter altogether. As if Niall Daly’s goal after two minutes wasn’t a sufficiently loud wake-up call, they allowed the Rossies in for another three cracks at goal in the first half alone. Mickey O’Neill pulled off important saves from Ciaran Murtagh and Ultan Harney, while Tiernan McCann denied Sean Mullooly with a solid block. Such generosity will be gratefully accepted and suitably punished by the Dubs next weekend. That said, the pace of Tyrone’s raids will trouble most teams, and once they got their house in order at the back, they never looked like losing.
The presence of All-Star football nominee Gary Brennan in Clare’s starting side raised a few eyebrows. Twenty-four earlier, he played the full game for Ballyea in their All-Ireland SHC semi-final victory over St Thomas in Thurles, but his commitment to the football team he captains meant his long trip to the north-west wasn’t that much of a surprise. He had a huge influence on yesterday’s game at Celtic Park, with purposeful runs and probing hand-passes setting up numerous scores for the visitors. He even had a hand in the only goal, starting a move which Jamie Malone finished in the 43rd minute. Understandably, his influence waned in the last quarter but he still found the energy for one more foray forward in the move which led to Ciaran Russell’s point in the 75th minute. It wasn’t enough for the win but without Brennan, Clare might have left without a share of the points.
Sometimes, a touch of cynicism can do no harm. And the two black cards that Tipp took in stoppage time at the end of the game hinted at a growing maturity. Showing the required game management to close the game out, captain Brian Fox took one for the team around the 45m line before Willie Connors did likewise when stopping an Antrim raid close to goal. To ensure further progress, second tier football would benefit Tipp greatly next year. This was an encouraging start, with plenty ‘game smarts’ on show. Recognising the blanket defence was an issue for Tipp in the first half, they went over it in the second and that direct approach worked perfectly. One of the promotion favourites, Tipp got off to an ideal start and in a highly competitive Division 3, they possess the know-how and experience to get out of the pool.
Whatever about Kildare, Meath should be concerned right now about their place in the Leinster pecking order. Kildare hammered Meath by 10 points in Navan yesterday with a side showing just two changes from the team that lost to Dublin’s development panel in the Bord na Móna O’Byrne Cup. Pre-season results don’t mean a whole lot, admittedly, but it’s food for thought all the same. Westmeath, in championship terms at least, have leapfrogged Meath in Leinster though Kildare are probably the second-best team in the province. So new Meath manager Andy McEntee has a lot of ground to make up. His players, at least, are remaining positive and new captain Graham Reilly was in bullish mood in yesterday’s programme notes, claiming “there are no teams in Division 2 that we fear... so coming into the summer we are looking at bridging the gap to Dublin”. Right now, it’s a big gap.
When Jack McCaffrey started for Dublin against Cavan yesterday, it marked the Clontarf man’s first appearance in the county colours since he opted out of the panel in the wake of an appearance against Mayo 12 months earlier. Though he faded a tad in the second half, the former footballer of the year showed more than enough in the first period to confirm that he has lost none of the mobility and intelligence that made him such a player up to his self-imposed exile. “He played well with Clontarf after coming back from Africa,” said Dublin manager Jim Gavin. “He knows the scene well so it’s good to have him back on board.”
There were five marks called in Salthill, with four of them directly leading to scores. Galway benefited most with the high fielding of Peter Cooke, Michael Day and Paul Conroy leading to three points in the second half. In all three instances, the player who made the mark lumped the ball straight into the opposition danger area, catching the Cork defence somewhat off guard on all three occasions. The receiver was either fouled or split the posts and so, no question but the mark did leave its mark at Pearse Stadium.
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