Joel Slattery looks at five things we’ve learned from the opening weekend of GAA action in 2016.
1. Ulster football still has the same intensity
While football in the North is often criticised for negative tactics or a boring style of play, it was always physical and intense. Cavan’s three-point win over Armagh in the Dr. McKenna Cup proved this once again as there was five red cards dished out by referee Barry Cassidy.
Elsewhere, in the northern province, there were wins for Derry, Donegal and Tyrone, who made a statement of intent with a 15-point victory over Queen’s University. Ulster University Jordanstown were the only college side to beat an inter-county team at the weekend, beating Ulster champions Monaghan.
2, Weaker hurling counties making steady progress
Kerry and Meath both ventured into their province’s main pre-season competitions with most people expecting these counties to struggle. Kerry were well beaten by Limerick in the Munster SHL but manager (and Limerick legend) Ciaran Carey will be happy with the way his side battled. The Kingdom scored the last six points of the game putting a bit of gloss onto the 2-23 to 0-18 score-line, but they by no means disgraced themselves.
They now have games with Cork, Clare and Waterford to look forward to before their league campaign kicks off, when they play host to Sunday’s opponents. Meath entered the Walsh Cup in Leinster after back-to-back Kehoe Cup successes and gave Carlow a battle right to the final whistle before losing out 0-19 to 1-13. The Royal County host Wexford next weekend in Navan before entertaining IT Carlow on January 17 and are showing good signs of improvement.
3. Competitive football in Munster
As with the hurling, the Munster Council booted the third-level teams playing in their pre-season competition. The structure sees the six counties split into trios, with each team guaranteed two games. Sunday’s opening round saw both games settled by a solitary point as there were heartbreaking losses (if there is such a thing in January) for Limerick and Tipperary.
A late Kieran Malone goal gave Clare the points against Tipp as the Banner will look to emulate what Waterford did last year and win the title which would give the county rare football silverware. Before they get too carried away however, there is the small matter of a trip to Killarney to face Kerry this weekend.
4. Offaly hurlers are the nations top scorers
Okay, this is probably one of those ‘enjoy it while it lasts’ quirks that January GAA gives us, but Offaly’s remarkable tally of 4-28 against Dublin IT makes them comfortably the top scoring team in the country.
Offaly have struggled in recent years and any bit of good form from the Faithful County must be appreciated (and taken with a pinch of salt). A James Mulrooney hat-trick against the students, as well as 0-10 from Shane Dooley will have Offaly supporters hoping they can show this form in the summer, when it counts.
5. Davy Fitz is still Davy Fitz
The Clare boss came out and said that referees must protect Shane O’Donnell more after Cork’s old foe came back and scored another goal against the Rebels in their 1-14 to 0-14 victory.
Interestingly, Fitzgerald refused to criticise the referee from that game but seemed to instead be making a general point, airing grievances he had from last year’s qualifier meeting between the pair. Some observers feel it is too early in the year to be listening to managers whining, however it is the surest sign that the GAA season is well and truly back.
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena