John Divilly's six league lessons: Time to free the free-takers from cages

John Divilly pick out the key takeaways from the weekend’s football action.

Free the freetakers

The latest craze is on its way to the GAA: Cages, so free-takers can practice before they enter the fray.

The architects have already drawn up the blueprints and emailed them to every club in the country.

“We’ve got a scoreable free,” comes the shout. “Send in the freetaker.”

Out he steps of the ‘free-cage’, strolling confidently to the ball. One look at the post, strikes and he scores. Thank God, for the cage! Slightly dramatic, I know, but what of our current free-takers entering the pitch coldly.

They’re handed the ball and told to pop it over. Cillian O’Connor, Dean Rock and Michael Murphy, no slouches when it comes to pressure place-kicking, have all missed easy kicks over the last two weekends. Surely, there is another player on the field who can nudge one between the posts, just until the ‘real’ freetaker is ready?

Donegal and Dublin cubs impress

How refreshing to see the “new kids on the block” impress in Croke Park on Saturday night. Okay, they’re not exactly “new kids”, but Dublin’s Colm Basquel, Brian Howard and Niall Scully, along with Stephen McBrearty, Eoin Ban Gallagher and Jamie Brennan from Donegal all impressed at GAA HQ. The three Tir Chonaill lads are all former Sigerson players with Sligo IT. Gallagher’s runs from the heart of the Donegal rearguard will surely be a feature during the championship, while Jamie Brennan showed Philly McMahon a clean pair of heels on several occasions. He could — and should — have scored two goals.

Stephen McBrearty showed some classy moments around the middle third. Speaking of class, Scully, Basquel and Howard showed us what the new Dublin half-forward line might look like during the summer. No doubt that Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin McMananam took notice and will be training extra hard over the next few weeks to show who’s still boss.

“Pre-order your tickets”

No doubt that will be the call from Connacht Council’s John Prenty to all Galway and Mayo fans after yesterday’s championship appetiser. Galway lay down another marker in Pearse Stadium, both physically and psychologically. Galway were happy to concede short kick-outs to Mayo, invite them into the middle third and then tackle with ferocity and numbers. When it worked, we got great scores from Brannigan, Walsh and Comer, while Barry McHugh lit up Salthill with a super goal. When it didn’t work, Galway conceded soft frees, occasionally made all the easier for Mayo with some schoolboy dissent. What was notable was that Mayo actually kicked the ball more than Galway yesterday and it’s the first time I’ve seen Aidan O’Shea lose a throw-up. Mayo need and will probably have their “Famous Five” back for the championship, namely Keegan, Higgins, Moran, Parsons and Seamus O’Shea, as their search for new blood isn’t stacking up well at the moment.

Double Delight

Our National stadium, the one pitch which can handle double-headers, provided Ladies NFL champions Cork a chance to showcase their talents. Cork are chasing a sixth NFL title in a row, but they met a powerful running Dublin side on Saturday night. It was a wonderful game filled with tough tackles, scores and a spirited Rebel comeback. They left it too late, though, as Dublin, who should have won more convincingly, with all their possession and goal scoring opportunities, held out for a one-point win. Orla Finn and Emer Scally caught the eye for Cork, but Dublin had stars throughout the field, with the powerhouse Noelle Healy leading by example. Dublin may be All-Ireland champions, but have never won the top flight of the league. Will they add this title to their trophy cabinet?

Can Carlow keep climbing?

The three Murphys, no relations, are powering Carlow towards Division Three. Can they maintain this consistency? Sean and Brendan Murphy, in the middle of the park, have continued their dominance over their opponents so far, while up front their captain John Murphy is tucking away the goals. They are fantastic athletes and now are showcasing their fantastic football abilities on a regular basis. They remain on course, with Laois, to finally get promoted and build on last year’s memorable championship campaign. Discipline, on the field, when the pressure comes on has been their downfall in recent campaigns. A few more weeks and we’ll get to see if they can reach their Everest, Division Three.

Seriously though... the pitches

While it’s all good knockabout fun with the snow and the rain and the postponements and the cancellations... can’t something be done about pitches? Someone asked over the weekend if any GAA field anywhere is actually covered by a tarpaulin when the weather is bad and, while I’m sure someone will put forward a plausible counter-argument, that seems to be the most common-sense you could ask for. There are always going to be torrential downpours and unforeseen snowfalls, though more of the former than the latter, but surely some kind of pitch covering could be used to protect the turf in stadia all over a country where it rains 300 days a year.

I know that a tennis court is a good deal smaller in size than a GAA field, but if Wimbledon rolls out those coverings when the rain begins to fall in July, surely the GAA could do something similar in January and February.

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