Football season begins
LAST SUNDAY the football season began in New Ross, when Laois and Wexford served up an entertaining game despite the awful conditions.
A new-look Wexford side showed a lot of enthusiasm for the time of year, and ran out deserved winners in the end.
The main talking point among supporters was how the new rules would impact on the game and how many players would be eliminated from play due to the dreaded black card rule.
To be fair to referee Anthony Nolan, he did a very sensible job, allowing for the conditions but at the same time being firm and decisive. Part of the aim of the new rules is to encourage respect for the referee by punishing back-chat and abuse, so any inappropriate verbal exchanges resulted in the ball being moved forward. Players eventually realised that disputing any decision was a futile exercise.
The expected mass departure of players from either side did not materialise either as players showed discipline and a willingness to play the game in the proper manner. The advantage rule also seems to be a positive introduction and will be welcomed by forwards in particular. All in all the new rules seemed to have a positive effect on the style of play adopted by both teams.
Ciarán Lyng was the only player to receive the black card sanction, albeit for a seemingly innocuous off the ball incident that was missed by most spectators. It is still very early to make a judgement, as the O'Byrne Cup is seen as an experimental tournament and is not played with the same intensity as the league or championship.
It will take a while for players to adapt in competitive situations, but early signs are encouraging that players are conscious of the black card and are less inclined to make rash or cynical challenges. Inter-county players are intelligent and will adapt their behaviour and style of tackling in games. Coaches will place more emphasis on tackling the ball as opposed to the opponent.
The same pattern existed in the other competitive games across the country as a total of 17 black cards were produced in 20 games. Reports even stated that the Tyrone v. Donegal encounter was less cynical than ever. The early signs are encouraging but it is too early to celebrate the dawn of a new era in Gaelic football.
The new-look Wexford team performed admirably in the conditions and moved the ball at great pace. Sending early ball in to the very mobile forward line certainly paid dividends, and if this style of play is used for the coming year Wexford will be very entertaining to watch. Nobody will get carried away by this victory over a weakened Laois team, but the win is a confidence-booster for the newcomers.
One of the most pleasing aspects was the attitude and determination the players showed in the second-half, playing against the elements when Laois were expected to dominate. It was a test of character that they passed with flying colours. Seeing Shane Roche in goal was a surprise to some people, but he is only continuing the family tradition as his father, John, was a brilliant goalkeeper and Shane has played in goal at schools international level.
The Wexford defence coped well with any threat, this despite the fact that Graeme Molloy and Brian Malone were the only established regulars. Paddy Byrne and Daithí Waters controlled midfield, while all six starting forwards scored. Ciarán Lyng led the attack well and looks to be in great condition, while the most impressive of the newcomers were Colm Kehoe and Kevin O'Grady. They scored 2-4 between them and both players looked comfortable playing at this level. At this stage of the season it was a good performance given the number of new players introduced but it needs to be followed up with a victory over U.C.D. on Wednesday night.