The Big Picture: Lots to Love in the Allianz Leagues The Big Picture

The Big Picture: Lots to Love in the Allianz Leagues

It looks like we’re set for two great Allianz Leagues competitions this year after another weekend of superb action saw a few of the big names coming a cropper in both football and hurling.

We’re only two weeks in to the inter-county campaign for 2017 (just one week for hurling!) and things are already shaping up nicely for what promises to be an excellent competition. Apologies to all O’Byrne and Walsh Cup fans, but I always feel that the league is where things really get started. It hasn’t always been the case, sure, but anyone watching any of the action over the weekend will have been left in no doubt that, be it big ball or small ball, these guys are playing for keeps already. It’s good to see!

Football

Dublin made it 31 games unbeaten in all competitions, but only just as they overcame a five-point deficit in the final 20 minutes to snatch a 0-10 to 1-07 draw with Tyrone at a wet and windy Croke Park on Saturday night. The reigning Allianz League and All-Ireland champions offered little of the fluency and craft that characterised their opening day win at Breffni Park against Cavan last weekend, but more than made up for it with grit and determination as they clawed their way back into the game against the Ulster champions who will undoubtedly be rueing their profligacy in front of goal after leaving several good scoring chances behind them.


The game appeared to have taken a decisive turn early in the second half when Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan saved Dean Rock’s penalty before Aidan McCrory netted the only goal of the game at the other end. But Mark Bradley’s dismissal shortly afterwards for an off-the-ball incident offered the hosts a way back and they didn’t turn the invitation down, keeping the visitors scoreless in the last 26 minutes as they slowly chipped away at their lead.

Speaking afterwards, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte preferred to focus on the valuable experience that the younger players in his squad will have gotten from playing Dublin at Croke Park rather than the missed chances. “If they had never been in that place, then they wouldn’t know how they could compete at that level,” he pointed out. “So it’s good to see that they can, whatever the time of year, compete with the champions.” He also reserved praise for Dublin, saying: “They haven’t played as many games as we have. So, there’s plenty of reasons why Dublin were not on song. But they’re still good enough to be very difficult to beat. That’s why they’re champions.”


The other marquee Division 1 game on Saturday evening saw Mayo battle past Kerry by 0-15 to 1-10 in Tralee, their fourth league victory over the Kingdom in the last five years. Kerry started well but injuries to Paul Geaney and Killian Young in the first half knocked them off their stride. David Moran also missed a penalty which meant that they were only four points ahead at 1-07 to 0-06 at the break, despite Barry John Keane’s goal on the half hour and despite dominating proceedings for long spells. Mayo then made them pay with a consummate second-half display, with Cillian O’Connor kicking seven frees after the restart as Stephen Rochford’s side slowly but surely reeled in their opponents. It more than made up for the opening weekend’s lacklustre display against Monaghan, while the Kerry faithful will feel that any green shoots from the victory in Donegal last time out have come to nought.

In the other matches in the top tier, Eoin McHugh scored an injury time winner as Donegal edged out Roscommon by 0-16 to 2-09 at Dr Hyde Park. Playing with a strong breeze, the home side led by 1-07 to 0-07 at the break, but found themselves trailing by three points heading into the last few minutes before Conor Devanney produced a fine strike to level matters. The game appeared to be heading for a draw, but McHugh’s late score snatched it for the visitors. In the final fixture Monaghan and Cavan played out a competitive but uninspiring 0-07 to 0-07 draw in Castleblayney.

Those results see Dublin, Tyrone and Monaghan all tied at the top of the table on three points apiece followed by Kerry, Mayo and Donegal on two, Cavan on one and, finally, Roscommon who remain pointless after two games.

Division 2

Newly-promoted Kildare lead the way in Division 2 with two wins from two after easily overcoming Cork by 1-14 to 1-08 in Newbridge. The visitors were always second best as the home side dominated from the start. They led 0-08 to 0-03 at the break and went seven clear when Ben McCormack found the net early in the second period. Luke Connolly’s goal from range offered a brief lifeline to the Rebels, but the Lilywhites responded with three unanswered points to seal a well-deserved victory.


Galway built on the strong foundation of their draw against Cork on the opening weekend as they beat Fermanagh 1-13 to 0-10 at Brewster Park. The Ulster side competed well in the first half and led by four points at one stage before a Damian Comer goal early in the second half reduced Galway’s arrears to just one point. Aided by a strong breeze, the Tribesmen assumed control and outscored their rivals by 0-10 to 0-03 for the remainder of the game as they ran out comfortable winners in the end.

The result moves Galway into joint-second place in the table with Clare who followed up their opening weekend draw in Derry with a comprehensive 2-11 to 0-11 victory over Down at Cusack Park. The result sees the Mourne men rooted to the foot of the table after their ninth consecutive league defeat, a point behind Derry who were hammered 3-15 to 0-09 by a rampant Meath side in Navan. Cork are third from bottom with one point as well, while Fermanagh and Meath sit comfortably in mid-table with two points apiece. There will be no football this weekend, with the next round of matches set for February 25/26th.

Hurling

Not to be outdone by the football, there was no shortage of surprise results in the top two divisions as the Allianz Leagues hurling competition got underway at the weekend. Last year’s winners Clare were no match for a resurgent Cork side at Pairc Ui Rinn, while the beaten finalists from 2016, Waterford, laid down a marker for this year’s tournament as they recorded a fine victory over Kilkenny at Nowlan Park.


Reigning All-Ireland champions Tipperary got proceedings under way as they easily dispatched Dublin by 1-24 to 1-08 at Croke Park on Saturday evening. Ger Cunningham’s young side started well and led by 0-04 to 0-01 after 15 minutes, but Tipp soon got into their stride and it was very much one-way traffic after that. The visitors were ahead by 0-11 to 0-06 at the break before a Jason Forde goal on 55 minutes sealed victory for the Premier men. Eamonn Dillon brought a tiny measure of respectability to the scoreline with a goal for Dublin ten minutes from the end but, on this showing, it could be a difficult campaign for the Metropolitans as they look ahead to a tough trip to Pairc Ui Rinn to face Cork this weekend (eir Sport 2, Sat, Feb 18th 18.55). Tipperary face a pretty daunting challenge themselves as they pay a visit to in-form Waterford.

Speaking of the Deise, they registered their first away win over Kilkenny in 13 years with a 1-15 to 0-17 victory at Nowlan Park on Sunday. There was only a point in it at the end which made for a nervous finale for Derek McGrath’s side, but the Waterford faithful would have been wondering how they almost managed to leave the Marble City with anything less than two points after dominating throughout.


Clare’s honeymoon period as league champions came to an abrupt end in their opening fixture of the new campaign as Cork ran out comfortable 0-21 to 1-11 winners at Pairc Ui Rinn. The home side handed debuts to five players (plus two off the bench) and conceded a goal in first-half injury time after playing with a strong breeze, but still managed to have seven points to spare at the final whistle. Anthony Nash saved a Tony Kelly penalty shortly after the restart before the Rebels kicked on to secure a deserved win which augurs well for their 2017 odyssey after losing all five league games last year and needing two late goals in the relegation play-off against Galway to avoid the drop.

Division 1B

New Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald got off to a great start in Division 1B as his side fought back to beat Limerick by 1-14 to 0-14 at Wexford Park. The Model County trailed by 0-10 to 0-04 at the break after playing into a stiff breeze, but they registered six points without reply midway through the second period to assume control, with Conor McDonald’s goal nine minutes from time dividing the teams at the final whistle.


Wexford travel to Salthill to face Galway this weekend with the Tribesmen fresh off the back of a 6-23 to 1-12 thrashing of Offaly in Tullamore last weekend. Michael Donoghue’s charges led 4-09 to 1-08 at the break despite playing into a stiff breeze. They continued their dominance in the second half as they inflicted a baptism of fire upon new Faithful boss Kevin Ryan who was left to plead for supporters to be patient after the final whistle as he embarks upon a long and arduous rebuilding process.

Offaly make the short trip to Portlaoise to face Laois on Saturday (eir Sport 1 18.45), with both sides desperate to register their first win of the campaign after the O’Moore men succumbed to a second-half fight-back by Kerry in Tralee. Laois manager Eamonn Kelly will have been very disappointed to see his side go down 3-14 to 0-19 to his former charges after leading 0-13 to 0-04 at half-time. But it was two goals in two second-half minutes from Padraig Boyle and Colum Harty that proved decisive as Kerry got their campaign off to the perfect start ahead of their trip to Limerick this weekend.

Images: INPHO

There is plenty of great Allianz Leagues action on the eir Sport pack over the coming weeks. Go to www.eirsport.ie for details.

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