Five things we learnt last weekend

Physicality and power of inter-county GAA teams at a new high

Some of the hits last Saturday in the Mayo and Kerry game were breathtaking. The new breed of GAA player on the top teams are bigger, stronger, more conditioned and more powerful than guys who played even three and four years ago. Even the smaller lads, are very well built, toned and able to take, and give serious hits. Cillian O’Connor is a perfect case in point. Even though he lines out at corner forward his ability to stop defenders coming out the field is amazing.

Three or four times last weekend Cillian stripped Kerry defenders of possession and turned defence into attack with superb tackling and power. On one occasion he even stopped David Moran, who was immense for Kerry, and dispossessed him. Five years ago, most corner forwards were not physically able to stop midfielders in their tracks and strip them of the leather. A quick question for you –would the current Mayo team have won an All-Ireland, or two, if either Colm Cooper or James O’Donoghue wore green and red?  

Directly opposing players can both have marvellous games

One of the best individual duels you will ever see in team sport was Keith Higgins vs James O’Donoghue last Saturday in Limerick. Higgins is a fantastic dual player for his county, and one of the best defenders in  the land. Many times in this classic joust, he was touch tight on the Legion man and won a good few balls out in front too. He also managed to get in three goal blocks on O’Donoghue and did as well as any corner back could be expected to do on him. He had a really fine game. And yet, the current stand-out player for player of the year – O’Donoghue, shot 2-6 (0-4 from play ) and was a constant threat to the Mayo rearguard.  One of his stand-out scores had Higgins on his shoe-laces, and yet James lofted the ball skywards, over Higgins and high over the crossbar. As a corner back, that kind of shooting is impossible to stop.

Refereeing can be the toughest job on the field

Who would be a referee?  Name one ex-inter-county player in the last 20 years who took it up at county level? And ask yourself – why is that? Even accepting the fact, that is it a very difficult gig, Meath's Cormac Reilly did not have a good day last Saturday.

He lost control of the game at times and when players feel that happen in a game, they take the law into their own hands. His decision not to either yellow card or black card Shane Enright on 17 minutes, which would have resulted in a red card after he had hauled Cillian O’Connor down for the Mayo penalty was inexplicable. And inexcusable.

At other stages, when there were pretty obvious frees for over physical play, Reilly let the game run and that is what helped ramp up the physicality stakes too. A key reason that Mayo won’t be happy with the Meath man is that with Mayo two points to the good in the first period of extra-time time, Reilly handed out too incredibly soft frees to Donaghy and Barry John Keane.  Neither was a free in my book and Colm Boyle was correct to be incensed on the free given against him.

Kerry’s strength in depth very impressive

Eamonn Fitzmaurice used his full quota of subs on Saturday and all made significant contributions. Marc Ó Sé led the charge of impact subs when he came on for a misfiring Shane Enright. Ó Sé really rocked into the game and did some sterling defensive work as well as scoring a sublime point early in the second half. Pa Kilkenny also caught the eye at the back when he came in for his team captain and made some telling interventions. While Declan O’Sullivan used his experience and ball skills superbly when he arrived on the scene. Barry John Keane was lively too, and Johnathan Lyne closed out the game nicely with his two sweetly hit points at the end. There will be some serious training sessions in the next few weeks in Kerry as some of those players jostle for starting jerseys. A good place to be for the team management.

There is no sure thing in sport

Donegal were 7/1 last Sunday morning and for all the Monday morning quarter-backs we all meet, very few people I spoke to fancied them before the game. Jim McGuinness’s team were fantastic and produced a monumental performance in buckling the Dubs. In the likes of Ryan McHugh, Michael Murphy, the McGee’s, Neil Gallagher and Karl Lacey they have some terrific players. The All-Ireland final promises to be an exhilarating occasion and who would have predicted a Kerry v Donegal pairing last May?

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