You’ll read elsewhere on these pages of John Kiely’s concern and frustration with how the game of hurling has changed since the resumption of match activity less than a fortnight ago.
The two-time All-Ireland winning manager was clearly annoyed with the simulation of Galway players Sunday at Pearse Stadium and the frees they won in the process, but bigger picture, he cannot understand the current obsession with and tweaking of hurling rules.
"Unfortunately, we're in a position where for two weekends in a row when we should have been talking about how great it is that the teams are back on the pitches and the quality of performances and so forth, we're stuck unfortunately in this area where we're discussing rules.
"We've never had to have those discussions in the past. I can't remember, and I'm involved a long time now, having to have conversations about rules.
"Why have we come to the point where we had such a fantastic game that everybody was enjoying and now we're in a situation where we're having deep conversations about rules?
"It's so disappointing”
It’s still very possible that Tipperary’s hurlers could end up winning or sharing the Division 1 title, but on Saturday in Thurles they didn’t appear to have the same intent as Cork, whose attitude to the league has traditionally been indifferent. In the second coming of Liam Sheedy, Tipp haven’t set the world alight in the secondary competition, barely qualifying for the knockout stages in 2019 and failing to do so last year. Those returns contrast with his first three years in charge when they won their last league honour in 2008 and competed in the 2009 final.
Still relying on a seasoned core of players, Tipperary have to taper their approach but the League fall-off has been striking. “The lads want to be competitive and this is a competitive league,” said Sheedy after Saturday's draw with the Rebels. “It's probably an aspect of our preparation previously that we wouldn't be happy with so we're putting our emphasis on the league and trying to be competitive.”
But after being forced to rest Dan McCormack following the Limerick draw and Alan Flynn showing the effects of that game against Cork, Tipperary are having to pick their battles. “We have to be conscious of guys who put in serious shifts one week after the next and for Week 3 we will have to freshen up again” admitted the Portroe man. They host Galway on Saturday.
The ebb and flow of hurling seems to be all ebb and no flow, depending on who you’re listening to, though there seems to be a vocal minority — is there any other kind of minority? — insisting the game is being ruled by over-fastidious refereeing.
Waterford boss Liam Cahill made an interesting point on the vexed question of refereeing, however.
Cahill wondered aloud if one of the significant issues when it comes to officiating in the game of hurling related to the review sessions that referees engage in with assessors after games.
The Tipperary native questioned the level of scrutiny that referees were being put under, which seemed a very reasonable point to make.
It’s an observation that could be buttressed by the fact that referees can’t make the game conform to the expectations of traditionalists.
The reason the game you’re watching now bears so little resemblance to the game that existed 20 or 40 years ago has very little to do with how referees are interpreting the rules, even if it’s far neater for observers to blame the latter for changes in the former.
In the greater scheme of things, Mike Breen’s debut for Kerry for the last five minutes of Saturday’s facile win over Galway mightn’t amount to a whole hill of beans. The Beaufort man, another of Kerry’s slew of ex-All-Ireland minor winners, was introduced for captain Paul Murphy on 65 minutes, joining keeper Kieran Fitzgibbon as a green and gold senior first-timer.
But Breen’s a defender – even though he won a 2016 Minor All-Ireland at midfield - and in the context of where Kerry football is at, that’s important.
For a variety of reasons, Breen and Dromid’s Graham O’Sullivan were the only two backs in Kerry’s ten-man roster of replacements against Galway. Nonetheless, it tells a tale.
With Tom O’Sullivan and Jack Sherwood absent with knocks, and Shane Enright and Peter Crowley retired, Peter Keane could badly do with some quick, hardy buckos — ie those who enjoy the art of defending — coming through. While the Kingdom has attacking talent falling over each other, they are noticeably shy when it comes to talent at the other end of the Pitch. Graham O’Sullivan has been identified as a contender and only niggling injury problems have held him back so far. Sherwood and O’Sullivan may return for Dublin next Sunday but with games coming thick and fast over the next five weeks, it’s little wonder manager Keane expressed relief on Saturday that they’d emerged relatively unscathed from their season opener on the injury front. Kerry need to watch their backs.
The ability and the possibilities of the Tyrone attack has been noted and documented well in recent times, but just what can Donegal do in this respect as the weeks roll on?
On Saturday, we were looking at two attackers who have grown up in front of our eyes in Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty. Hard to believe now but Murphy is into his 15th consecutive season while McBrearty is celebrating ten years in the senior panel since making his debut on a sodden day against Antrim that set the ball rolling under Jim McGuinness.
Those two have a massive role to play but they are complemented by Ciaran Thompson who, albeit quiet in open play, still popped up with two points at critical times. They have Niall O'Donnell and Michael Langan who are both confident from distance, while they can call on the thrust of Jamie Brennan and then Peader Mogan and Ryan McHugh coming from distance. A training ground tweak hampered Odhran MacNiallais' chances of playing here today but he took a full part in the warm-up. Donegal are always fancied coming into the Championship. Maybe a little less hype this time would suit them. If they have everyone fit, then they certainly have the maturity to do big things.
Mayo’s young guns show positive signs James Horan gave two more senior debuts to young players on Saturday. Garrymore’s Enda Hession played the whole game and looked comfortable as the spare man in defence while Knockmore’s Aidan Orme came on in the second half and fitted in well too.
Wing-back Rory Brickenden came off the bench twice in last winter’s Connacht Championship but Saturday was his league debut.
However, it was some players who made their debuts in 2020 that really caught the eye. Tommy Conroy and Ryan O’Donoghue played either side of Cillian O’Connor in the full-forward line and both tormented Down all day. They scored 2-4 from play between them and provided assists for another handful of scores too.
O’Donoghue is a very elusive inside forward whose ability to turn on a sixpence makes him very hard to pin down. Conroy has electric pace and looks to have gotten stronger from the player who struggled a little bit physically in December’s All-Ireland. Both goals came from Conroy having the power to break clear from a tackling defender and then burn him for pace.
Both are smart footballers and well able to take chances when they come.
Tougher tests will come for them but it was certainly an encouraging start for the pair.
We've only had one round of football, but there’s an argument that three quarters of the counties are already at the business end of their seasons? Most Division 4 teams will concede that with championship progress highly unlikely — D4 teams registered just two wins in the 2020 Championship — it's all about the league. But outside of Mayo, what Division 2 and 3 teams can really claim to have a decent chance of championship inroads? Particularly with no back door element.
Westmeath, Meath or Laois could make a Leinster final but a demolition from Dublin awaits. Down and Derry will both probably be beaten by Donegal. Cavan, even as Ulster champions, are long shots against Tyrone. In Munster, Kerry will probably beat Clare, Tipperary and Cork, in that order. "It's a sort of a shot to nothing," said Antrim manager Enda McGinley of this year's championship for them. "Whatever way the championship goes, if you've got a good league behind you then you are building towards next year and you know you've made progress. So the league is massive. Outside of Division 1, the leagues are massive.”
Division 3 North and South will be tight affairs. In the northern section, Fermanagh caused the first upset with their narrow victory over Ulster champions Cavan. Derry showed they still are a class side kicking 21 points in defeat of Longford.
South is equally as competitive as we discovered Saturday at the Gaelic Grounds. Again reigning provincial champions were undone, Limerick prevailing over Tipp by a slender margin. The visitors were favourites but were outfought. Tipperary’s physio room is busier than it should be. Through retirement and players abroad, two or three won’t be back and David Power, who only had seven of his championship team in the starting 15, will hope for better news on the injury front this week.
Among his casualties is former Dublin All-Ireland winner Philip Ryan, who was listed at number 26 on the match programme on Saturday, but played no part.
Before Clare's Division 2 Football opener against Laois Sunday, there was the inevitable chatter: how would the Banner fare in the second tier this time?
But it wasn’t so much a promotion-relegation conversation as how the Banner would fare post-Garry Brennan and Gordon Kelly, two Banner stalwarts with nearly 30 years of service between them before retiring last winter.
Some feared the worst being down two former captains, not to mention another veteran, Kevin Harnett, was also forced out because of injury, while the mood of the doubters may have darkened further when star forward Jamie Malone was forced off injured after just four minutes.
However, Colm Collins has never reached for excuses, a fact hammered home with an impressive display by Clare’s new blend of experience and youth that blew away listless Laois. Young Kilmurry Ibrickane star Daniel Walsh summed up that brio with a brilliant display, while his experienced neighbour and captain from Miltown Malbay in Eoin Cleary was equally impressive.
It's a long shot admittedly but if Meath do find a way to regain the Delaney Cup this summer as Leinster champions, there'll be no issues around who lifts the cup. Bryan Menton and Donal Keogan jointly captained the county in recent seasons but have been replaced by Shane McEntee, son of manager Andy. The experienced half-back has previously captained his county at minor and U-21 level. It removes a potential problem for Meath as joint captains, since this year's Congress, are no longer allowed to lift trophies together. The bizarre rule, brought in to 'tidy up' the presentation process, doesn't stop teams from appointing joint or multiple captains but would force them to choose who lifts the cup in the event of a title win. Asked if the rule had a bearing on the appointment, Meath manager Andy McEntee shook his head. "That wasn't an issue at all. At the end of last year, the two lads (Keogan/Menton) felt that they had done their stint and they just wanted to maybe concentrate on their own game a little more."