I was in Dublin last Sunday morning to do a slot with Today FM on the football season ahead, more of which later. I rushed home from Dublin anxious to get back in time for the club championship matches; Crossmolina v Ballinrobe and Ballina v Westport. The big shock for me from all of the fixtures last weekend was the score line from the first game in Crossmolina.
Ballinrobe were fully deserving of their victory and they looked fresh, hungry, and dominated their more illustrious opponents for most of the game. For the first time in four years I was watching this match as an interested spectator, rather than being on the sideline, and I have to admit I had huge sympathy for the Crossmolina lads. They are a very proud bunch but unfortunately time has caught up with a few of them and most loyal Crossmolina supporters I mingled with agree that it might be a while before the glory days are witnessed by the banks of the Deel again. Donal Vaughan was hugely impressive for the winners and once again stamped his unquestionable authority on proceedings. He had a hugely impressive afternoon’s work, despite the intense heat.
This guy is unquestionably an option for a midfield berth should Mayo be found wanting in that department any time soon. After the final whistle I popped in the short few miles to Ballina where I was expecting a right cliff hanger of a match. It did not disappoint and was a nail biter right to the end. I do believe if ever a match deserved to end in a draw, this was it. Westport were the better side throughout yet found themselves losing by two points with about five minutes remaining. They displayed terrific resilience and resolve to hang in and deservedly got a share of the spoils from this encounter. Even without both Kevin Keane, ruled out with a stomach bug, and Pat Harte, suspended, there was still quite a few inter-county footballers on view. David Clarke was hugely impressive throughout and dealt admirably with anything that came his way. He has such a towering and imposing presence in and around the square that I was not surprised that the Westport boys did not manage to put any of their three goal chances past him. ‘Clarkie’ would put the frighteners on most in such a position!
Ger Cafferkey is an excellent full back and was rarely in trouble last Sunday. Ronan McGarrity turned in a decent shift in the middle of the field but does not, understandably, have the legs to go box to box like he once did. I think his future involvement with Mayo may be a role off the bench. Lee Keegan, who also lined out at midfield for Westport, was excellent throughout. Keegan is a good footballer, has great pace, is able to take a fair bit of punishment, and is a good team player. Evan Regan never really flourished last Sunday as the Westport full back line was really excellent throughout. It will take a little while longer for this undoubtedly talented player to make an impact at a higher level. My man of the match from this game was Stephen Broderick. The big Westport centre forward refused to be beaten and really battled from start to finish in such an unselfish way for his side.
Early morning on the wireless
Earlier that morning in Dublin, I arrived early and spent some time in the company of Justin McCarthy, the former Cork hurler and manager of several counties down south. I had not met Justin previously but always admired his style both as a player and, in subsequent years, as a hurling coach. I thought he got a bit of a raw deal as a manager, however, particularly from his last tilt at inter-county management with Limerick.
Remember he survived not one but two votes of no confidence in order to remain in charge as manager. Anyway having chatted with him before we both went on air I discovered that he also has a great passion for photography and he listed out places like Furnace and Belmullet that he had often visited in pursuit of some quality scenery. As a result he appeared to have a soft spot for Mayo and, like so many others, was wondering would this be our year?
The show also included two excellent interviews with Kerry’s Paul Galvin and Wicklow’s Leighton Glynn. Galvin, in particular, was very honest and forthright in his interview and really impressed me with his opinions on amateurism v professionalism in Gaelic football, his views on Kerry football currently, as well his views on the game generally.
I suggested during the show that last Sunday might produce an upset or two as I thought high flying Wicklow might be in a position to beat a Meath team who had lost their previous six competitive matches in a row. But as it transpired the Meath boys proved too strong physically, had more pace around the field, and generally did things at a higher intensity than Wicklow. The reality is that Meath’s footballers are better than Wicklow’s and if they (Meath ) could manage to get some of their injured players fit in the next few weeks they could make it awkward for the likes of Kildare or Dublin in the Leinster Championship. However the unfortunate situation for the Meath management is that their long injury list has been added to by the loss of their captain, Seamus Kenny. His season is over after scan results revealed that he sustained a cruciate ligament injury last Sunday. When you consider that they are already without Shane O'Rourke, Mark Ward, Stephen Bray and Paddy Gilsenan, you get some indication of the quality they are currently missing from their starting 15. However, Meath got the result they so desperately needed last Sunday after a horrific league campaign but they are by no means the finished article. Banty McEneaney is not out of the fire yet and I feel he needs to take a scalp or two in this year’s campaign in order to prolong his stint as Meath manager.
The aforementioned Leighton Glynn also suffered a serious injury in this game and he too has been ruled out for the rest of the season. It is desperately disappointing for players to pick up injuries at any time of the year, but to lose an entire summer’s football after months of preparation is particularly heart breaking. Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh has joined this growing list and he too will be a huge loss to his county’s championship campaign.
As predicted, Kerry beat Tipperary in their opening game in the Munster championship. However they were far from impressive and a young Tipperary side made them work that little bit harder than they would have liked to get over the finishing line. Kerry are never that impressive in the month of May and very often it is as late as August before they shine. However they are not near as fluid as they would like to be, even for this time of year, and I imagine that Jack O Connor is not sleeping as soundly these nights as he would like. We all know that they will be a much more potent outfit in two weeks’ time as the sight of a Cork jersey invariably brings out the best in them. I would not be surprised if Cork prevail on June 10 however, but Kerry will still believe they can beat Cork when they really have to. That may well be in a few months’ time in Croker.