Tipp-top entertainment in the league should be the model for the GAA championship

Tipp-top entertainment in the league should be the model for the GAA championship
Conor McDonald shoots on goal against Kilkenny. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

Éamonn Murphy

GAA

THE last bumper weekend of the opening phase of the GAA season provided more excitement and surprises than anyone following it on social media, the radio and TG4 could keep up with.

On duty in the office, I did my best to follow the Rebels' fortunes – with the C103 crew of John Cashman and co doing a stellar job on the wireless – while also watching the Dublin and Monaghan thriller, and tracking Wexford's stunning upset over Kilkenny, and the Tipp footballers snatching promotion from Division 3 at Armagh's expense on Twitter.

Former UCC Sigerson Cup spearhead Michael Quinlivan was the hero for the Premier, slamming in a late goal just like he had when Clonmel stunned Nemo in the Munster club championship in 2015. Tipperary will face Louth now in the Division 3 league final this Saturday, and – provided Cork beat Waterford – their championship opener is at Páirc Uí Rinn.

While the prospect of the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh opening with a Cork-Kerry Munster football final is appealing, on the back of this league and a general malaise on Leeside, it could just as easily be Tipp-Kerry in Thurles...

Michael Quinlivan of Tipperary celebrates after scoring against Armagh. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Michael Quinlivan of Tipperary celebrates after scoring against Armagh. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

There was drama galore up in Salthill. A Joe Canning show helped the Galway hurlers reeled in Waterford, after their footballers had survived a scare at home to the already promoted Kildare, which negated Meath's resounding win over Clare. The rematch between Kildare and Galway should be decent a Division 2 league final at Croker next Sunday, while – as always and as much as it sickens us on Leeside – you can't help but be interested in Kerry versus Dublin.

Granted it's an age-old pairing and one where familiarity has bred contempt in the modern era, but the set of circumstances which cast the rivals together was box-office stuff. Mayo avoided relegation by beating Donegal to keep them out of the Division 1 league final, Monaghan coughed up a six-point 49-minute lead to the Dubs, and Kerry slaughtered a limp Tyrone. The result? Kerry-Dublin again. Like Kong: Skull Island, the big beasts will be unleashed once more. 

Monaghan gave it absolutely everything and Jack McCarron took the scoring burden off Conor McManus to the tune to 1-9, 1-5 from play, but the Dubs' depth did it again.

Jack McCarron of Monaghan blasts the ball to the Dublin net. Picture: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Jack McCarron of Monaghan blasts the ball to the Dublin net. Picture: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

Their six subs were Bernard Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly, Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion, Cian O'Sullivan and Michael Dara Macauley.

Brogan and McCaffrey hit 2-1, including the wing-back's winning goal. It was exhilarating, even if you could only feel for the hosts, who looked to have done enough to end Dublin's unbeaten streak.

RTÉ pundit Joe Brolly was on Twitter eulogising the Dubs' commitment to attack. “Dubs showing again how the game should be played. Their advantage comes from their commitment to attack. An example to every coach. If Tyrone or Donegal had been six behind v Monaghan with 15 to go they'd have been trapped in their sweeper system with no hope of winning.” 

You can't argue with Brolly in one regard, the Dubs have a hard edge but their style of play is expansive and their skill-set astonishing. However it helps they have a supply line of brilliant footballers. Their Leinster U21 final win over Offaly last week was their seventh provincial title in the grade since 2009, and 14th overall – up to 2008 they'd only landed seven.

How do Kerry approach a league final they never planned on reaching? Tyrone were so insipid last weekend that they didn't score from play until the 60th minute while Kingdom link-man Donnchadh Walsh added an unprecedented 0-6 to his tireless running. Hardy ideal preparation for the Dubs, though Kerry did offer savage intensity in the regular league meeting, a game they should have won really.

The expanses of Croker offer no hiding place against Jim Gavin's charges, but David Moran is back to his best at midfield and the likes of Paul Geaney and Barry John Keane are capable of profiting from the space on Jones Road. No one expects Kerry to pull off an ambush, which probably gives them a chance in the first game of the official post Colm Cooper era.

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