It is suggested that trying to retain a title is one of the most difficult things to do in sport. Tyrone kick- started their campaign last Sunday and provided their thousands of supporters with sufficient evidence to suggest that they just might have to plan for a long summer following the Red Hand up and down the country after their very creditable dismantling of the current Ulster champions Armagh. The GAA hierarchy have been keeping their fingers crossed for some quality football after the debacle between Monaghan and Derry, and they got it. This was a great game of football, played by two quality teams and both teams deserve credit for contributing to a wonderful afternoon’s entertainment that made for compelling viewing.
Tyrone’s victory suggests that they really do mean business again this year and anyone who knows their football would not be rushing into the nearest turf merchant to bet against them retaining their All Ireland in 2009. They just have so much quality throughout their team, but in particular in Stephen O’Neill they possess a true master of the craft of Gaelic football. Stephen’s skill was the obvious lubricant of Tyrone’s impressive engine throughout the afternoon. His quality is luminous. He can play coherent football at an inordinately fast pace and yet he gives the impression of never even breaking sweat. This man is a footballing genius and he demonstrated his class with the quality of his finish for Tyrone’s first goal. Any team lucky enough to have a player of his quality in their ranks will always have a chance of pulling a game out of the fire. The thing about this guy is that he can turn a game on its head with a flash of that genius. He is pure poetry in motion and we are lucky as punters to be able to see a player of this quality light up our championship.
Roscommon do enough
I listened to the Roscommon v Leitrim clash on the radio and I have to say it went along predictable lines. Ross did what they had to do and in fairness they did not have to be brilliant to defeat a Leitrim side that really missed the scoring threat of Emlyn Mulligan. Last year this lad caught the eye with a magnificent display of free taking in Pearse Stadium. He scored 11 points from all angles and distances. Last Sunday Leitrim missed several chances that would have been converted if they had their ace attacker. They did not and they suffered because of it. Roscommon will travel to Castlebar in a few weeks time with nothing to lose and the Mayo lads will have to be focused to shake them off. Still I cannot see anything other than a Mayo/Galway Connacht final at this stage.
Munster heats up
This weekend sees some serious action in Munster with the big two down there going head to head. I have always believed that the back door system in our championship provides the big teams with a real safety net. Of course we have the fairy tale stories of the Wexford’s, the Fermanagh’s, and the Sligo’s that might have the fans of this system arguing with my viewpoint. I agree that the system has provided the players and the supporters from these counties with some great summer memories that they would never have experienced were it not for that back door. However while it is acknowledged that every team would rather win every game in the championship, I do believe that Kerry will not be that disappointed should they fail to beat Cork on Sunday. Kerry, like Tyrone, have their eyes firmly focused on a bigger prize this year and it is not a provincal title. They still have a little tweaking to do with their team, not to mention getting big Darragh O’Sé in shape for the months of August and September. I would not be at all surprised if Cork were to win this clash on Sunday, but if they do Kerry will not shed too many tears.
Lenister kicks into gear
With no disrespect to the others the Leinster championship really kicks off in earnest this weekend with the Dubs taking on their great rivals, Meath. I am not too sure what has happened to the Royals in recent championships. They appeared to have a young competent bunch of players gathered a few short years ago, but they definitely have become unstuck, with last year’s embarrassing defeat to Limerick in the back door being a particularly low point for them. I am not so sure if they have recovered sufficiently and with the likes of Shane O’Rourke still missing from their ranks I do believe it will be the Dubs who will win here. I hear on the grapevine that the Dubs are really flying in training (that might be a concern ). Apparently they look leaner and fitter this year with rumours that several of their big players have shed a lot of body weight. You will recall how bulky several of their players had become in recent years. Pat Gilroy has obviously decided that big doesn’t necessarily mean better or get you across the winning line first and he has resorted to the old methods of just having his team fit and ready for action. They should prevail here.
The local side of things
The local football championship last weekend provided its usual fare of excitement and intrigue. The magnificent weather and a long weekend for this first round series of games saw bumper crowds attend most venues over the two days. There is no doubt that if the bill of fare is any way attractive then the punter will sample what is on offer. After the weekend’s action, the main protagonists are still standing and, as expected, most of the favourites for the senior title delivered on their promise. Charlestown overcame the game challenge of a Castlebar team that has struggled all year to get a fully fit team together and last Saturday they were again without a few of their most influential players. Big Barry Moran did however get through an hour’s action and showed glimpses of his ability by kicking four points from play. Elsewhere Ballintubber were seriously worried about the potential threat of Claremorris in their first round match on Saturday evening. Alan Dillon managed to get sent off in the first half and I am sure his manager, James Horan, would have been a little worried to have his inter-county star ‘warming the pine’ in this must- win match. They had no need to worry however as Claremorris, for some inexplicable reason, never put up anything like the challenge one would have expected from a team sprinkled with several quality players. The feebleness of their challenge was one of the main talking points of the weekend’s action.
I felt happy and sad leaving St Tiernan’s Park last Sunday evening. Crossmolina’s match with Knockmore was always going to be a battle with very little between these two teams down through the years. Last Sunday was no different and in the end both teams left the ground feeling they might have won it. Incidentall, I was hugely impressed with Kevin McLoughlin who lined out at wing back. This young star embellished his reputation further with another classy performance that will surely see him feature in a Mayo senior jersey for years to come.