Our writers wrap up the major talking points from the weekend's league action...
Irrespective of what next Sunday’s Division 1 final brings, it’s been a productive league for the new Kerry management — if the Kingdom’s metric remains exposure to top-level competition for as many new faces as possible.
Manager Peter Keane said that putting together a structure and determining what he has at his disposal would be the key takeaways from their first seven competitive games in charge. Six wins later, there’s a real sense of momentum.
Kerry have used 31 players to date, with only six starting all seven Division One games — Peter Crowley, Paul Murphy, Tom O’Sullivan, Jack Barry, Sean O’Shea, and Stephen O’Brien. The real find of the league, Dara Moynihan, started six and came on as a sub in Cavan, while the other major discoveries, Diarmuid O’Connor and Gavin O’Brien, saw action in six games each, accumulating nine starts between them.
Several others made debuts for the county at senior level — the latest of which, Graham O’Sullivan, started in Dr Hyde Park yesterday. Shane Ryan, Tomás Ó Sé, and Conor Geaney also got valuable minutes, the Rathmore keeper Ryan starting six of the seven games.
All of which augurs well in the context of the Dr Crokes’ contingent set to join the effort this week. Goalkeeper Shane Murphy, defender Gavin White, and attackers Michael Burns and David Shaw will be all looking to make an impression on Keane and co as soon as possible.
The other ‘find’ is the re-emergence of Tommy Walsh, presenting the type of selection dilemma every manager thrives on. Keane can toy with the various inside combinations of David Clifford, Tommy Walsh, James O’Donoghue, Stephen O’Brien, Paul Geaney, Kevin McCarthy and even Tomás Ó Sé and Shaw as he hatches his summer plans.
Knowing in advance that two from Clare, Cork, and Tipperary were going to be relegated from Division 2 meant it was always going to be a chastening weekend for Munster football, but the battling performances of all three yesterday suggest the province can still be suitably represented when it comes to the fourth round of qualifiers in July.
It should not be lost amid all the doom and gloom surrounding Cork’s relegation that they are the first county to win a league game in Armagh since April 2017, while Tipperary weren’t far off league survival despite missing six first-team regulars for most of the spring. No question but they would have picked up far more than three points had Liam Kearns his full complement of players available to him.
“I know Cork and Tipperary are gone down, but they are well able to match any team in this second division. It is just a real tight division. There is nothing between the teams,” said Clare’s Colm Collins. “I don’t see either of them staying down in Division 3 for too long.” Perhaps, but whether any of the three will join likely Munster champions Kerry in this summer’s Super 8 is another question.
The nature of Joe Canning’s injury may start a debate on whether the 2017 hurler of the year needs protection. Micheál Donoghue wasn’t exactly doing that in his post-match comments but he did stress that he felt Canning was fouled just beforehand in bearing down on goal. Supporters will draw parallels with how Canning also shipped an injury as he attempted to beat Stephen O’Keeffe in the first half. Interventions to deny goal chances are often founded in desperation but the challenges made by O’Keeffe and Kevin Moran didn’t appear to be illegal ones. Canning does pick up more than his fair share of attention from defenders but he is able to give it as well and was booked in the 33rd minute of yesterday’s game.
In what was an unexpectedly tame affair between Cavan and Dublin, a touch of rancour broke out in the first half to create the loudest din on the day.
Just 90 seconds after man-of-the-match candidate Dean Rock arrowed over a free to steer his side into a 0-6 to 0-3 lead with 21 minutes on the clock, it looked like mayhem was going to break out as all 30 players went toe-to-toe after Cavan’s Killian Clarke and Dublin’s Paul Mannion began to wrestle along the sideline. In keeping with the harmless and powderpuff nature of the 70-plus minutes of football, handbags became the operative word and referee Hickey only deemed it necessary to book two players from each side.
There was a classy touch by Armagh GAA yesterday, donating all their gate receipts from the game with Cork, and the proceeds from the half-time draw, to the Friends of Kieran fundraising campaign in aid of the former Cork footballer Kieran O’Connor.
Two of O’Connor’s 2010 All-Ireland winning teammates, Graham Canty and Alan Quirke, posed for photographs on the pitch in the Athletic Grounds during the presentation at half time.
Meath’s return to the top tier will hardly go unnoticed, least of all in Dublin, but can the Royals pose a credible threat to Jim Gavin’s men’s quest for five come championship time?
It will be 20 years this September since Meath last won the All-Ireland, though they did reach the final in 2001 and also won that infamous Leinster title against Louth in 2010. However the county has endured some very lean times since Graham Geraghty lifted the Sam Maguire Cup following victory over Cork in 1999.
Andy McEntee has stuck to his plan and his goal of promotion to Division 1 has finally been achieved. Their next aim will be to make strides in the championship and reach the Super 8s.