Friday 3 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
# Comment
Dean Rock almost outscores Meath, Westmeath display self belief — football talking points
Plus, why it’s time for a championship restructure.

1. Latest evidence the championship isn’t fit for purpose

SHOCK VICTORIES FOR Tipperary and Galway in recent weeks might have given Meath notions they could do something similar to Dublin, but in the end it was a cakewalk for the All-Ireland champions.

Bernard Brogan catches a ball over the head of Meath's Mickey Burke Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Criticising the structure of the championship feels like flogging a dead horse at this stage, but we can’t go on like this much longer. The championship won’t spark into life until August and the league has become the most competitive competition in the GAA calendar.

Why not adopt Jim McGuinness’s suggested model and use a structure that makes league form relevant and retains the provincial championships? Place 16 teams in two straight knock-out tiers, with teams seeded from 1-16 and 17-32 based on league form.

If a county who finished outside the top 16 in the league makes a provincial final, then slot them into the top tier at the expense of the 16th placed team. It might not be perfect, but the GAA needs to try something.

Since the GAA was formed in 1884, introducing qualifiers has been the only tweak to the championship structures. It’s time for the GAA to do right by its players, both club and county, and fix this mess.


Dean Rock with Mickey Burke Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

2. Dean Rock almost outscores Meath

Barney Rock was a wonderful free-taker, and son Dean has also mastered the art. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Barney was an assassin in front of the posts, but now it’s Dean’s turn.

Rock Junior kicked ten points this evening, including nine frees. He’s right up there with Cillian O’Connor, Conor McManus and Bryan Sheehan as the most clinical dead ball specialists in the game at present.

Rock assumed the free-taking responsibilities from Bernard Brogan last year and Jim Gavin’s trust in him as been rewarded. His tally was only a point off of Meath’s total. Foul Dublin inside the 45 and Rock will punish you. Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Mickey Harte take note.


Killian Daly and John Heslin celebrate Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

3. Westmeath display their self-belief again

Despite suffering successive league relegations, Westmeath have proved that championship is where it matters. For the first time in their history they’ve made it to successive Leinster finals and only a fifth in their history.

What made it even more impressive was the manner in which they overturned a six point deficit. Last year they fought back from 10 behind to beat Meath. This is a team that doesn’t panic when they’re staring down the barrel of a gun. Tom Cribbin must take huge credit for their mental resilience.

Unfortunately it will be a case of damage limitation in the Leinster final as they face Jim Gavin’s Blue Wave. But to make two provincial finals in his first two years in the job means Cribbin’s time in charge must be considered a big success.


Fans keep an eye on the Ireland v France game Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

4. Subdued atmosphere on a strange day in Croker

As the clock for Dublin-Meath ticked towards 70, added time of five minutes was announced and the crowd of 42,259 let out a collective groan. Meath’s legs and self-belief had left them long before that as the Dubs played keep-ball and ran the clock down.

Given Ireland were playing in the Euros earlier in the day, it wasn’t actually a bad turnout. But you’d wonder whether these sides would have been better served if the games were brought to a provincial venue rather than a half-empty, eerie Croke Park.

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With the second-half of Ireland-France on the screen before the curtain raiser and the 45 minute wait between the games at HQ, it wasn’t a day that will live long in the memory.


Cian O'Neill Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

4. Kildare and Meath capitulate in the second-half

Kildare led Westmeath by two points at half-time and a lightening-fast start to the second period saw them coasting with a 1-9 to 0-6 lead after 42 minutes. But they would go almost 30 minutes without a score as Westmeath wrestled back control of the game.

Meath too gave an impressive showing for the first-half, before badly running out of steam after the restart. To beat this Dublin side, it’s critical you find the net and the Royals fluffed their only chance at a three-pointer inside the opening few minutes. They scored just three points in the second-half in an extremely wasteful showing.

While it’s difficult to criticise Meath for falling to this powerful Dublin juggernaut, serious questions have to be asked of Kildare’s second-half collapse. To throw away a six point lead in a provincial semi-final is disastrous.

Whether Kildare lack mental strength or Cian O’Neill’s defensive game plan put his players in a straight jacket, the manner of their collapse is worrying. They were the better side for long spells but failed to make it count on the scoreboard. In other words, it was a typical Kildare performance.

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