There’s only one place to start this week and that is with the Donegal Ladies senior football team who defied all the odds and beat reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin in the first game of the National Football League. And our ladies did it in Croke Park. It’s almost 11 months since Dublin lost a competitive game. This Dublin team are the superstars of Ladies GAA football closely followed by Cork.
I feel that the ladies game deserves far more recognition than they receive nationwide. A huge step forward for Ladies GAA has been the scheduling of 13 double-headers for ladies’ and men’s league fixtures this season. There is massive interest in ladies GAA countrywide and its encouraging that the GAA is now taking the ladies seriously. I hope that the game goes from strength to strength. Well done again to Donegal.
After a well below par performance from the Donegal men’s team, Meath lost the opportunity to leave MacCumhaill Park with at least a draw. Meath have only themselves to blame. They came to Ballybofey more in hope than in expectation. Fortune favoured the brave though as Donegal pressed the Royals in the final quarter.
We can certainly count ourselves lucky to have escaped with both points on this occasion. Perhaps, it was the kick up the backside that we needed for the remainder of the league. When all is said and done, Donegal remain on course to return to Division 1 with five games left to play. The other results in our current division went our way with two draws and a win for Kildare which leaves them one point behind us.
It was a great night for football given the near perfect conditions for early February. Yet, we lacked that conviction and fluency that has been our hallmark in recent times. I appreciate that it’s early days and it is impossible to gauge things just now. I suppose it’s always a positive sign that we still won despite not firing on all cylinders. I also recognise that this young Meath team were very competitive and were desperate for points.
They had a forward line that impressed me and would test any defence in the country. They reminded me of the great Meath teams of the late 80s and late 90s. It incredible to see how far Meath have slipped in the years since. They seem to have got lost in the transition in those years when inter-county teams employed the ultra-defensive system. It’s such a pity that they are not the team they were because they could form serious opposition to Dublin in Leinster.
It’s a long way to Tipperary next Sunday and I firmly expect Donegal to collect maximum points here. Fermanagh should have beaten the Premier county in Semple Stadium last Sunday. Tipperary snatched a draw in stoppage time. After our lucky win against Meath, Declan Bonner and his players will be taking nothing for granted.
Those perceived lesser teams do certainly up their game against the perceived stronger opposition. We should be well capable of beating all of our opponents at home or away given our status as Ulster champions. We must remember that we are playing without the services of the Gaoth Dobhair contingent, Patrick McBrearty, Paddy McGrath, Michael Murphy and Frank McGlynn. As the league nears its conclusion most of these lads will be available for selection.
Elsewhere, Monaghan, who were ecstatic about beating Dublin, were brought back to terra firma by Roscommon in Dr Hyde Park last Sunday. The party was short-lived. Dublin are back on track after giving Galway another lesson in Croke Park. Cavan nearly beat Kerry. They led for most of the game only for Kerry to win out by three points in the end.
I suppose the biggest talking point was the stylish and convincing victory that Mayo had over one of the best teams in the country, Tyrone. Yes, we’re still in early February and there are a lot of bridges to be burned before the championship kicks off. Tyrone are always slow starters in the league and I’m sure that team manager Mickey Harte won’t be too concerned about this defeat. Mayo scored two goals and could easily have had two more. Andy Moran, who will be 36 in November, tormented the Tyrone defence. He dictated almost every move inside Tyrone’s 45m line. I was really impressed with Mayo’s movement, fitness and their economy with the ball. They have a lot of new faces on show which augurs well for their future. I’m sure that James Horan did not go back in to managing his native county unless he saw something special. Time will tell.
Even after only two games, we can see who are the main movers and shakers. For me, Dublin are still in second gear and only a miracle of some sorts will see them knocked off their championship perch. Mayo are flying but they face stiff opposition from both Galway and Roscommon in Connacht. Kerry remain the only contenders from Munster while Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan will slog it out in Ulster. It’s like the weather; not much change!