Another epic feast of football took place over the weekend, with a number of talking points. Here, we discuss the top four.
1. Carlow’s Epic Summer Looks To Be Coming To An End
The Gaelic football fan that is disposed to sentimentality was desperate for Carlow to overcome Laois and book a place in the Leinster Championship final for the first time in 74 years.
The purists, however, wanted rid of the Barrowsiders from the Championship as quickly as possible.
The system that has been put in place by Turlough O’Brien and Steven Poacher is one that scarcely gave Carlow a chance of beating Laois on Sunday.
It is predicated on defence and efficiency in the rare forays into the opposition half, as evidenced by the amazing stat that in their victory over Kildare in the previous round they didn’t kick a single wide.
Here though there were six wides and another six that fell short. Those twelve missed scoring opportunities were more than their final score of 0-08.
With minutes remaining and still chasing a four-point deficit, Carlow remained in their defensive shape, deploying 14 men behind the ball with a lone forward left up to add a bit of colour in the otherwise sea of blue that was the Laois half. That seemed incredibly self-defeating.
In the end Carlow’s exciting run in the Leinster Championship was brought to an underwhelming end as their unapologetically defensive approach finally brought to bear the system’s undisguised limits. Laois have offered every other club in the Championship the simplest of blueprints to overcome Carlow.
Ultimately though O’Brien can point to the fact that under his stewardship, Carlow have made progress that for a long time seemed unthinkable.
And it is perhaps unfair to criticise Carlow’s approach too much.
They are a side limited by a far more prosperous hurling tradition, a small population and a lack of quality footballer’s. Their approach is no more or less cynical than the Republic of Ireland’s when they go to Copenhagen or Belgrade and park the bus.
Playing man to man and attacking at will is a luxury available only to the premier counties in the Championship.
For Carlow, their football is far from pretty to witness, but it has given them some great days out and some excellent results. For those of us who follow minnows with no chance of provincial success, isn’t that the best we can hope for?
2. The Standard Of Refereeing Needs To Be Dealt With
“Here we are again talking about referees deciding games like that and everybody walks away. The same happened in the hurling last weekend. It’s very hard to take. It’s one of the reasons why fellas go off to America. It’s one of the reasons why fellas don’t declare for inter-county football. You’ve got to get the basics right. Refereeing is a fairly basic requirement.”
Meath manager Andy McEntee was rightly incensed in his post-match interview following his side’s extra time defeat to Tyrone.
The Royals appeared to be on course for one of the major upsets of the Championship so far. Leading by a point deep into injury time, James McEntee powered into the Tyrone half and just as he was within shooting distance, was taken down. The referee failed to award a free to the hosts and Cathal McShane fired over a last-minute equaliser to deny Meath.
This was only one of a number of poor calls from the referees over the course of the weekend.
In the same game the referee repeatedly failed to play advantage and the aggrieved team ended up being the ones punished. Referee Paddy Neilan also failed to award Meath what looked to be a clear-cut penalty and in the end had to be escorted off the pitch, just like the ref and umpire in Waterford’s draw with Tipperary in the hurling last week.
As Donegal swept an abysmal Down aside in the Ulster semi-final, Ryan McHugh was repeatedly hit and pushed in off the ball incidents that seemed to escape the official’s attention.
And Offaly were denied a fairly clear penalty in their clash with Antrim.
Luckily in the case of Donegal and Offaly, the refereeing decisions did not affect the end result. But the same cannot be said for Meath, who possibly deserved to defeat a Tyrone side who regularly misfired in front of goal.
The GAA needs to seriously examine the standard of officiating at inter-county games if both players and fans are going to maintain interest in the sport. Andy McEntee is right in saying that players will abandon set-ups if they don’t feel they are going to get a fair shake in competition.
3. Waterford Rising
Their hurler’s summer may have come to an end this weekend, but the footballers produced one of their best displays in years to eliminate Wexford from the first round of qualifiers.
Having waited an excruciating seven years for a victory in the qualifiers, Waterford finally got one over the line. Waterford were brave and attack-minded, in a game dubbed the South East El Classico by the tremendous people of the Wexford GAA twitter page @OfficialWexGAA.
Jason Curry, JJ Hutchinson and Brian Looby were magnificent for the Deise and despite a late fightback from the hosts, Waterford held on and have booked a place in round 2 against the formidable Monaghan.
That game will be in Dungarvan where hopefully the disappointed hurling followers will show up to lend their support.
Needless to say, Monaghan will be overwhelming favourites for that tie (currently an insulting 1/40 with the bookmakers) and should have far too much quality for Waterford to contend with. That said though, Monaghan have had a tendency in the past to misfire in the qualifiers and who knows, maybe Waterford could claim one more scalp before their season is out.
4. Meath Are A Team Going Nowhere
As already stated, Meath were unlucky with several refereeing decisions in their extra time defeat to Tyrone. Had a different official been on duty in Navan on Saturday evening, they might well have accounted for Tyrone, which these days would count as a massive upset.
But the truth is that a good side wouldn’t have been relying on the aptitude of referees or umpires. Tyrone had a bad day at the office and looked tired and uninspired. They were on their knees, waiting for the axe to fall. And Meath couldn’t bring it down.
Tyrone were dominant in possession for much of the game and were they on top form would have run up a decent score against Meath and progressed without any fanfare. They missed numerous goal chances, one of which saw Mattie Donnelly fire wide from close range in a very uncharacteristic rush of blood to the head.
A total of 12 wides shows just how off the Tyrone performance was. That they could pass up this amount of scores and still win does not say a lot for Meath.
Some Meath fans may see this as progress. Few expected the Royals to be able to push Tyrone as close as they did and in Cillian O’Sullivan and James McEntee they found some performances that simply haven’t been there in an uneventful and underwhelming league campaign.
But you cannot escape the feeling that if Tyrone had been on their game this would have gone exactly to script. Mickey Harte was as animated and ashen faced as he has been in a long time as his side squandered chance after chance.
There is still a serious issue in Meath with a lack of emerging talent. One decent performance against a division 1 side isn’t going to change that.