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Five Things We Learned from the GAA Weekend: Waterford swat aside the doomsday chatter

Cavan manager Raymond Galligan plays some loud chess; Westmeath walk a tightrope; Kilkenny need some new blood

Talk of Waterford demise nothing but blaa blaa blaa

At the launch of the Munster SFC last month Waterford boss Paul Shankey was asked about the notion, which had started to swirl last winter during the county’s difficulties in finding a new manager, that the senior footballers were in danger of going the way of their Kilkenny counterparts. In other words, Waterford would be withdrawn from senior intercounty football and field only in the All-Ireland junior competition. Shankey, originally from Meath but married and living in Waterford now for two decades, shot down the suggestion when it was raised during the championship launch.

“No, I wouldn’t fear that at all. I don’t know where that came from,” he said. “At club level it is quite healthy. If Rathgormack or The Nire were playing Castlehaven or Nemo there’d be very little in it. Club football in the county is very healthy, so I wouldn’t see that as a major issue at all.”

As if to prove the point, Waterford went out last Sunday and posted their first Munster SFC victory since 2010. It was also their first championship victory over Tipperary since 1988. At a time when the provincial championships come with a health warning, it was a reminder that not all success stories need to have a trophy at the final whistle. Waterford football people won big last weekend. It pumped life back into their cause.

And while the Déise players might not have lingered on that winter speculation over their future, chances are talk of their demise helped fuel the fire ahead of the Munster SFC quarter-final. For those crystal ball gazers who believed Waterford’s footballers were brown bread, Sunday’s victory makes such predictions sound like nothing but blaa blaa blaa. – Gordon Manning

Are the early days of the championship losing their lustre?

First impressions of championship 2024: pulling into Portlaoise around half-past two, down to O’Moore Park, no noise, no colour, deserted, is this the right venue?

Westmeath and Wicklow had played already this year, in Division Three, Westmeath winning on route to promotion, Wicklow ending up going in the other direction. There is no great rivalry here, Lake County versus Garden County, and no sense of any occasion either. The most underwhelming first impression of the championship.

Then, a game that slowly builds to a thrilling climax. “The madness at the end of that game is what championship is all about,” said Oisín McConville afterwards, the Wicklow manager still beaming after his team held on to win by a point. “People missed out on that today who weren’t here.”

There is no official attendance. It might have been a couple of thousand, and the four-seasons-in-one-day may have influenced that. Westmeath supporters had a day out in Croke Park last weekend and were hopeful their team would pull through here. Wicklow weren’t given much hope at all.

Without a few minutes of the final whistle O’Moore Park is emptied again, no colour, no noise, and that’s the lasting impression. The championship at this stage is losing all its lustre. – Ian O’Riordan

Cavan’s tactical chess match needs some nicknames

One consequence of the historically low crowd in Clones for the Monaghan v Cavan match was the fact that you could hear every word out of Raymond Galligan’s mouth on the sideline. And reader, there were a lot of them. It was genuinely a wonder he had any voice left at the end.

Throughout the game, Galligan kept a constant stream of instruction going to his players. Push. Drop. Shift. Hold. Across. Up. Back. It was fascinating to watch, if for no other reason than they were listening. So often at championship matches, managers spend their time roaring out onto the pitch and get only “yeah yeah” reactions from the players. But the Cavan squad seem to be in sync with their new manager, for the moment anyway.

At one stage, Galligan shouted what has to be the most hyper-specific position switch in the history of the Ulster – or any – championship. In the tradition of being awkward hoors, Cavan have two players with the same name on their team, one in defence and one in attack.

Monaghan were getting joy at the top of the D so Galligan needed to bring a forward back for a while to act as sentry. “Tell Oisin Kiernan from Castlerahan to drop back to the front of the D and tell him to stay there!” Galligan roared.

That will be harder to do as the crowds improve, obviously. Cavan might want to think about attaching nicknames to the two Oisin Kiernans, if only for brevity. – Malachy Clerkin

Westmeath’s historical echo

News of Wicklow’s great win over Westmeath in Portlaoise sounded an historical echo of a famous or notorious past achievement. The Battle of Aughrim, as the 1986 Leinster quarter-final with Laois became luridly known, also featured the county up against league title holders, in that case, the overall winners, as divisional finals had yet to be devised.

Coincidentally, Wicklow began that championship of 38 years ago with a win over Westmeath – this year’s Division Three winners.

The match against Laois was at Wicklow’s much feared home venue, Aughrim, and four players were sent off, three from the visitors, who lost 1-9 to 2-10. There was even an American angle.

Just as goalkeeper Mark Jackson came home from the US after his NFL trials – he didn’t play on Sunday – Pat O’Toole did play in 1986 and was sprung from the bench to help to steady centrefield and to score a point. He had been living in America and was brought home, courtesy of his fare being paid by an anonymous supporter.

Of course, the consequences for Laois were stark. Their championship ended after one match but Westmeath aren’t without jeopardy in all of this. Their place in the Sam Maguire, won in the Division Three final, could have been copper-fastened by reaching the Leinster final.

Now they will be at the mercy of other counties from outside the top two divisions reaching a provincial decider. For instance, Kildare who will now face Wicklow, could take Westmeath’s place in the elite championship should they reach the last two in Leinster. The same obviously applies to Wicklow.

In fact, on that side of the draw, only Louth winning through will secure Westmeath’s status – and that after a very creditable Sam Maguire campaign last year. – Seán Moran

Kilkenny fail to field new blood

The two teams Limerick have beaten to win their last five finals (two All-Irelands, two Munsters, one league) duked it out in Thurles on Saturday night, continuing a separate argument that has been flaring for a couple of years.

Regardless of the outcome of the league final, though, what had each of them gained during the spring? The sobering conclusion for Kilkenny is that they needed to find new blood in their attack and failed to do so.

Luke Hogan was taken off again, just as he was in the semi-final, but this time before half-time. Billy Drennan hit a stone wall in last year’s league final and had the same experience on Saturday night. Timmy Clifford saw more game time without any suggestion that he will be a championship starter.

Ultimately, Kilkenny’s comeback on Saturday night was sparked off the bench by Martin Keoghan, a familiar face, who often starts and is often replaced. And, who knows, the outcome may have been different if TJ Reid, in his 17th season, had been fit to start.

On the other hand, Clare have had a really productive spring in terms of research and development. Darragh Lohan is now a viable starter at centre field, in the continuing absence of Ryan Taylor while Conor Leen will be in the mix for one of the corner-back slots.

Clare’s outstanding breakthrough player of the league, though, was Sean Rynne, who couldn’t play on Saturday night because he had lined out for the Clare Under-20s against Limerick on the previous evening. In that game he had been terrific down the stretch in Clare’s comeback win.

On every level, the league for Clare was a triumph. – Denis Walsh