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Unrealistic expectations, heavy pitches and GAA columns - the beautiful league is back


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"It often occurs to me that we love most what makes us miserable."

Those were the wise words of one of Monaghan's most famous sons, the iconic Inniskeen scribe Patrick Kavanagh. And although I'm not sure I entirely agree with the sentiment, I do see what he was getting at.

I left St Tiernach's Park on Sunday afternoon cursing the result, inwardly lambasting some of the refereeing decisions, and uncomfortably wet after sitting for the duration of Monaghan's one-point defeat to Mayo on the lower portion of 'The Hill' (or the Pat McGrane Stand for those looking to find it on the Clones stadium seating plan).

The queue for tea at half-time was ridiculous too - to the point where I and many others gave up trying. Kevin Kilbane however, watching his first ever game on the hallowed Clones turf, braved the crowds of Farney faithful and his fellow Mayo supporters at the interval and made it to the front without any problems (I guess that's the competitive nature that earns you 110 Irish caps and all that).

You know what though? I loved every minute of it. It might not have been the highest-scoring game we'll ever see, and there was no Conor McManus or Lee Keegan on show, but sometimes it's important to appreciate the good of the game.

After the negativity that surrounded some of the inter-county pre-season tournaments this year, the start of the league came at a good time.

Some of Monaghan's debutants were excellent. Niall Kearns scored two excellent points from play and managed to field a couple of balls around the middle that he had no right to win. Corner-back Barry Kerr belied his years with a strong display at corner-back, and we saw glimpses from nippy Donaghmoyne corner-forward David Garland that could make the Monaghan over-reliance on McManus a thing of the past sometime soon.

For last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists Mayo, it was a solid start to their league campaign, especially crucial given how two points won or lost here and there in Division One can be the difference between pushing for a league final berth and desperately staving off relegation.

Colm Boyle was excellent for Stephen Rochford's side, Neil Douglas kicked some great scores from placed balls, and Castlebar Mitchels' Paddy Durcan popped up with the winning point from wing half-back. All in all, a good afternoon's work from the visitors, especially given the majority of the squad only returned from a team holiday a couple of weeks ago.

So why all this negativity around the game at the moment? We'll wait and see if the April club calendar plan will work as it intends to, and the Super 8 format deserves a chance at the very least.

It seems everyone has a solution in terms of how the GAA can make the All-Ireland series more competitive, and by no means have we landed on the perfect set-up. 

The more we can focus on the positives within the game though the better. David Clifford's senior Kerry debut mightn't have brought the 4-4 that everyone seemed to expect after his minor exploits, but in case anyone needed reminding the step up from minor to senior level is huge in every regard.

Players like Clifford and Kenmare's Sean O'Shea give those in the Kingdom plenty to be optimistic about, and they won't surrender their league crown too easily.

I've noticed too that Donegal seem to be changing under Declan Bonner, and in a good way. It would appear that we won't see too many more of the low-scoring wins and defeats that were the norm under McGuinness and then Gallagher. Nathan Mullins adds a new dimension to the middle of the park for them. Paddy McBrearty is in imperious form too - I saw him tear Monaghan's defence apart in the McKenna Cup earlier this month in Clones as he scored 1-8 in a 4-17 to 0-19 win. They racked up 3-14 in defeat in Killarney on Sunday. Those just aren't scorelines Ulster teams are often associated with.

Kerry's Jason Foley tackles Patrick McBrearty of Donegal
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

The other county that has definite cause for optimism after the weekend's Division One results (aside from the obvious Dubs) is Kevin Walsh's Galway, playing in Division One for the first time in eight years. Beating Tyrone by four in Tuam Stadium is the perfect start, and they will be determined to get as many points as they can on board early on.

Damien Comer captains the Tribesmen this year, and it was his strike that had the green flag waving after just 16 seconds. A county like Galway should be consistently playing Division One football, and retaining their status in the top tier would provide the perfect platform for giving the Connacht championship and Super 8's a good crack when the heat of the summer is upon us.

It's hard to beat the indomitable optimism from supporters around this time of year. I noticed one GAA fan page tweeting an interesting tidbit - the last time the Mayo senior men, women and hurling teams won on the same day (as they did at the weekend) Mayo went on to win Sam. 

Whatever happens come the championship, for now, it's just good to have the league back.


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