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Dublin: 1 °C Sunday 18 March, 2018

8 talking points from the weekend's GAA action

Some of the key areas of debate after a hectic weekend in Gaelic football and hurling.

Clare's Patrick Donnellan with Michael Fennelly and Eoin Larkin of Kilkenny.
Clare's Patrick Donnellan with Michael Fennelly and Eoin Larkin of Kilkenny.
Image: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

1. The dawn of the black card

There was little doubt about the headline-grabbing event of the weekend.

The adoption of the black card at Saturday’s Congress in Derry is a radical departure for the GAA.

Amidst the hand-wringing over the pressure it will exert on referees and whether panels, particularly at club level, are deep enough to cope, the fundamental reasoning is sound.

Cynical play have become a blight in the GAA and an effort to eradicate it has to be welcomed. Utilised properly, the black card is a tool to do that.

There will naturally be an adjustment period and teething problems are inevitable. But the new era begins next January and everyone has nine months to get used to it.

2. Defence is king all over in Gaelic football

The urgency to try to improve Gaelic football as a spectacle was highlighted in Tralee yesterday. The notion that the emphasis on defensive systems is solely the preserve of Ulster counties is off the mark.

Cork and Kerry proved that in a game where both teams approach contributed to a grim affair. Yet it’s difficult to blame either setup when you consider the words of Eamonn Fitzmaurice afterwards.

“Because getting bodies behind the ball means you’re going to win games”, was the reaction of the Kerry manager as to why the packed defence is now in vogue.

The win at all costs mentality is a natural offshoot of the heightened demands of the inter-county game. And being strong defensively is the best foundation to achieve that.

Cork’s Andrew O’Sullivan surrounded by Kerry players.
Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

3. Tyrone’s new attacking weapon

    After a week where John Devine hung up his inter-county boots, Niall Morgan offered a timely reminder to Tyrone supporters yesterday of the new attacking weapon at their disposal.

    As well as keeping a clean sheet in Newbridge – his third of the Division 1 campaign – the Edendork netminder again showcased his freetaking abilites. Three times Morgan trotted upfield to convert placed balls and that brings his overall tally to 0-11 for the campaign to date.

    Switching from a soccer career with Dungannon Swifts has been beneficial for Tyrone and Morgan offers them an added scoring dimension going forward.

    4. Westmeath’s renaissance

    Twelve months ago, Westmeath endured a difficult spring in Division 2. Relegation was foremost in their thoughts when they claimed just one victory in their first five games.

    Two wins from their last three ties staved off the threat of a drop but it was still a campaign where they lost to Tyrone by nine points, Meath by 12 points and suffered a 17-point hammering against Kildare.

    2013 has a different complexion. John Heslin’s injury-time free against Armagh yesterday in Mullingar crowned a 0-17 to 0-16 win and secured promotion to the top flight.

    Entering the last round of games on Sunday week, Westmeath are the only team across the four divisions to be undefeated. It’s been a marvellous turnaround for Pat Flanagan’s side.

    6. Limerick’s quest to escape Division 1B

      Ever since suffering the 31-point hammering against Dublin in April 2010 that confirmed their departure from Division 1A, the Limerick hurlers have been fighting to get back to those higher climes.

      They could feel a tad aggrieved after 2011 when the league makeover resulted in their Division 1B title win over Clare being declared null and void. Last season they coughed up an eight-point lead when losing in the final against the Banner. Yesterday’s victory against Offaly nails down a spot for them in this year’s Division 1B final on April 7th.

      It was a heartwarming win as well after trailing by eight points in the 10th minute. ‘Mission accomplished’ was manager John Allen’s assessment afterwards but they  will want to finish off the job now.

      6. Kilkenny have the resources to cope

      The catalogue of injuries that Kilkenny have suffered in recent weeks has tested the depth of their panel. Losing his vaunted full-back line of Paul Murphy, JJ Delaney and Jackie Tyrrell compounded matters for Brian Cody before yesterday’s game with Clare but the availability of Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly offset those setbacks.

      And more crucially, new players have put their hand up for inclusion in Cody’s plans down the line. Goalkeeper Eoin Murphy, defenders Conor Fogarty and Padraig Walsh, midfielder  Lester Ryan and attacker Ger Aylward have all advertised their talents.

      After losing their first two games, Kilkenny have bounced back with two wins and have decent personnel options again. As the league concludes, their familiar appearance of strength is returning.

      Kilkenny boss Brian Cody in Ennis yesterday.
      Pic:INPHO/Ryan Byrne

      7. Waterford finish strongly…again

        Yesterday’s comeback win in Walsh Park was a stunning one for the Waterford hurlers against Tipperary. They reeled off six points without reply in the closing 12 minutes with Kevin Moran embodying the status of an inspirational captain with his match-winning shot from the sideline.

        But Waterford have proved during the league that when the finish line is in sight, they will surge towards it. In their opening day win over Clare, they summoned a last-gasp point from Jake Dillon to take the spoils. And in a monsoon against Cork, it was late scores by Brian O’Sullivan and Seamus Prendergast that chiselled out a draw.

        The resilience of this group cannot be discounted yet the influence of renowned trainer Pat Flanagan is also significant as Waterford’s powerful conclusions can be linked to good fitness levels. The late shows have propelled them to top of Division 1A before next Sunday’s final round of games.

        8. The competitive nature of Division 1A

        The tight and tense finales in yesterday’s top-flight hurling league games closed with one-point wins for Kilkenny and Waterford while it was honours even between Cork and Galway. The close contests were in keeping with a clear pattern throughout this campaign.

        Of the 12 games to date, only two can be described as one-sided – Cork’s opening day dismissal of Tipperary and the Premier’s comfortable win over Galway last Monday. The other ten have featured two draws and eight victories which have been decided by margins of six points or less. While six of those wins have been by a margin of three points or less.

        It’s been engaging and gripping stuff, and it’s no surprise then that every team can reach the league semi-finals or be relegated in next Sunday’s final round of games.

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