Mayo's league success last term was unexpected but encouraging and most definitely came as an added bonus.
Despite three victories in the first three rounds of the league last year, the wheels came off slighly, after another humbling by Dublin in Croke Park in round four followed by another defeat to our old foes, Galway, in round five in Castlebar. Mayo's win in Tralee against Kerry in round six was uplifting and very satisfying, to say the least, but it was Tyrone's shock defeat of Dublin the same night in Croke Park that left our destiny in our own hands and a round seven win over Monaghan set us up for that impressive win over Kerry in the league final.
That's the beauty of the league, you have no idea what to expect or who will prevail in any of the games. Trying to pick winners of the four division one contests this weekend is not straight forward at all, because you have no idea how better prepared each team is over the other. For example, will new Dublin manager Dessie Farrell care about the league? Will he try to hit the ground running, or is his only concern to have the high flying Dubs primed for the championship to carry on Jim Gavin's legacy of winning All-Irelands?
Mayo's trip to Donegal on Saturday evening is very difficult to call and is likely to be a feisty affair, particularly after meeting in so many big encounters in the last number of years. Last year's Super Eight encounter in Castlebar against Michael Murphy and Co was the game of the year for me from a Mayo perspective. An atmosphere and result to savour.
Donegal have had their own off-field issues as well, with Manager Declan Bonner pulling his team out of the McKenna cup because of having up to 13 players unavailable for selection due to a clash with Sigerson cup fixtures.
It is interesting to see that James Horan has selected four debutants for this one, with Oisin Mullin, Jordan Flynn, Bryan Walsh and Ryan O'Donoghue all getting the chance to start for Mayo on Saturday evening - while the likes of Padraig O'Hora has also been given a starting slot in the team after impressing against Galway in the FBD League a fortnight ago.
Mayo and Donegal are both priced at even money. A draw would not be the worst result to start the campaign, with the Dubs up next weekend in Castlebar. Meath are the bookmakers' favourites to be relegated from division one, along with Monaghan. You can only get 9/2 on the Royals not to win a game in this year's league. Nothing in the league is a given but you always have to target your home games for gathering points. Mayo's three home games this year are against Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone. Maybe away days will be a more viable option for accumulating points. Let the games begin.
Rules are there to be fudged at times
Following on from something I mentioned last week on how the new rules governing football can be manipulated quite easily by managers and will be a concern and confusing for referees and supporters - I was present at a meeting in Dublin last weekend that had a questions and answers session with Donal Smyth who is the GAA's head of the referees body on rules (interpretation and implementation ). To say there is a lot of grey areas is an understatement. Donal got hit with a lot of awkward/concerning questions from the RTE panelists for which he had no defining answers - and a lot - as he explained is down to the interpretation of the referee on the day.
Expect a lot of time wasting, anarchy and confusion for a while and just to point out, the offensive mark is also a defensive mark, so if a defender catches a long delivery from outside the 45, he too can claim a mark inside his own 45 as long as the ball travels 20 metres or more; not many knew that.
The claiming of a forward mark has also a few stipulations attached to it, far too many to put in print. It's not often you'll hear me saying this, but I feel for the referees trying to monitor this on top of watching the game. It got so confusing the hurling analysts even had a bit of sympathy for us.
Corofin are the history makers
Corofin entered the history books by becoming the first club to win the Andy Merrigan cup three years in a row. The game itself was a dour affair with blanket and packed out defences the order of the day to stifle the threat of each opponent's forward lines.
There were a few controversial instances during the game, most notably the fracas in the tunnel, when both teams ran in after the game finished level and extra time looming. I understand Corofin coach David Morris gave his troops an uplifting speech before the start of extra time. Whatever was said, Corofin came out and tore into Kilcoo, ultimately winning the game in the first period of extra time, scoring 1-04 without reply.
The irony of this is that all Corofin managed to score in the 70 minutes of normal time was 0-7, so they equalled that feat in the first eight minutes of extra time. Kilcoo were out on their feet at this stage, having to play for the entire second half with 14 men following the sending off of Dylan Warde. A lot of people are pointing out the unsavoury way Corofin went about trying to win the game in normal time. What matters to them is that their name is on the cup for the third year in a row and you can't take that from them. An unbelievable achievement.