Mayo and Dublin take silverware, then refocus for the serious stuff

Cavan and Sligo also claimed divisional titles during decisive weekend at Croke Park

It’s a rare day that both Mayo and Dublin leave Croke Park with some swag. The Green and Red of Mayo and Molly Malone both got an airing at the big house, but it didn’t quite feel like the big time.

There was no homecoming in Castlebar on Sunday night, there was no stage erected on College Green. The league is only the league, this year more than ever.

Mayo’s Connacht Championship campaign throws in next Sunday and Dublin don’t dine out on Division Two league titles, even maiden ones. Before their team bus had departed the stadium, Mayo had parked the county’s first Division One success since 2019.

“I’d lead it myself if I got a chance,” said Kevin McStay, when asked if there would be any celebrations. “But no, we can’t, just can’t. The optics would be wrong. The message would be all wrong. It would be mixed.


Four league trophies were handed out at Croke Park over the weekend, with three provinces getting in on the act – the divisional winners in descending order being Mayo, Dublin, Cavan and Sligo.

“I’m very aware of how dangerous next week’s fixture is and there is part of me already where my brain is jumping to that, I’m kind of nearly afraid to talk about what happened today, in one respect,” said McStay.

Because, whatever way you dress it up, for some teams the latter stages of the league have been a stone in their boots.

You could probably say that about the entire Division Two experience for Dublin. The sight of Dessie Farrell’s men emerging from the Cusack Stand dressingrooms was in itself an oddity, while some of the Dublin fans on Hill 16 had to quickly readjust themselves at the realisation there would be no national anthem before their game. Division Two finals don’t come with bells and whistles. They are what they are.

And Dublin, it seems, are determined not to let go of what they once were – the caretakers of this place. They scored four second-half goals against Derry, who had conceded just three in total all season.

“I think for us it was about the opportunity to play another really competitive game because with all due respect to Division Two and some of the teams, you know, you just don’t know what you’re getting,” said Farrell afterwards.

“It gives you a true reflection of where you’re at and tests like that are always welcome.”

Less welcome on the eve of championship are injuries to key players. For Dublin, the sight of Dean Rock hobbling off in the ninth minute with an ankle injury was concerning. He spent the rest of the half sitting on the sideline, right leg elevated and ankle wrapped in an ice pack.

“We’ll get a better handle on that in the morning,” commented Farrell. “Hopefully, it’s not too serious.”

Conor Glass, Derry’s All-Star midfielder, limped off with a hamstring injury early in the second half.

“He nipped his hamstring,” said Rory Gallagher. “It’s minor but with the championship only 13 days out, it was the same with Chrissy McKaigue, he could have played today if it was a championship game.

“With Conor, it was just get him out of there. It’s not a long-term injury, he just nipped it, but it’s still going be a race against time.”

But Gallagher was in a hurry to get something else off his chest before starting his press conference – the new eligibility rules with regards to under-20 players. Or, in particular, Ulster Council’s decision to fix Derry’s senior and under-20 championship games within a window that does not allow for a crossover.

“They changed the rules after the competition had started. Will you make a song and dance about that?” he asked.

“We have five players ineligible to play two championship games in seven days. If affects us.

“How would you be happy about it? We are very disappointed with it. We are very disappointed the Ulster Council didn’t see fit to move the under-20 fixture. It is like usual, lip service from them.”

League finals weekend, but so often the talk slalomed towards the championship. Padraic Joyce had a cut at some refereeing decisions, but quickly added that referees need to be supported.

“It was one of those games that never really caught fire, it was kind of a dour enough sort of game,” said the Galway manager of their loss to Mayo. As no doubt all losses to Mayo feel to Galway folk.

Still, they can rectify everything over the weeks ahead. The serious stuff starts now.

“This couple of weeks are going to be really important to us,” added Farrell. “We had a very flat league campaign last year, a mixed bag this year.”

For McStay, there was no last year. This is it, his first roll of the green and red dice. So far, so good.

“Relieved, quite satisfied, delighted,” said the Mayo manager. “But there is a part of me saying, ‘cool down now,’ because we have to get ready for next Sunday.”

We all do. A new championship fandango awaits. The league was the league, this year more than ever.

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times