The Big Picture: Allianz Leagues Off To A Flyer The Big Picture

The Big Picture: Allianz Leagues Off To A Flyer

There was plenty of good football to enjoy in the opening round of the Allianz League last weekend with some great performances and one or two unexpected results as well.

It’s shaping up to be a great Allianz League football competition this year if the first weekend is anything to go by. The action continues with round two this weekend and, with the hurling set to begin also, we can safely say that the 2017 GAA campaign is well and truly underway. It’s good to have it back! Get stuck into the action on eir Sport with two live football (Dublin v Tyrone and Kerry v Mayo) and two live hurling matches (Dublin v Tipperary and Cork v Clare) on Saturday evening. Check for channel details.

Division 1

Dublin are the undisputed kings of the league right now. They’ve won it for the past four years in succession and, while some have questioned whether they will have the appetite for the competition this year, surely there can be no greater incentive than the opportunity to complete an unprecedented five-in-a-row. A chance to set a record that will probably never be beaten – what more do you need?

There was a full house of over 16,000 at Breffne Park as newly-promoted Cavan entertained the champions last weekend. Some have pointed to the fact that Jim Gavin’s side will play four of their seven pool games away from home as possibly an opportunity for someone to put a halt to their unbeaten run which currently stands at 30 games and counting, but Dublin showed their mettle with a solid if unspectacular 0-18 to 0-11 victory.

Gavin named eleven of the side that won the All-Ireland in October in his starting line-up and, although a couple of late changes reduced that number to ten, it did see the return of former Player of the Year Jack McCaffrey to competitive action after more than a year out. The home side held their own early on, but five points without reply ensured that the Dubs were comfortable at the break. It was an advantage they never surrendered as they ran out comfortable winners in the end. Mattie McGleenan’s side face a trip to neighbours Monaghan this weekend, while Dublin host the other promoted side in Tyrone.

Kerry laid down an early marker with a 2-17 to 1-17 victory over Donegal in Letterkenny, but they were made to sweat late on as the hosts recorded the final six points of the contest to leave just a goal between the teams at the end of what was, for the most part anyway, a one-sided affair. Two Paul Geaney goals put the result beyond doubt for the Kingdom who notched their first opening round victory since 2012. They host Mayo in Tralee this weekend in what is sure to be an excellent contest.

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice admitted afterwards that his side were better prepared than previous years due to the fact that, as there will be no semi-finals this year, they have to finish in the top two to secure a place in the final. The panel forewent their usual team-building holiday in January and returned to training earlier than usual. “This year, we’ve a bit of training done and more bodies available to us and that leads to better performances,” he said.

Monaghan sprang something of a surprise with a deserved 1-11 to 0-12 points over Mayo in Castlebar on Saturday night. The All-Ireland runners-up from last year looked out of sorts from the start as Malachy O’Rourke’s side asserted themselves from the first whistle, although it took a Darren Hughes goal four minutes after the break to turn the game decisively in their favour. They were down to 14 men for the final ten minutes following Karl O’Connell’s dismissal but, despite a number of decent chances, Mayo were unable to get on terms. The result puts huge pressure on Stephen Rochford’s side as they make the trip to Tralee as two defeats in succession would leave them with an awful lot to do if they are to make the final this year. The Farney men, meanwhile, will be confident that they can capitalise on their good start with another victory on Sunday against neighbours Cavan in Clones.

Tyrone recovered from the concession of an early goal to ease past Roscommon by 0-18 to 1-9 at Healy Park. Niall Daly found the net for the Rossies within two minutes of the start but, despite enjoying several decent chances in the opening quarter, they were unable to add significantly to their tally. Mickey Harte’s side slowly got themselves into the game and, even though they lost the influential Mattie Donnelly to injury on 15 minutes, they maintained control for the remainder of the contest. The visitors failed to register in the second quarter as the hosts went in 0-10 to 1-2 up at the break. Kevin McStay’s side rallied somewhat in the second period to cut the deficit to three points at one stage before Tyrone sealed victory with a succession of late scores.

The Ulster champions will head to Croke Park for their meeting with Dublin full of confidence after an impressive display, while Roscommon will be looking to register their first victory of the campaign as they welcome Donegal to Dr Hyde Park.

Division 2

I mentioned last week that Fermanagh might emerge as the surprise package of Division 2, but even I was amazed at how easily they dismantled Down at Pairc Esler. Down might still be reeling from their seven straight losses on the spin which saw them relegated from Division 1 last season and they will need to regroup quickly if they are not to follow the likes of Kildare and Westmeath over the past few years with successive relegations.

Fermanagh dominated the game for long stretches on Saturday, running out deserved 1-16 to 0-10 winners in the end, with Eoin MacManus’s goal midway through the second half ending the game as a contest. For Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath, victory over the county he led to two All-Ireland triumphs was bittersweet and he was glad to get the fixture over and done with. “It’s a big victory for the team to come away from home and win by nine points,” he said afterwards. “I don’t take any special pleasure out of beating Down but it’s two points for Fermanagh, that’s the important thing.” Down travel to Clare, while Fermanagh entertain Galway in round two this weekend.

With both counties touted as potential promotion candidates, the meeting of Galway and Cork in Salthill was undoubtedly the big fixture of the division last weekend. It finished all square 0-14 to 1-11 on the day, but the emotions in the two dressing rooms after the contest will have been very different. The home side will have known that they were lucky to have gotten anything from the game, while the memory of Colm O’Neill’s last minute missed free will haunt the Rebel camp for a while yet as they let slip a golden chance to put one over on their rivals. Galway had landed two late scores themselves to draw level before O’Neill, a 45th minute substitute who registered five points on the day, sent his long distance effort right and wide. However, Rebel fans will be slow to point the finger at O’Neill as their side missed a host of good chances and should have secured victory long before the final whistle.

Cork travel to newly-promoted Kildare on Sunday knowing that they will be facing another stern test following the Lilywhites polished performance last weekend as they overcame Meath 3-17 to 0-16 at Pairc Tailteann. The Royals never recovered from an early blow as debutant Ben McCormack netted with barely 15 seconds on the clock. The visitors led by ten points following Niall Kelly’s goal with barely 20 minutes gone and never looked like losing the game from there. Meath created chances, but failed to make any of them count, before Kelly added a third goal for the visitors on 48 minutes to compound the home side’s misery.

Meath entertain Derry this weekend who needed a late James Kielt score to snatch a point against Clare at Celtic Park as the game ended 0-11 to 1-08, with Jamie Malone finding the net for the visitors. The Oak Leafers knocked Meath out of the championship last season which adds extra spice to the fixture as Andy McEntee’s side look to get their league campaign up and running. The Banner men, meanwhile, will be looking to put the disappointment of the draw behind them with a victory over Down in Ennis this weekend.

Images: INPHO

There is plenty of great Allianz Leagues action coming up on the eir Sport pack over the next few weeks. Go to for more details.

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