With Mayo's place in division one secure for next season it was nice to sit back, relax, and enjoy the league finals played in glorious sunshine in Croke Park last weekend. I was on co-commentary for Radio One for the Kildare and Galway game on Sunday which felt like a friendly encounter for the first half, however it did liven up for the second period.
For Connacht football's sake I'm glad Galway have returned to dine at the top table as Roscommon have been relegated after two years in the top flight. Interestingly, Leinster teams dominated the final places across the four divisions with five teams from the province taking part over the league finals weekend. This could all very well be because of the dominance of the Dubs in the provincial championship and the other Leinster teams focusing a lot of their attention on league silverware.
Inside men show their teeth
Westmeath completely routed a disappointing Wexford in the division four final, winning by a massive 13 points, while Tipperary were quite comfortable against Louth in the division three final. What stood out for me for the winners in both those games was the performance of four of the inside forwards. John Heslin and Kieran Martin wreaked havoc for Westmeath against Wexford and were simply unmarkable, whereas Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan were outstanding for Tipp against Louth. Quinlivan got the man of the match award but Sweeney scored 2-5. Quinlivan showing us all why he received an All-Star last year although he was embarrassed his teammate Sweeney did not get the award. It amazes me that he always seems to be smiling and laughing during the heat of battle, which is an unusual sight considering the adrenalin flowing during big games.
Galway deserve huge credit for the way they clawed back a three point second half deficit against Kildare to win the division two league title. It is amazing that after one draw and 10 losses this was Galway’s first win at headquarters since they won the All-Ireland in 2001. Make no mistake about it either, they are going to be no pushover for Mayo or any other team they come up against in the championship, and with the Croke Park hoodoo off their back they will relish the open expanses the next time they play there. Paul Conroy was in fine form for the winners in the middle of the field, controlling the game against two fairly serious operators from Kildare in Kevin Feely and Tommy Moolick. One to watch out for who may cause Mayo problems during the summer is Michael Daly, a son of former Galway player and manager Val, who came on as a very effective substitute in the second half. He played with total composure and the confidence of a veteran when introduced and scored the final score of the game to seal Galway's victory.
The Dubs are downed at last
Dublin’s amazing 36 game winning streak has finally come to an end after Kerry defeated them by the slimmest of margins in an intriguing division one final. This game had everything and was enthralling from start to finish. While in Croker, I did hear several press people mention that Dublin were going to equal Mayo’s record from the thirties of winning five league titles in a row so at least our proud record is safe for another four years.
For me Kerry's victory has offered hope to the chasing pack. Not many gave them a prayer of beating Dublin, and to think Kerry were in relegation trouble going into the final round of games makes it even more surreal. Only they can pull off such results. In Tadhg Morley and Ronan Shanahan they have unearthed two defenders who are fearless no matter who their opponent is. Further up the field Jack Barry and Jack Savage are both showing they are more than capable. David Moran put in a virtuoso display in the middle of the field to help end the Dubs' two-and-a-half-year unbeaten run. Beware of the wounded lion, Dublin will not take this lying down.
Local scene back up and running
The Mayo club scene got under way at the weekend with big wins in Division 1A for Castlebar Mitchels and Breaffy against Hollymount-Carramore and Garrymore respectively. Out of respect for their team mate Sean McHale whose father Seamus passed away suddenly last Friday and whose removal was on Saturday evening, Charlestown were unable to fulfill their fixture with Ballintubber. Matters considered, I presume a refixture will be in order.