Five things we learned from the GAA weekend: A rare and illuminating glimpse of a Fenton-less Dublin

Dublin’s very own O’Byrne Cup; Feely brings the feels for Kildare; Armagh go goal crazy; and why lower league teams are looking at the gutter, not the stars

Dublin didn’t push an appeal on Brian Fenton’s suspension ahead of the game against Meath. Had the match been later in the year or against a stiffer opponent, maybe they would have. But as it was, they took their punishment and went without. No harm in finding out what a Fentonless championship match looks like.

The result wasn’t all that pretty, in the first half anyway. Ciarán Kilkenny slotted into the middle alongside Tom Lahiff and while you can’t blame him alone for Stephen Cluxton losing six kick-outs before half-time, it’s fair to presume it wouldn’t have happened on Fenton’s watch. Brian Howard operated around that area as the game progressed and Peadar Ó Cofiagh Byrne got minutes near the end.

Mostly though, the Dublin midfield felt a bit misshapen without Fenton. Meath’s set-up on the Dublin kick-out was very smartly put together, in fairness to them. Their forwards were switched on for the majority of the restarts in that early period and Cluxton was forced to go long more than he would have liked. Without Fenton as an option, he struggled.

It didn’t matter, ultimately. The Dubs were way too strong for Meath in every area. But it’s worth keeping an eye on for down the road. Stating the bleedin’ obvious, Farrell wouldn’t want to be going into too many summer games with the great man. — Malachy Clerkin

Basement living

What buoyancy had been around at the weekend regarding the prospects of some upsets in the provincial championships deflated after Saturday evening. If you define a surprise result at this stage as a team defeating opponents from a higher league division, the meeting of Laois and Offaly looked a good place to start.

Conspicuously Division Four’s leading county, Laois had achieved promotion and the divisional title whereas Offaly had finished just one place above relegation in Division Three. So, there was nothing much between them on next year’s placings even though this season they had been on different divisions.

In the end Offaly won easily. If there were any upsets, they were historical. Laois hadn’t been beaten in championship by their neighbours since 2002 and defeat at home in the fixture hadn’t happened for 46 years.

The result put a context around Division Four teams, all of whom are now out of the provincial championships – with one interesting exception, Waterford, the bottom team in division, who recorded a first Munster championship victory in 14 years and a first over Tipperary since 1988.

Tipperary though were only two places above them in the Division Four table so it wasn’t a seismic upset, otherwise. Waterford’s prize is a semi-final against Clare, who have enjoyed a decent Division Three season while in transition.

The only other team from the division to win a championship fixture was Wexford, who put up a record score against an understrength Carlow but their run ended in Portlaoise on Sunday at the hands of Division Two county, Louth.

Last year there were only four provincial championship matches won by a county from a lower division and half of those involved Ulster champions Derry, who had already been promoted back to Division One for 2024 and beat Monaghan and Armagh in the province.

In other outcomes, Division Three Offaly defeated Meath from Division Two although the latter did end up in the Tailteann Cup, which they duly won and Division Three Down beating Donegal, who had spent an albeit unhappy season in Division One. — Seán Moran

Dublin able to treat Leinster championship as their O’Byrne Cup

Dublin’s ritual disembowelment of Meath in Croke Park led to Episode #34,598 of The Leinster Championship Is a Dead Duck. “I’m blue in the face talking about it,” said Dessie Farrell afterwards. “The Leinster Championship is a shambles but it isn’t Dublin’s fault,” said Colm O’Rourke. And round and round we go.

Yesterday brought something new, all the same. On a sleepy afternoon in Croke Park, the biggest cheer came from the Hill when Stephen Cluxton’s name was read out beforehand. Just short of 23 years since his championship debut, Cluxton was back for his first appearance of the season. The reception for Mick Fitzsimons was, fittingly, a bit more polite and reserved. The roar for James McCarthy when he came on in the second half was more guttural and raw than the game deserved.

It’s some luxury for Dublin to have, all the same. McCarthy made one early appearance in the league but this was his first game in three months. For Cluxton and Fitzsimons, it was their first time togging out since last year’s All-Ireland final. Farrell is able to make the Leinster Championship their O’Byrne Cup essentially, safe in the knowledge that there is nothing for them to get serious about until the start of the All-Ireland series.

Add it to the list of silly quirks to the current championship format. This part of the season is such a desert landscape that after all the excitement of the league, teams are basically using it as a second pre-season. “We’ll obviously use it to our advantage,” Farrell said. — Malachy Clerkin

Feely leaves Kildare feeling good

The reimagining of Kevin Feely as a forward continued for Kildare over the weekend with the Athy man finishing as his side’s top scorer again with 0-7 (0-5 from frees). It’s not the first time this season he has posted Kildare’s largest scoring return – he was their leading marksman against Armagh and Cork during the league as well. Feely is more recognisable as one of the game’s finest exponents of midfield play; Velcro hands, strong in the air and with an engine that allows him to cover a huge amount of ground. The former midfield All-Star nominee has had his injury setbacks over the years, most significantly an Achilles tendon tear.

But operating as a roaming forward, Feely gives the Kildare attack a real presence and his ability to kick off both feet make him dangerous. Against Wicklow last Sunday he scored 0-4 off his left and 0-3 off his left. He brings a calmness to what can otherwise be at times chaotic and fly by the seat of your pants Kildare attacking play. Feely’s fetching ability also provides the Lilywhites with the option of going direct and the inside mark has become an extra weapon in his and Kildare’s locker. He took eight shots at goal last Sunday, scoring seven, with his one mishit coming in the dying seconds – though it landed in front of the Wicklow goal, was collected by Niall Kelly and pointed by Jack Sargent for the winner. Kelly was named man of the match, but Feely was the glue for Kildare in Portlaoise. He was their most important player and they wouldn’t have won without him.

The Lilywhites are now just one victory away from a place in the Leinster final, and as a result a spot in the All-Ireland SFC – but Kevin Flynn’s sending off might have provided Glenn Ryan and his management team with a quandary. Flynn’s straight red means the powerful midfielder will miss the provincial semi-final against Louth, so do Kildare consider sacrificing Feely from up top and returning him to the middle of the field for the biggest game of their season? — Gordon Manning

Armagh go on goal trail and show they mean business

Of all the upsides for Kieran McGeeney in Armagh’s hammering of Fermanagh, the fact that they were so goal-hungry is bound to have shortened the trip home. Far too often in recent years, a curious kind of big-game passivity has settled over McGeeney’s side and hobbled them when it has really mattered.

In last year’s Ulster final, they lost on penalties after not scoring a goal in normal time or extra-time. In the All-Ireland quarter-final against Monaghan, they went out on penalties having not scored a goal in normal time or extra-time. In the Division Two final a fortnight ago, they went down by a point to Donegal, without troubling the green flag umpire at any stage.

But against Fermanagh this weekend, they were ravenous for goals. They pushed right up on the kick-out and hemmed them in, taking full advantage of the extra man after Ultan Kelm’s black card. Sticking three goals on Fermanagh – a team they also finished goalless against in the league – is no small statement of intent. — Malachy Clerkin