Championship talking points
It was another hectic weekend as Tipperary and Waterford saw their hopes of hurling glory in 2018 ended, Donegal powered in to the Ulster SFC Final, and a number counties put their best foot forward in Round 1 of the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers.
Here are five of the main talking points from the weekend that was.
Sport is ruthless
In sport, there are winners and losers and little else in between.
Tipperary’s season ending defeat to Clare yesterday will surely lead to some black and white post-mortems in the Premier County in the coming days and weeks.
Michael Ryan’s management will be called into question and some players will be dismissed as not good enough or over the hill.
It would all have been so different had Jake Morris’ 65th minute shot hit the back of the net rather than cannoned off the upright.
18 seconds later Clare had swept down the field and scored the goal that gave them the lifeline they so badly needed.
As if that six-point turn around that wasn’t bad enough for Tipperary, they also lost Brendan Maher to a serious looking knee injury during the passage of play that led to Clare’s goal.
While he was on the field he had done well to limit the influence of Peter Duggan. In his absence Duggan cut loose, scoring two late points that sealed Clare’s victory.
Sport can be cruel and when it comes down to fine margins you’d better hope you’re on the right side of whatever luck is going.
Just ask Waterford hurling manager, Derek McGrath.
Padraig Walsh soars on the wing
The ‘Free the Tullaroan One’ campaign is gathering renewed momentum in the aftermath of Padraig Walsh’s brilliant second-half performance for Kilkenny against Wexford after he was released from the full-back to half-back line.
He hit a spectacular point for long-distance early in the second-half that gave their comeback a vital surge of momentum, and was the best player on the pitch thereafter.
Walsh has done a good job for Kilkenny in their problem position of full-back, but he looks far more at home in the half-back line where his attacking instincts can be put to such good use.
Conor Delaney was solid in the number three jersey at underage level for Kilkenny but in the senior grade so far has been played in the half-back line.
Perhaps a switch with Walsh might be the best long-term answer for the Cats.
Donegal’s evolution continues apace
When Declan Bonner took charge of the Donegal footballers at the end of last year one of his first promises was that he was going to implement a more offensive game-plan than the county would have been known for in recent years.
There were some growing pains during an Allianz Football League campaign that saw them relegated from Division 1 as they struggled to find the right balance between defence and attack.
But Bonner wasn’t discouraged, and on the basis of their impressive run to the Ulster Final that has seen them defeat Cavan, Derry, and now Down at their ease, it looks as though the players are now more attuned to the sort of football he wants them to play.
Down were poor, but you could still only be impressed by Donegal’s performance yesterday as they cruised to a 13-point victory despite being reduced to 14 men after just 11 minutes.
The played with pace and flair, and their spirit of adventure was best summed up when Michael Murphy had the audacity to pull off a Zinedine Zidane style roulette turn at one stage with the ball on the deck.
As good as Murphy was, what’s arguably most encouraging for Donegal is that they’re not as reliant on him as they once were to provide an attacking edge and he’s now as much a creator as a finisher.
Jamie Brennan is going from strength to strength, and along with Paddy McBrearty is forming one of the most dangerous two-pronged inside forward lines in the country.
Donegal are looking good, but it’ll be interesting to see how their attacking game-plan will fare against Fermanagh’s superbly organised defence in the Ulster Final.
Waterford footballers end famine
The explosion of joy amongst the Waterford footballers and management after their All-Ireland SFC Round 1 Qualifier victory over Wexford on Saturday was tremendous to watch.
It was their first Championship win in seven years and meant an awful lot to all involved.
This group of Waterford footballers have finally gotten a tangible reward for all the work they've put in under manager Tom McGlinchey, who couldn’t contain his emotion after the match.
"We don't do media bans, drink bans and we're definitely going to enjoy tonight," he said after his team's 3-14 to 1-18 victory at Innovate Wexford Park.
"It's fantastic. It's great for the players to get this reward.
"We try so hard. We know we're in Division 4 and understand that, we wouldn't be considered one of the top teams. Over the last number of years we haven't had the reward. We've been close. Last year against Cork (in the Munster SFC) we were close.
"Some of the lads involved against Galway a couple of years ago were close to getting that elusive win and a championship win away to a Division 3 team is absolutely fantastic. The odds were totally against us."
Mayo still endure
They haven’t gone away, you know.
Cheered on by thousands of their faithful followers, the Mayo footballers looked sharp and hungry when beating Limerick by 5-19 to 3-7 in Saturday’s Round 1 All-Ireland SFC Qualifier.
Cillian O’Connor, fully recovered from the hamstring injury that limited him to a substitute’s role against Galway in the Connacht SFC, was immense, scoring a personal tally of 3-9 which makes him Mayo’s all-time top scorer.
Andy Moran was sharp too, scoring two goals after coming off the bench, while Lee Keegan looked brand new on his return from shoulder surgery.
The bar will be raised considerably when they travel to Semple Stadium to play Tipperary in Round 2 of the Qualifiers, but you already get the feeling that the Mayo machine is up and running again and they’ll have a major say yet in this All-Ireland Championship.