Jim McGuinness era gets off to a good start as football season hits the road

Mayo beat Galway again on a weekend that saw home comforts in short supply

Home comforts were in short supply on the opening weekend of the football season. Division One of the AFL saw all but one fixture going to the away team, including the renewal of last year’s final between Galway and Mayo.

From a Galway perspective this was particularly unwelcome development, as it extended to five the number of matches in which they have failed to beat Mayo since Kevin McStay took over last season.

Mayo gave a fine account of themselves, playing smartly into a strong wind and led more or less from start to finish.

McStay was pleased but not getting carried away when asked had he been surprised at how comfortable the eight-point win had turned out.


“It never feels comfortable when we’re up here. It just doesn’t. That’s not the nature of the contest but I think we saw it out nicely.

“I’d be happy enough with that. At the end of the day, other than a good start and two points, it’s January and you know things are going to be dramatically different down the road.”

Galway manager Pádraic Joyce already had haunting memories of his first league meeting with Mayo and the 15-point walloping that accompanied it. This wasn’t in that category but it was comprehensive – with mitigation being the absence of so many of his key players.

“I think we did damage to ourselves in the first half more so than anything else,” he said. “We showed a bit of character in the second half, a bit of fight but look the first half we weren’t at the races really.”

One of the potentially most significant matches was Donegal’s big win over Cork in Division 2. Seen as a promotion face-off, the contest was a disappointment but for the returned Jim McGuinness, the 11-point win was a gratifying start to Act Two of his Donegal management career.

Act One of course also began in Division Two but culminated in All-Ireland success. Encore?

“A successful league for us would obviously be promotion,” said McGuinness afterwards, “but trying to find out as much about the players as possible and as much as possible where we want to fall come the summer and styles of play.”

Saturday night began the trend of happy wandering. It saw reruns of last summer’s All-Ireland semi-finals with both Derry and Monaghan gaining a measure of restitution for their July defeats by Kerry and Dublin.

Mickey Harte’s latest visit to Kerry produced a familiar result. Like his first league visit in 2003, the trip was a profitable one, as Ulster champions Derry thwarted the home side with a late free from Shane McGuigan.

The visitors were supplemented by a couple of Glen’s All-Ireland club champions just a week after their defeat of St Brigid’s. They looked comfortable enough until an understrength Kerry conjured a couple of second-half goals to ensure a dramatic finish.

Kerry manager Jack O’Connor lamented that the standard of his team’s finishing hadn’t been uniformly high.

“It seemed like we butchered two or three goal chances that we created in the second half,” O’Connor said on RTÉ television afterwards. “I felt if one more of those went in, we’d have got a result.

“Very happy with the display, not happy with the result.”

All-Ireland champions Dublin also lost by a point to familiar foes. They haven’t beaten Monaghan in the league for seven years and this weekend was no exception despite the visitors having been shorn of many big names.

Goals provided the lifeline in a 3-9 to 1-14 victory. Manager Vinny Corey responded to his team’s now annual relegation by punditry.

“We’re probably just used to that. The boys aren’t afraid of Division One. There’s a lot of boys there with a lot of experience and there’s new players who aren’t afraid of the big teams. You saw that out there. They didn’t crumble coming up against the All-Ireland champions.”

Dublin manager Dessie Farrell was frustrated with the outcome and resigned to penance in the video suite.

“A lot of their scores resulted from our sloppiness,” said Dessie Farrell afterwards. “Turnovers, poor execution on our behalf that you just won’t get away with at this level. I think when we do pore over the video we will see that a lot of their scores came from our mistakes.”

Tyrone, with Darragh Canavan exceptional, bucked the trend with a 0-17 to 1-11 win over Roscommon.

Division 2 got under way on Saturday with Meath having to snatch a draw in Navan against Fermanagh and Armagh pipping Louth by a point. Cavan had a notable win in Kildare’s temporary home of Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow.

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Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times