The opening round of the Allianz Leagues had everything. Exhilarating action, packed stands around the country, new wonderkids arriving and stars of old still strutting their stuff, plenty of passion and tension. It was great to have it back. Here’s this weeks winners and losers.
A first win in Croke Park in 2005, looking notably fitter than they have in a long time and putting a Dublin side to the sword in their own back yard. A fine start to 2018. It may have been a relatively inexperienced Dublin side, still finding their way under Pat Gilroy, but Offaly’s new boss Kevin Martin had the Faithful County ticking in Croker on Saturday night.
Offaly’s woes over the past twenty years or so have been well documented. From criticism over fitness levels and a wonder if the hunger was still there amongst players, Saturday was a massive step in the right direction for them. Perhaps buoyed by a respectable performance against Kilkenny in the Walsh Cup a few weeks back, they looked considerably sharper than Dublin and although basic mistakes crept in for both sides, Offaly showed impressive scoring prowess.
Joe Bergin was a surprise start and put up six points from placed frees. Shane Dooley came on at half-time and scored 1-05, also from placed settings. Oisin Kelly was impressive, notching three points including one from a sideline. Shane Kinsella, who was excellent against Kilkenny, scored three points from midfield.
It may not be the return of Offaly hurling, but it’s a step in the right direction.
The dawning of the David Clifford era in Kerry has been well highlighted, but on the day it was Kerry’s other young stars that took all the plaudits. 11,000 spectators flocked to Fitzgerald Stadium to witness the senior of debut of the Fossa clubman and were left celebrating the arrival of Sean O’Shea, in addition to the other seven debutants that cut their teeth in an extremely hard fought victory over a belligerent Donegal side.
All of the attention was understandably on Clifford, and in fairness he didn’t do too badly. One point from a free got him on the scoresheet, and he assisted 1-2 before being taken off in the second half, but his blooding so early in the league campaign will stand to him in the long run.
O’Shea, on the other hand, looked right at home in the beautiful new green and gold Kerry shirt. A member of the 2015 and 2016 minor winning sides, as well as captaining the 2016 team to glory, O’Shea has long been earmarked for glory and certainly outshone his debuting counterparts. He notched seven points, three of which came from play mid-way through the first half, and he capped his performance by nailing a 45 to tie the scores.
Along with the above two, Cormac Coffey, Micheál Burns, Matthew Flaherty and Killian Spillane, Brian Ó Seanacháin and Shane Murphy all made their inter-county debuts and mustered a late win over a Donegal side proving to be no pushovers. The future is certainly bright in the south west.
A special mention, of course, to the Kerry hurlers who followed up their first ever win over Cork with a resounding 2-30 to 1-13 win against London in Division 2A. Are Kerry becoming a dual-county?!
To go to Pearse Stadium and lose by only three points in your first year back in Division 1B is an excellent start for Antrim hurlers, and will thrown a cat among the pigeons for the rest of the division that the Ulster county will be no pushovers. If they can grab a few results, and for teams travelling up to Cushendall that is very much likely, then the likes of Dublin and Laois will be concerned for their status in Division 1.
A fine comeback victory for Tipperary under lights in Cork gets their Division 2 campaign off to a terrific start, having been promoted from Division 3 last year.
The Tipperary footballers are clearly not short of talent, getting as far as the All-Ireland sem-final two years ago, but have been blagarded with the hurlers, travelling and the AFL. Despite numerous setbacks, they never fail to entertain and the win in the Páirc on Saturday night tees Liam Kearn’s side up nicely for the rest of the league.
Mikey Quinlivan, the oft-lauded full forward of the Tipp panel, scored a stunning goal to push the Premier in front, while Liam McGrath notched a belter to seal the deal late on and improve his tally to 2-05 for the evening.
All bar one of Tipp’s forwards found the scoresheet. Stephen O’Brien is back in midfield after a stint with the hurlers. Evan Comerford saved a penalty. They were comfortable playing out from the back. They may have been plucked apart over the years, but from 1 to 15 there aren’t many more talented teams out there.
The pay-to-view model which GAA have implemented over the years has, of course, been detrimental to many at the grassroots level and those without access to eir Sport in particular will have missed out on four Allianz League games on Saturday night.
But to take the coverage for what it was, you can’t deny that it was a major success for those involved. On one channel, you had the the Páirc Úi Caoimh double header between Cork and Tipperary in the football and Cork and Kilkenny in the hurling, which turned out to be two cracking games. On the other side, you had Offaly beating Dublin and Dublin beating Kildare in Croke Park. As well as that, the hurling panel of Eoin Kelly, Jamesie O’Connor and Tommy Walsh were an intelligent and entertaining foil to the hurling action, live from the Páirc, with Walsh in particular proving very popular.
Then on Sunday, TG4 aired the Division 1A clash between Clare and Tipperary in Ennis, and followed this up with deferred coverage of Kerry and Donegal in the football. On Saturday, the channel had shown the All-Ireland intermediate semi-final between An Ghaeltacht of Kerry and Moy Tír na nÓg of Tyrone, which had one of the craziest finishes to a game we’ve seen in a long time.
To cap all of this off, The Sunday Game aired with Michael Lyster in position for his last year on the television. Tomás Ó Sé and Ciarán Whelan provided the football analysis, while Anthony Daly and Jackie Tyrrell provided the back drop for the hurling. One caveat, however, is that The Sunday Game completely omitted any mention of scores, results or anything at all from the Division 2 downwards. That is simply not good enough.
They may only have lost by a goal to Cork on Saturday, but Brian Cody will have left the deep south with more questions than answers – especially after losing captain Cillian Buckley to what looks like a chest or neck injury. Should he be out for a long period of time, they’ll have to fill the captaincy role and a wing back player who contributed three points from play.
Kilkenny played fine for a Saturday night league opener, and may have taken the points had Patrick Collins not made an impressive point blank save to deny Conor Martin. Equally, Eoin Murphy was top class in the net for the Cats. Their starting forwards mustered nine points from play, but none of their players from the bench scored bar TJ Reid, who notched three points having come on in midfield. A concerning misfire and an over-reliance on TJ Reid seems similar to last year.
Looking ahead, Kilkenny have to visit Waterford and welcome a Wexford to Nowlan Park who have seemingly found the key to beating their long time rivals. A loss to Clare next week in Semple Stadium could be detrimental.
Far from the blistering start some had expected, going in 1/12 favourites over Offaly. Granted the Dubs were missing a host of potential starters in the likes of Liam Rushe, Joey Boland and Danny Sutcliffe, but the lack of experience and time with Gilroy showed as they were outpaced and outclassed by a sharp Offaly side.
It’s not all doom and gloom yet for Gilroy, with plenty of time to steady the ship and Shane Bennett and Chris Crummey looking decent from wing back. But a trip up to Antrim next week will show a lot. A loss here and Dublin could go into spiral.
Stephen Gill shed some positive energy on Kildare’s chances prior to their visit to HQ, but a seven point loss means they’ve lost 17 of their last 22 visits to Croke Park.
They got off to a great start too, at one point going four points up with a 1-01 to 0-00 lead and despite a rally from the Dubs, went into the half with a 1-06 to 0-07 lead. But Dublin’s strength came to the fore in the second half and they blitzed Kildare for two goals inside a minute from Dean Rock and Brian Fenton.
Kildare only mustered 1-04 in the second half, including a fine strike from Daniel Flynn. But their GAA HQ shortcomings roll on.
The Tipperary hurlers were left defeated against an impressive Clare on Sunday, but one must ask why Michael Ryan and his management cohort hauled Tom Fox off a minute before half-time. He was going fine at wing back and taking him off as the clock struck 35 minutes seemed utterly pointless. If they were trying to make a point, the league opener on the 28th of January in a fairly uneventful first half is the wrong place to do it.
I think it’s needless to bring a lad off one minute before half time. No real need at that stage, and demoralising for the player.
— Shane Stapleton (@ShaneSaint) January 28, 2018