Like it or lump it, Dublin are growing into this championship at a rate that would suggest the Sam Maguire Cup is going to have to be pried from their hands.
If their entire display against Wexford was forgettable and their second half against Meath left so much to be desired, in the Leinster final they were able to get a handle on Kildare’s shape after the half-time break, play their patient game, and allow Ciarán Kilkenny to play quarter-back. Initially, they coughed up possession too easily but once they got into that flow of finding holes in the Lilywhites’s rearguard muscle memory kicked in.
Thirteen days is a slightly tight turnaround to facing a Mayo team who themselves were disappointing in a Croke Park first half last week but the sight of green and red is bound to trigger more from the champions in this ever so slow burn of a summer for them.
Brian Fenton’s quietness may be a slight worry. Ditto the lack of goal opportunities as well as the untypical sloppiness in attack in the first half. And sure it might be the closest Leinster final since 2013 when they beat Meath by seven points, but remind us who won the All-Ireland that year?
“Hurling is just crazy at the moment,” was Kieran Kingston’s declaration following Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final win over Dublin.
Asked if he was alarmed when Dublin hit three points on the trot to cut Cork’s lead to four in the final quarter, he smiled: “I was worried when we were at nine! That’s the nature of the game. We saw it last week, we were six points up in the 70th minute and lucky to get out of there. We saw the Munster final how a big lead can change in a matter of minutes. Hurling is just crazy at this moment. I don’t think there is any lead that is safe. We saw it last week with Galway and Waterford. There are many, many examples… I’d say you want to be up 30 points to be safe in hurling!”
In their victories against Galway and Tipperary, Waterford have shown what’s just about enough to win if not to be comfortable. But on a weekend Tipperary scored the highest ever championship tally for a losing side it’s fair to say that Kingston’s assessment is right. That unwanted record set by Tipperary is sure to be beaten. As scores come cheaper, the value of big leads will be just as discounted.
Speaking after his team’s Championship exit, Liam Sheedy said “there is no fear for the future of this Tipperary squad”, predicting a “very bright future” for the county.
But will Sheedy, after three years on the sideline in this his second stint in charge, remain on to oversee this predicted bright future. Similarly, how many of the old guard will return in 2022?
From Saturday’s starting team, Pádraic Maher, his namesake Brendan, and Seamus Callanan will be 33 come next summer’s Championship, while Noel McGrath will be 31.
Was Saturday the last time this quartet lined out together?
Irrespective of who goes again next year and who doesn’t, there is no question but Tipperary’s starting line-up requires an injection of pace.
“There’s a lot of good players there, there’s a lot of good guys coming through. They will rise again,” remarked Sheedy.
“I’d say a lot of people questioned the character that I had in that dressing room, were these guys too old, were they this, and were they that. I’ll tell you one thing — they gave you some answer today.
“That is a top quality group, with a top quality bench to come in and with top quality guys behind them who didn’t make the 26 today. There’s a very, very bright future in Tipperary for the next number of years with the quality of player I have in that dressing-room and their spirit is as strong as ever.”
With 18,000 allowed into the Croke Park for the Ulster final, it definitely felt like the big time was on its way back. The stream of traffic coming through Tyrone and all the way through Monaghan felt like there was a bigger crowd gathering.
Once you were in the stadium, you could be under no illusion that it had been taken over by Ulster. On the big screens ran a commissioned short film with different political and Ulster Council figures urging that, ‘It’s time to build Casement!’
Given that President Larry McCarthy has been tight-lipped about the funding shortfall of the stadium in Belfast that was finally signed off on this week, we just do not know when ground will be broken. That McCarthy has previously stated it is no further up the list of priorities than the redevelopment of the grounds in Drogheda is a worry.
But he has spent significant time in Ulster of late. There will have been no end of opportunity to get a bit of politicking done. What is £30m between old friends? Well, we will soon see.
Finally, fair play to the hardy souls who stayed to watch the Lory Meagher final, Fermanagh comfortably dispatching Cavan. True Gaels!
Keith Higgins promised to keep his victory speech brief after captaining Mayo to the Nickey Rackard title on Saturday and was as good as his word.
Yet if anyone deserved to reprise the old Peter Canavan line about staying on the podium for a little longer because ‘It took me a long time to get here’, it was Higgins.
Eight months ago, he was an unused sub for the Mayo footballers in their All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin. That was the veteran’s seventh football final having started the 2006, 2012, 2013, 2016 (draw and replay) and 2017 deciders. His record? Lost six, drew one.
He played like a man on a mission on his return to Croke Park, scoring seven points, creating a penalty and covering acres of ground despite turning 36.
“It was nice to walk up those steps on the winner’s side for once,” said Higgins, who was previously part of the Mayo team that won the Rackard Cup in 2016. “It means a lot. At the end of the day, that’s why you’re here, you want to win. We have a small crop of supporters and to see them there again, and the happiness they got out of it, that’s the main thing really. That’s what it’s all about.”
No matter which of the three teams left in the race goes on to win the All-Ireland U-20 football title, it is going to represent a huge boost for that county with Offaly, Roscommon and Down starved of underage success down through the decades.
Offaly, already through to the final, have only ever won two underage All-Ireland football titles — a minor in 1964 and U21 in 1988, the last time they were in an underage final.
Roscommon have won six underage All-Irelands, the last of their four minor titles came in 2006 and the second of their U21 crowns way back in 1978.
Down, somewhat surprisingly, have even less to show at underage level. Their sole U21 success came in 1979, they have three other finals and the last of their four minor crowns came in 2005.
So out of 57 U20/21 finals, the three remaining teams have managed just four titles between them.
At minor level these three have just nine of the 89 titles between them.
Thankfully, crowds are allowed back in because regardless of whether it’s Roscommon or Down facing Offaly, you can be sure both finalists will turn out in force on Saturday week.