Underdogs have their day as shocks mark first Sunday of the championship

Opening day victories for Cavan, and especially for Waterford and Wicklow, set the summer rolling as high winds make conditions tough nationwide

It might not all be terribly relevant to July’s business but for an opening day in the wind and squalls of April, the football championship gave generously of itself.

Cavan beat Monaghan by six points in Ulster. Wicklow shocked Westmeath, in the process shaking up the non-Dublin side of the Leinster draw. Waterford chiselled out a first victory over Tipperary in 36 years. Are you not entertained?

There’s no sense getting too carried away, of course. These are, after all, the opening round matches in provincial championships that are casting around for relevance. None of the losing sides wanted to troop onto their buses with shoulders slumped but there will be another day – another three days, indeed – for them all.

“It’s probably a line in the sand for the first half of the year for us,” said Monaghan manager Vinny Corey after his side’s 3-12 to 1-12 defeat to Cavan in Clones.


“You don’t want to go down the road of making a whole pile of excuses. In fairness to Cavan, they were missing a few players as well. We have time now to lick our wounds, to dust ourselves down and get a bit of breathing space ahead of the next stage of the championship.

“People would say that winning is a habit so maybe the fact that we have been losing regularly, maybe the confidence wasn’t there. Who knows? Maybe it will be a blessing now to have a long, clean break to separate the early part of the year and to get us right for the next one. We’ll see if we can use it the best way we can.”

For Cavan, this was their third championship win in a row over their drumlin neighbours and the six-point margin was their biggest in the fixture since 1972.

It was padded out a little by Paddy Lynch’s 79th-minute goal, scored into an empty net as Rory Beggan – back from his NFL tilt and as influential as ever – pushed up the pitch in search of an equaliser. But let nobody say it wasn’t deserved.

Cavan were the better side for most of the way, methodical when playing into the wind and unflurried when the home side pushed on into a two-point lead in injury-time. Gerard Smith got the killer goal for Raymond Galligan’s side in the 76th minute and Lynch’s effort from 40 yards cherried the cake.

Galligan kicked a famous winner the last time the sides met, deep in the maw of the Covid season. This wasn’t just as quiet an occasion, albeit the small crowd of just over 8,000 meant you could hear every bit of the endless instruction he was giving his players. This a better experience, Ray?

“I don’t think anything would top that with the way it panned out,” he said. “But having the crowds and all here it’s absolutely better than 2020. It was great for the fans to be able to experience today – that game in 2020 it was joy for the players but for the fans to be able to share this, it was a better feeling.”

Elsewhere, the championship started with its traditional whimper and with the wind howling all over the country, the fare was middling enough wherever you looked. But on the basis that there will be plenty of Sundays between now and June when not even half a loaf will be on offer, there’s no hardship in enjoying these games for what they were.

Certainly they won’t be pushing the plate away in Wicklow or Waterford. Two of the most downtrodden counties in the country finally had their day, precisely when nobody was expecting them to.

Waterford finished bottom of Division Four, with the worst points difference of any team in the country. They hadn’t won a championship game of any kind since 2018 and hadn’t beaten Tipperary in Munster since 1988.

Yet despite giving up a goal in the first minute and only scoring a single point with the wind in the first half, Waterford came from five points down to pull off a stunning 2-7 to 1-5 win. Star of the show was full-forward Tom O’Connell, who plundered two late goals to give Tipp no way back.

The other eye-catching result of the day came in Portlaoise, where Wicklow finally found a bit of form after a very patchy league and grabbed a 2-9 to 1-11 win over hotly-fancied Westmeath. Oisin McConville’s side used the wind to their advantage to build up a 1-5 to 0-1 half-time lead and they hung on grimly to see out a famous victory.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times