INPHO/Cathal Noonan Wicklow players in a team huddle before the game.
Five things we now know after the weekend's football action
The choice of venue is key to the game-day experience and too many early-season games are played in bigger stadia and particularly Croke Park, write Ewan MacKenna.

1. Size matters

There were only 7,350 in Carlow yesterday, but the place seemed packed and the atmosphere was superb. It brings us back to a point we’ve been arguing for some time now. The choice of venue is key to the game-day experience and too many early-season games are played in bigger stadia and particularly Croke Park.

Yet sadly, that’s exactly where we are heading for a double-header next weekend. If we had our way when it came to the next round of the Leinster Championship, Longford and Wexford would be a home game for one of those involved, while Louth (who doesn’t have a sufficiently big ground) would play Dublin in O’Moore Park. Sure, a few people might miss out when it came to tickets but so many more, and the game itself, would benefit hugely.

Anyone in Dr Cullen Park yesterday would agree.

2. Now you see it, now you don’t

We know Owen Lennon stamped on Michael McCann yesterday — even if those on ‘The Sunday Game’ were happy to write it off as a springboard maneuver – yet we’d have preferred to see no action taken rather than the yellow card that was handed out. That may sound odd but here is why. Either Maurice Deegan and his team didn’t see the incident, something they could be forgiven for, and thus they let the game go on, or they did see it, should have awarded Antrim a free and sent Lennon off immediately in what could well have been a game-changing moment.

Instead what we got was a lack of courage and conviction from those in charge of the game and a cop out. Deegan and company must have seen something to give a card, so why wasn’t it a red and why wasn’t it a free? Some season’s hinge on such moments.

3. Royal flush

We warned you about this. From being down and out, suddenly Meath present a real challenge if not to a Leinster title, to a Leinster final at the very least. Yesterday was either going to make or break their season and what we got were so many erased doubts. The team have clearly bonded after all that unpleasantness and that first win was a huge weight off their shoulders. Now, they have Kevin Reilly back to his best, Brian Meade looking solid at centrefield, Graham Reilly looking an All Star, Brian Farrell showing glimpses of what he can do and Joe Sheridan, who was good and will only get better.

There are still several holes to fill and a return to action for Stephen Bray and to form for Cian Ward would mean a lot. But there’s never much between them and Kildare, and that Leinster semi-final is now one you don’t want to miss. Too many people wrote it off as a foregone conclusion much too early. Haven’t they learned anything from the history of Meath football and the make-up of their character.

4. It’s all about the panel

Managers say it so often, we’ve gotten used to blocking it out as if it’s just a tip of the cap to those that didn’t get a game. But take a look at the impact those that came off the bench had at the weekend. In Clones, Tommy Freeman’s two remarkable points proved crucial, and possibly decisive, in Monaghan’s victory. In Thurles, Kieran Donaghy didn’t put a foot wrong so soon after putting both his feet wrong and while it’s a stretch to think his side would have lost without him, he certainly saved a few nerve endings.

In Carlow, Donal Keoghan was forced in early and did an adequate job filling the hole left by Seamus Kenny’s injury, while Jamie Queeney wandered on late and kicked two sweet scores to put the game out of Wicklow’s reach. As for the sides that lost, while they matched up well when it came to their starting 15s, they couldn’t match up when it came to those waiting in the wings.

5. The never-ending story

Seánie Johnston will probably get to play for Kildare this summer after all, although we are not as sure as some experts that he’ll walk right into their team. Under Kieran McGeeney, the county have never operated on egos over form, but when a saga that started back in the O’Byrne Cup is getting yet more airtime on a championship weekend, an age before Kildare are due out, it’s not good for the county and the impression of them.

Our view on this is the whole thing stinks, but morals aside, it’s getting to the stage where any good Johnston might yet do on the field is negated by the lingering story that has them under so much scrutiny when it comes to matters off the field. The Kildare management have done so much right since 2008. This though, they’ve done very, very wrong.

Murph’s Sideline Cut: footloose and fancy free in Carlow

Well played: here’s our Gaelic football team of the week

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