Galway were once more too strong for their next door neighbours in a dour contest in Castlebar, while Donegal overcame Cavan and Wicklow brought five years of pain to an end.
1. Mayo’s Golden Generation Might Be Nearing Its End
Stephen Rochford’s wait to register a win against Galway in the All Ireland Championship is set to continue after a late Johnny Heaney goal ensured that the bragging rights would again go to the Tribesmen.
In a disappointing contest where defensive structures ruled the day and both forward lines misfired, it was Galway who showed that little bit more guile in the final third to register a third Connacht victory over Mayo in as many years.
Once again last year’s All Ireland finalists were left to count the cost of first half indiscipline as Diarmuid O’Connor was shown a straight red for an elbow on Galway’s Paul Conroy, as had been the case for Keith Higgins when these sides met in the Championship last year. From then on Mayo retreated into a defensive shape, regularly deploying 13 men behind the ball as they tried to keep Galway at bay.
Galway were composed in their attack (if not entirely incisive) and showed greater composure in front of the posts than their hosts. It was jarring to see experienced heads like Kevin McLoughlin and Andy Moran slicing shots wide and the county are still looking for a consistent back up to Cillian O’Connor on free kicks. The failure to get the ball to the right man for a shot at a crucial point of a game has been a characteristic that has plagued this side for so long.
Mayo will now need to win ten Championship games to claim their much coveted Sam Maguire and although the Connacht men have a knack for fighting back when they’ve been written off, this side is not getting any younger. Andy Moran, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle and Lee Keegan are all the wrong side of 30 and it is worrying that Rochford has been unable to supplement the squad with younger players, as the Dubs and Kerry have done in the past two seasons.
With an exhausting voyage ahead of them to make it back to an All Ireland final, can there really be any more petrol left in the tank of this wonderful team?
2. Youthful Donegal Not Quite The Force Of Old, But In Time They Could Be
Declan Bonner is crafting a young, energetic and talented Donegal side who, unlike previous iterations under Rory Gallagher and Jim McGuinness, aren’t afraid to play open football.
Such was the case at MacCumhaill Park in Ballybofey this afternoon as Donegal swept aside Cavan and ran up an impressive score of 2-20, as any thoughts of early season malaise were quickly put to bed.
The 2012 All Ireland Champions produced a dynamic display of attacking football to overcome a potential banana skin in the form of newly promoted Cavan in a stadium where their unbeaten record in the Championship stretches back to the summer of 2010.
While Murphy and McBrearty remain the sides marquee players, it is the younger men who were most exciting today. Michael Langan, Caolan Ward,Jamie Brennan and Ciaran Thompson are all players at the beginning of their inter county careers and yet their performances in Ballybofey this afternoon had all the assurance of vastly experienced county players.
Then there was a goal off the bench for Cian Mulligan, who is just another of the Donegal young guns pushing for a place in the side.
Bonner’s integration of youth into the Donegal set up will eventually pay dividends and but for a couple of narrow margin defeats in the league this season, they might have retained their Division 1 status. With Tyrone and Monaghan meeting in the other side of the draw, Donegal have to be fancying their chances of taking the Anglo Celt Cup later in the summer.
3. Legendary Manager Pete McGrath’s Stint With The Louth Footballers May Prove To Be Very, Very Brief
Carlow were magnificent in Portlaoise on Sunday afternoon and used the momemntum generated from their excellent league campaign to book their place in the next round of the Leinster Championship.
But Turlough O’Brien’s team will also be keenly aware that the opposition that they faced this afternoon was abysmal.
Pete McGrath succeeded Colin Kelly as Louth manager at the beginning of this season, and to date his record stands at eight defeats from eight games, losing each of them by an average of nine points.
His predecessor Kelly had earned consecutive promotions with this Louth side but under McGrath they have receded in spectacular fashion.
The Wee County have the worst competitive record of any county side in Ireland this year and the best result they have to point to is a six point defeat at home to Down in the league.
McGrath was essentially forced out of Fermanagh by the players who were unhappy with his approach to training and his use of the bench. As his Louth side now go to the qualifiers with their confidence in tatters, every other county will be hoping to draw them.
Should Louth lose their qualifier it will bring Pete McGrath’s Louth career to a swift end and perhaps too his illustrious career as an inter county manager.
4. Wicklow Victory Is The Highlight Of Weekend’s Action. It’s Just A Shame Who They’ve Drawn In The Next Round
This is what the Championship is all about. Wicklow had gone five long years without a win in the Leinster Football Championship prior to today’s match and after finishing bottom of division 4 over the winter, that was how things were likely to remain.
Step forward goalkeeper Mark Jackson whose seven points helped Wicklow on their way to an extra time victory over Offaly at O’Moore Park.
But since life is cruel, and sport even more so, Wicklow will now have to face the Dubs in the quarter final of Leinster.