Following a hectic weekend of intercounty GAA action, we reflect on what we learned from the action.
Do Monaghan struggle with the favourites tag?
Do Monaghan wilt under expectation? It is becoming an increasingly common occurrence for the Farney County to suffer shock defeats in the championship.
The Ulster side have been in Division 1 of the National League since 2015, mixing it with the country’s elite on a consistent basis. And they have carried that form into the championship at times, winning the Anglo-Celt Cup five years ago, and topping their Super 8s group to reach the All-Ireland semi-final in 2018.
But too often have they failed to back up their lofty league status against supposedly lesser opposition. Longford in 2016, Down in 2017, Fermanagh in 2018, and Cavan in both 2019 and 2020 have all upset the Farney County.
But Saturday’s loss to the Breffni County will sting more-so than the rest of those defeats. Seamus McEnaney’s charges were on a favourable side of the Ulster draw, and were fancied to thrive in winter football. But their game-management was not at the level of any other Division 1 side, as they failed to hold onto a seven-point lead at home.
As Peter Canavan wrote in these pages last week, time is running out for the county to make the most of a generational talent like Conor McManus.
Tyrone driving in right direction, but who will be at the wheel?
The Red Hands were dumped out of the championship on Sunday afternoon.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for the Ulster side. The last few weeks have shown that the future is bright for Tyrone football. The impact of Conor McKenna since his return from Australia has been massive, while Darragh Canavan found the net against both Mayo and Donegal upon his promotion to the senior ranks.
Add in the impending return of Cathal McShane, along with an impressive 2020 from Darren McCurry and Tyrone will boast one of the most dangerous attacks in the country next season.
But as is an annual occurrence at this stage, focus turns on whether Mickey Harte will remain as manager. The three-time All-Ireland winning boss has been at the helm since 2003. But with calls from certain quarters for a new face in charge, it will be interesting to see if Harte will stay put.
Galway are back
After an underwhelming 2019 campaign in which they only truly delivered in one championship match against Kilkenny, the Tribesmen look back to their best.
Shane O’Neill has injected a new energy into the Westerners. The dual threat of Conor Whelan and Brian Concannon was devastating up front, as the duo scored 1-8 from play between them; a tally not taking into the account the several frees which they drew from the Wexford defence.
There was real solidity at the back, with Fintan Burke and Gearoid McInerney anchoring the defence. O’Neill now finds himself in an enviable position of being able to play Daithí Burke in any role that sees fit upon the Turloughmore man’s return from injury, now that his namesake from St Thomas’ has taken up the mantle at full-back so impressively.
All over the field, Galway were dominant. They overwhelmed Wexford’s tactical efforts, and dethroned the Leinster champions with a dominant display.
The Tribesmen are back in a Leinster final, and the statement victory deservedly sees them installed as second-favourites for the All-Ireland.
Cork hurling at a crossroads
The Rebels were wiped out by Waterford on Saturday afternoon, and in truth, they were flattered by the four-point margin.
Eyebrows were raised by the starting team named on Friday night. Full-back and centre-back have been problem positions for the Lee-siders. But Kieran Kingston and his management team did not attempt a fresh solution to the issue. It was a sense of same-old from the Lee-siders, as a depleted Déise attack amassed 1-28.
All over the field, Cork players were not at the pitch of the game. Passing and decision-making were poor at times.
There are problems to be addressed, but it’s unclear if seven days is enough time to correct their shortcomings.
It is a sense of deja vu for manager Kingston. His only other Munster Championship defeat was followed by a qualifier date with Dublin in 2016. On that occasion, they overcame the Sky Blues, who were straight off the back of a 12-point drubbing at the hands of Kilkenny.
This time around, the men from the capital come into the qualifiers with far greater momentum, having fallen agonisingly short with their comeback bid against the Cats on Saturday.
Cork drawn to face Dublin, live on Sky
Weather conditions impact the games, but not as much as the pitch
A winter championship in both hurling and football was always going to be at the mercy of the elements. And Sunday showed that Irish weather at this time of year is not particularly conducive to high-paced action.
Donegal’s win over Tyrone in Ballybofey was a war of attrition. With a gale-force wind sweeping across the pitch and the turf softened by the torrential rain, a battle ensued, with the reigning Ulster champions prevailing by two points.
The rain was heavier again in Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the Munster Hurling Championship meeting between Limerick and Tipperary. But the last two All-Ireland champions nonetheless served up a high-scoring contest given the adverse weather.
It goes to highlight just how important the quality of a field can be at this time of year. After teething problems upon its re-opening after redevelopment, the Lee-side venue has shown it up there with the best playing surfaces in the country.
Similarly, the Croke Park sod will be able to take whatever beating it gets from the weather and still hold up.
Watch Inside The Game, our weekly GAA discussion show, every Wednesday evening on Sky Sports Mix.
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