It’s a wet and miserable morning up in the capital – just the right kind of weather for the mood most of us are probably in right now, reading reports such as this, this and this (that last one is by Ed McGreal, by the way, and it contains a handy round-up of the weekend’s club action) about Cillian’s injury and his likely extended lay-off. Double-plus fuck, as George Orwell might have put it.
Aside from our woes there was plenty of action on the field over the weekend, with most attention focused on that nasty, bad-tempered but utterly compelling battle between Donegal and Tyrone in Ballybofey. Like many others, I fancied Mickey Harte’s lads to shade this but they were well beaten by the All-Ireland champions. As we know to our cost, if you ship two goals to Jim McGuinness’s Donegal there’s no way you’re going to prevail and although Tyrone battled back well after conceding the first one, the second green flag was the fatal one for them.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but one thing that struck me forcefully about yesterday’s match in Ballybofey was the way that both sides were allowed to foul all day, with only the more blatant infractions getting pulled up. On the radio, Tom Carr praised Joe McQuillan at half-time for “letting the game flow” (i.e. ignoring most of the fouling that was taking place) and it was hard to avoid the conclusion that McQuillan knew full well they’d both foul all day so he let them foul all day. It would have been interesting, I think, to see how differently the game would have played out if, say, Mother Duffy had been handling it. Had that been the case, we can be fairly sure there’d have been more than one red card shown.
Two other things stand out from Ballybofey. The first is that not only are Donegal looking extremely fit, strong and hard to beat, they’re also rapidly on their way to becoming one of the most disliked inter-county teams of all time. The constant fouling is one thing but the non-stop mouthing by the likes of Murphy and McGee, the incessant feigning of injuries and the arrogant, aggressive carry-on by their sideline personnel means that they’re setting a standard in this area that even the likes of Tyrone and Armagh failed to reach in recent years. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would be glad to see them knocked from their perch, though after yesterday I’m not sure this is going to happen any time soon.
The second point is that yesterday proved beyond all doubt that last year’s outing of us as a cynical team has got to rank as an even sicker joke that it was when the allegation was first made. We’re not at the starting gate in that department compared to the stuff witnessed – and allowed to continue with impunity – at Ballybofey yesterday. And, needless to say, there wasn’t a peep about this on The Sunday Game last night: instead Eamonn McGee – whose brief it is to foul, foul and keep fouling and then complain, complain and keep complaining on the few occasions when he gets penalised – was one of the three Donegal players shortlisted for MOTM. At least Paddy McBrearty deservedly got that gong.
The bottom line, I guess, is that, love ’em or hate ’em, Donegal are well and truly back and, one would expect, are now sailing serenely – if that term could ever properly be used when describing them – towards a hat-trick of Ulster titles (they’re 4/9 with Paddy Power to do so). As a result, I think it’s fair to say that all the rest of us with pretensions of competing at the business end of the season dish ear have been well and truly warned. They haven’t gone away, you know.
Neither have Kerry or Cork who both skated to victory in utterly one-sided encounters against Limerick and Tipperary respectively in the joke that is the Munster football championship. That joke, by the way, extends to match scheduling this year, with Kerry having to play two matches in six days (they’re due to annihilate Waterford next Saturday evening, yawn) before waiting a full five weeks to play Cork (once they hammer Clare, yawn) in the final. That’ll be an interesting one, with Kerry’s old lags facing Conor Counihan’s refreshed Leesiders, but regardless of who wins that Southern decider both counties will, as always, be in the hat when the draw for the All-Ireland quarter-final is made.
Will London make it that far? Yesterday’s win over Sligo in Ruislip was a deserved and long overdue Connacht championship victory for the Exiles and we know from our own mortifying near-miss over there back in 2011 what a tricky proposition that fixture can be. (Interesting stat – James Kilcullen, who came on as a sub for Sligo yesterday, started for us that day). Sligo could, as we managed to do two years ago, have taken the easy last-minute option of popping the ball over the bar to send the match into extra-time but instead their attempt to snatch victory with a goal resulted in Pat Hughes’ fisted effort cannoning off the crossbar and going wide.
Despite London’s heroics yesterday, you’d have to fancy Leitrim – who already, don’t forget, have a match under their belts themselves having thrashed New York a few weeks back – to prevail in Carrick-on-Shannon to book their place in the Connacht final for the first time since they won it under John O’Mahony’s stewardship back in 1994. And if they do, they’ll have got there solely by beating non-Irish ‘counties’, which no doubt could become an interesting piece of GAA trivia in years to come. Unless Londáin turn them over in Carrick on June 23rd, that is.