I was in Aughamore with Crossmolina for a challenge match against the local club last Friday night. It was an opportunity for both sides to have a workout as they try to shake off their winter coats before the commencement of the league in a few weeks time. Aughamore have really impressive facilities and their flood lit pitch, in particular, is a credit to everyone involved up there. We were delighted with the opportunity to stretch the legs, after a number of weeks of circuit training, against a young talented team that have caught the eye in recent times. The underage structure in Aughamore is very obviously paying dividends at senior level and having seen them up close I now appreciate that they will have no problem whatsoever in mixing it with some of the big boys in the senior championship later this summer. Incidentally they were deserving winners on the night.
I watched the Galway v Tyrone match on Saturday night, played in Healy Park, Omagh. Galway proved once again that they are making significant strides this year under the guidance of Liam Sammon. There were a number of people who had a few reservations about Liam’s appointment last year as it was his first time managing a senior inter-county football team. They need not have worried as these Galway lads are playing with tremendous confidence under his watch. They took the initiative from the throw in and led the game from the start. So good were they in a game played in arctic conditions that at one stage I thought they would run away with an easy victory. But Tyrone are no ordinary side and despite playing this match without a number of their big guns they hauled in the Galwegians and equalised with sufficient time left on the clock to record a home victory. The momentum had swung in Tyrone’s favour and I honestly expected them to drive on and win the match in front of their adoring fans. But they didn’t and instead it was the Galway boys with Joe Bergin and the wily old Padraig Joyce in particular who provided the experience to kick two magnificent points from play into the biting wind to claim the two precious points. This victory will have a lot more than the John Joe Hallorans from Clonbur leaping around the place with excitement. Galway really look like they mean business this year and while I recognise there will be lots of twists and turns yet along the road before championship battle, I am predicting they will be a tough nut to crack for other teams this year.
Sticking it out
I rang my buddy Tom Carr two weeks ago after his Cavan charges had suffered a second defeat in the national league at home to Tipperary. Longford beat Cavan in the first round of the national league. Tom was appointed as Cavan manager last autumn after a few years away from the football scene. You might remember Tom was sacked in 2002 having managed the Dubs for four years. He had four tough years in charge of the Dubs with little success. He had very little desire since to get involved with any county side since 2002 until he got a call late last year. The appetite had returned and he was now ready again for the rough and tumble of inter-county management. That phone call last September invited him to a meeting in Cavan.
After meeting with a delegation tasked by the Cavan county board he allowed his name to be put forward for ratification by the county board. He was appointed as the new Cavan manager for a three-year term. I rang Tom to wish him well in the opening competitive match of the national league. He was disgusted to have lost that match as he was convinced that he would get off to a good start against Longford. Not alone did Cavan not win that match but another two points dropped against Tipperary in Breffni Park two weeks ago meant that a number of supporters were questioning the board’s decision of appointing the former Tipperary and Dublin footballer as the man to lead then to the promised land. The pressure was really mounting for Tom. He was hurting and instead of pushing for promotion from division three, he now found himself facing a battle to avoid relegation to division four. Last Saturday they travelled to face table toppers Down in Newcastle. No one expected them to win up there. No one that is, with the exception of Tom and the Cavan team. They pulled off a great victory, winning by two points that brought the smile back onto Tom’s face.
There’ll be nothing easy this Sunday
I was a guest in RTE radio studios on Sunday afternoon so I wasn’t in our own Fr O’Hara Park, Charlestown, to see the home county record an easy victory over a poor Westmeath side. By winning this one Mayo have relieved the pressure of relegation, as I believe three points could actually be sufficient to see them retain division one status. A former school mate from Carmelite College, Moate, contacted me on Saturday to tell me that Westmeath were in disarray for this particular game, as several of their key players, including All Star Dessie Dolan were out through injury. The money flowed onto Mayo to win this one and they duly obliged. The Westmeath boys arrived in Charlestown with a very inexperienced outfit. After a shaky enough start from Mayo they eventually proved too strong for the midlanders.
Westmeath who are pointless after three games look destined for division two football next year. Mayo has another big test away to Kerry this Sunday. Kerry, unfortunately from a Mayo perspective, get stronger as the league progresses so I cannot see Mayo getting anything too soft down there. And if it wasn’t tough enough it now looks almost certain that Tadhg Kennelly will play a bigger part in proceedings having played for the last 15 minutes against Derry. He looked very sharp for those 15 minutes and despite one wayward shot at goal he looked like he will be an asset this year.
As a supporter of Gaelic football I am delighted to see Tadhg returning to Ireland having spent the last 10 years down under playing AFL. His return is a great advertisement for Gaelic football in this country. For him to sacrifice a full time AFL lifestyle and, I believe a formidable salary, to return home to play Irish footie obviously sends out a signal that we have something quite special and unique here. He sounded very emotional when interviewed immediately after the game by RTE commentator Brian Carty. Before his introduction to the game he shed a tear as he remembered his dad, Tim, who I am sure was looking down from the heavens above on this memorable day. Anyway Tadhg looked hugely impressive and I have no doubt he will make a significant contribution to what is a very formidable Kerry team.
Plenty of results to catch the eye
There were a number of other results around the country last weekend that caught the eye. Monaghan went up to the Athletic Grounds and, despite losing star forward Tommy Freeman to a yellow card after 50 seconds, managed a morale boosting victory against a formidable Armagh team. Seamus McAnaney, the Monaghan manager, was cock-a-hoop after this game. They are beginning to bubble along nicely and it looks like they will contribute significantly to what will hopefully be a great championship. Offaly pulled off a fantastic victory at home in Tullamore against Louth. Offaly appear to be rejuvenated under new manager Tom Cribben and beating a good Louth side, albeit by a single point, has them right back in the groove after the mini crisis over the sacking of Ritchie Connor. Tipperary pulled off another shock victory, this time against Mickey Ned O Sullivan’s Limerick in Kilmallock. That, and Down losing to Cavan and Offaly beating Louth ensured that the bookies didn’t have to pay out on any big accumulators. Incidentally I got a tip off that Waterford footballers were having a few quid on themselves to beat Clare in Ennis. With odds of 2/1 on offer they might well have been the happiest footballers in the country last weekend.
Finally the best of luck to Mayo under 21s tomorrow against Galway in Charlestown. Pat Holmes (Mayo’s most successful manager ever ), Noel Connelly, and Mícheál Collins will as always have their charges primed for this one.