The Big Picture: Big Boys Push On The Big Picture

The Big Picture: Big Boys Push On

There were wins for the footballers of Dublin, Kerry, Tyrone and Donegal in the Allianz Leagues top division last weekend, while big guns Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford showed their mettle with comprehensive victories in the hurling as the wheat is slowly separated from the chaff in both codes.

We have passed the midway point in the Allianz Leagues, not counting the knock-out stages. For the various divisions in both hurling and football, the tables are beginning to take on a more serious hue. For many, a slow start to the campaign could very soon be a fully-fledged relegation battle. For others, early season promise is but a distant memory as the big guns, with a few notable exceptions, have begun to hit their stride and push on.

Football

Dublin extended their unbeaten run to 33 games in all competitions with a comprehensive 1-16 to 0-07 win over a disappointing Mayo outfit at Croke Park on Saturday evening. There was plenty of talk about the game in the build-up, with many pundits suggesting that this was an ideal opportunity for Mayo to put paid to their Dublin hoodoo which now runs to eleven games without a victory going back some five seasons. How could they expect to overcome Jim Gavin’s side at the business end of the season in an All-Ireland semi-final or final, they suggested, if they didn’t have anything to base it on? They needed a reference point and last Saturday night in Croke Park seemed like the perfect place to find it.


But it didn’t happen. Mayo were poor and Dublin, with only seven of the side that started last year’s All-Ireland final, easily put them to the sword. Let’s face it, there is a gulf between these two sides and the fact that Mayo even came close to upsetting a very off-colour Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland series decider was a reflection on how far from their best they were in both games than anything else. Mayo have a lot of work to do while Dublin march on regardless. With a new crop of success-hungry youngsters coming keen to grab their chance, the reigning league champions eased to a 1-05 to 0-02 lead at the break, with Conor McHugh, one of the above-mentioned, finishing off a good move with a simple palm into the net. Mayo didn’t register their first point from play until four minutes into the second half and their forward line was kept scoreless for the entire game, something that is sure to be of grave concern to manager Stephen Rochford.

Some people, perhaps eager to see the Dubs knocked off their perch, had suggested that the pressure associated with maintaining an unbeaten run that now stretches back over two years might prove too much for them. But how wrong they were! Dublin are revelling in it and will be keen to see how far they can go. The fact that they travel to Killarney to face old rivals Kerry on March 18th with a chance of equalling the Kingdom’s 85-year-old record of 34 games unbeaten back in the late 1920s and early ‘30s only adds spice to what is always one of the marquee fixtures in the league calendar. They will also have several big names back for that one, which is good news for Dubs fans but bad news for everyone else. For their part, Kerry will have an even bigger incentive than usual to put one over on their old foes, so it is sure to be an epic encounter.


Speaking of Kerry, they significantly eased their relegation fears by overcoming Roscommon by 1-19 to 1-13 at Dr Hyde Park on Saturday evening, with a late Paul Geaney goal sealing victory for Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side after the Rossies had reduced a five-point deficit to the minimum as the game headed towards injury time. It looked like another all-too-familiar late Kerry collapse could be on the cards before Geaney steadied the ship between points from James O’Donoghue and Stephen O’Brien. The result will come as a huge relief for the Kerry faithful ahead of the Dublin clash, while Kevin McStay’s men face a must-win trip to Monaghan on Sunday week or they will probably be playing their football in Division 2 next season.

In the other games in the top flight, 13-man Monaghan were knocked off top spot as they went down 0-14 to 0-10 to Tyrone at Healy Park, while Donegal were convincing 1-16 to 0-11 winners over Cavan at Breffni Park. Newly-promoted Cavan will also be looking over their shoulders at the relegation trap door with just one point to show for their endeavours so far, although they have played a game less than Roscommon. Mattie McGleenan’s side travel to Castlebar to meet Mayo on Sunday week where a win will be crucial for both sides - albeit for quite different reasons. Before that they head to Omagh for their previously postponed game against Tyrone, a fixture that could see Mickey Harte’s men go top of the table if they win.


Division 2

Things are hotting up nicely in Division 2, with just four points dividing the eight teams which means that there’s still plenty to fight for in the remaining three matches. Fermanagh prop up the division on two points after suffering their third defeat in succession, an emphatic 4-14 to 0-14 loss to Kildare in Newbridge. The visitors started well but conceded 3-06 in just 14 first-half minutes and never recovered. The result sees the Lillywhites return to the top of the table following their last gasp defeat against Derry last weekend, a point clear of Clare and Galway who enjoyed mixed fortunes. The Banner eased past a poor Cork side by 2-11 to 0-09 in Ennis, while the Tribesmen went down by 1-13 to 0-15 to Meath in Navan. Down, meanwhile, continued their resurgence with a 1-15 to 1-07 win over Derry at Owenbeg, their second win in succession following a run of nine league defeats in a row going back to last year.

Kildare look to be in pole position for a return to the top flight following their double relegation a couple of seasons back which saw them slip all the way down to Division 3. They now have six points from four games and are a point clear of Galway and Clare, with Meath and Cork a further point back on four. Galway were touted as potential promotion candidates at the beginning of the campaign and they are there or thereabouts at this stage, but the real story of the division is the continued demise of Cork. Peadar Healy’s charges were nailed-on favourites to go up before a ball had been kicked, but are now in danger of slipping into the third tier after losing to Clare last weekend for the first time in 20 years. It promises to be an interesting few weeks in the Rebel County between now and the beginning of April!


Hurling

Tipperary maintained their perfect start to the campaign while exacting a sweet revenge for their defeat at the hands of reigning champions Clare at the quarter-final stage of this competition last year as they secured a comfortable 0-28 to 0-21 victory at Semple Stadium on Sunday. Michael Ryan’s men looked impressive once again and remain unbeaten since that defeat in Cusack Park almost a year ago.

That result sets them up nicely for their encounter with old rivals Kilkenny this weekend (eir Sport 2, Sat, March 11th 18.55). It’s a replay of last year’s All-Ireland final and will serve as an excellent indicator as to the progress of the two sides since that game. Talk of Brian Cody and Kilkenny’s demise appears once again to have been premature as the Cats eased to a 0-22 to 0-15 victory over Cork at Nowlan Park, but a defeat in Thurles this Saturday evening will leave them looking over their shoulders heading into the final game of the campaign depending on how the other results go.


Waterford proved much too strong for Dublin in Croke Park, winning out by 2-19 to 1-13 in the end. The Deise are second in the table behind Tipperary on four points. The four remaining sides each have two points with two games remaining which means we are in for a dramatic last fortnight. Clare host Dublin in Ennis on Sunday, with the winners of that one almost certain to be safe. Waterford entertain Cork which, if it goes to form, will see the Rebels fighting for their lives on the final day against Tipperary at Pairc Ui Rinn. In the remaining game, Dublin finish at home to Kilkenny which could also be a relegation play-off decider. Either way, Cody won’t be unduly concerned and may even look at a play-off decider as a welcome extra game that will give him the chance to bed in his new formation ahead of the summer. Having said that, he will do everything he can to avoid letting the Cats drop into Division 1B, so we should get a glimpse of the real Kilkenny in that one should it come to pass.

Division 1B

Wexford look the team most likely to top Division 1B after securing their third win in succession with a 3-18 to 0-12 demolition of Kerry at Wexford Park. They are two points ahead of Galway and Limerick, teams they have already beaten this season, with two games to go. Next up for Davy Fitzgerald’s men is a trip to Offaly who remain pointless without a win so far, although they put in a decent performance against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday night before eventually succumbing by 1-25 to 3-15.

Galway, who hammered Laois by 3-31 to 1-11 at Pearse Stadium, visit Kerry this weekend before finishing with a trip to the Gaelic Grounds to face Limerick who head to O’Moore Park to take on Laois on Saturday evening (eir Sport 1, Sat, March 11th 18.45) ahead of what could be a crucial clash against the Tribesmen.

There’s still plenty to play for in both codes which means we are set for some enthralling Allianz Leagues action over the next few weeks.

Images: INPHO

There is plenty of great GAA action coming your way soon on the eir Sport pack. Go to www.eirsport.ie for more details.

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