©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
expert view

Conor Deegan: Dublin not at their best, but tight game will improve them’s gaelic football columnist reflects on this weekend’s league finals.

Division 1

I PUT DUBLIN up as my front-runners at the start of the year and they lived up to that in Croke Park yesterday.

They eventually got their hands on the league title after a very enjoyable game. 35 scores in 70 minutes was at odds with the notion that modern day Gaelic football is ultra defensive. But as a portent for the summer ahead, it was a positive one.

It wasn’t a flawless display by Dublin. They had to dig out the victory but winning ugly will please manager Jim Gavin. He knows they have plenty to work on but will be pleased at the character they showed.

A draw would have been a fair result and the tightness of the game was down to how Tyrone had their homework done on Dublin. In the middle of the park, Dublin dominated early on through Michael Darragh MacAuley.

But their stronghold at midfield waned as the game went on. Midfield remains an issue for Dublin as MacAuley is a guaranteed starter but they are searching for his partner. The selection of Cian O’Sullivan didn’t work out yesterday as he was poor.

It was a classic Tyrone performance for long stretches as they swarmed Dublin were in attack, executed turnovers and attacked in numbers with possession. They allowed themselves not to be slowed down and ensured Dublin never got going in the manner we have been accustomed to so far this year.

The Dublin full-back line was placed under extreme pressure. I really enjoyed watching Tyrone’s Mark Donnelly. Everything that he did, there was a direct result from it. He carried the ball directly at the Dublin defence and showed how straight line running is very difficult for a defence to deal with.

I also felt that Tyrone worked out Dublin’s kickouts. Cluxton is fantastic at what he does but when Tyrone went man for man and coupled that with great intensity, they were hugely competitive.

Sean Cavanagh and Joe McMahon unhappy after the final whistle. ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

It was not a bad loss for Tyrone. They pushed Dublin hard and didn’t ship a heavy defeat which could have affected their confidence. Donegal know now they are going to get a fierce contest in the Ulster championship in a couple of weeks.

I always felt Dublin were going to win the game even though things were going against them. Bernard Brogan didn’t play well as he struggled when the space was tighter up front. But they still coped with Philly McMahon kicking a great point and Dean Rock coming on to kick a couple of really impressive scores that will help his confidence. Yesterday was not their best performance of 2013 but they remain the front runners and winning in the manner that they did is no bad thing as the league concludes.

Division 2

Derry and Westmeath produced an entertaining curtain-raiser. It was intriguing that the half-time score was 0-10 apiece, the same as the Division 1 final interval scoreline. You would have got great odds on that outcome beforehand.

It was largely unchartered territory for these young Westmeath players to be playing in a final in Croke Park. It was a good performance by them and something to build on.

They have Division 1 football to look forward to next year even though the match demonstrated that they just weren’t as street smart as their opponents. Derry had a couple of experienced heads like Patsy Bradley and Gerard O’Kane who made the difference.

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

It was good for Westmeath to get Dessie Dolan on the pitch, he’s one of these figureheads that they rally around. He kicked a few nice points and made things happen.

At the other end James Kielt showed his class, Emmet McGuckin made a good contribution when coming on and ultimately the right side won the game.

Division 3 and 4

It was not that long ago Monaghan were sitting at the top table and giving Kerry a huge fright on championship days in Croke Park. They’ve fallen since then but that happens when you lose a few players and a few others get that bit older.

Plenty of seats available in Croke Park before Derry v Westmeath - ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Winning Saturday night’s Division 3 final was a step in the right direction for them, as it was for Division 4 winners Limerick. These games are worth their weight in gold in terms of championship preparation. Themselves and Limerick should get a lift from it while Meath and Offaly will have learned a fair bit ahead of the summer.

But really the worth of these lower divisional finals has to be questioned. I believe they’re a complete waste of time. If a team tops a table, they should become league champions outright. There’s enough inter-county games and the result is clubs are suffering.

The GAA should create some breathing space on the club front. Look at the attendance figures for the weekend – 7,742 on Saturday and 33, 134 on Sunday. You’re hitting around the 40,000 mark for four games which proves the public interest just isn’t there for these games, particularly when there are so many other competing sports attractions.

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