All-too familiar heartache for Cavan and Kildare fans
After all the talk in recent weeks about anti-social behaviour on the GAA field – spitting, biting, etc – it was a joy to visit O'Connor Park in Tullamore to watch four teams made up of top U-21 players play Gaelic football as it should be performed.
Different styles of play, several outstanding individuals, a large crowd for a Saturday afternoon, all taking place in possibly the best small stadium in the country with state-of-the-art facilities for players, spectators and even the media.
Galway, Kildare, Cork and Cavan represented the four provinces but it was Cavan and Kildare that provided over 90pc of the crowd of over 8,000. I have always stated that these two counties are among the best followers for their teams in the country and so it was on the day.
Kildare were hot favourites to not alone beat Galway but also win the All-Ireland with half a dozen players who are already regulars on the senior team.
In addition, Kieran McGeeney had gone out of his way to say that these young men would form the basis of a rejuvenated Kildare side this year. So it was no wonder their fans were in a happy mood beforehand.
I found myself on the terrace in O'Connor Park in the midst of Kildare supporters and it was interesting to observe the changing reaction of the fans as the game progressed.
At the start, the players were greeted like royalty, usually being referred to by their first names and applauded at every move they made.
But, after 10 minutes, Tom Flynn scored Galway's first goal and suddenly players were being referred to only by surnames and often with a critical note attached.
A few minutes later Daniel Flynn scored a goal for Kildare and soon they were ahead, so the fans relaxed and waited for the expected avalanche of scores – as happened in recent Leinster games against Laois and Longford.
However, an amazing sequence of bad wides – about 10 before the break – rattled the Kildare people and soon shouts of 'Will ye get stuck in outta that' or 'will yous get that fella out of there quick' and even stronger words saw the tone change.
It really went from bad to worse then as wide after wide, often from shooting positions that even Stephen O'Neill would not attempt, came along.
Galway, as always, were very economical with their use of their skills and by keeping the ball low undermined the apparent superiority of mostly bigger, stronger Kildare opponents.
They also had a powerful traditional centre-forward in Sean Moran, who scored 1-1 and regularly charged straight through the Kildare defence.
Nineteen wides by Kildare understandably left their loyal fans in despair and eventually Galway won by five points.
No more than Mayo fans, one has to admire the resilience of Kildare people who constantly back their teams despite many disappointments. It is one of the great qualities of many GAA teams but especially those two.
Cavan's All-Ireland famine is 61 years long by now but that is still 24 years less than Kildare's.
With a third Ulster U-21 title in-a-row under their belts, they were well fancied to reach the final but they struggled in too many places in the first half, especially at midfield.
Cork's wing-back Brian O'Driscoll was almost a third assistant to midfielders Sean Kiely and Ian Maguire.
As with Galway earlier, Cavan players were, in the main, lighter and smaller than their opponents but instead of copying the Galway style Cavan tried to short-pass their way through the dogged Cork backline – with only limited success. More direct play would surely have paid better dividends.
But these three winning Cavan U-21 sides have done one thing at least by resurrecting the old Cavan fighting spirit and they staged a terrific rally to cut a six-point lead to parity.
A careless foul gave Cork the lead again from a free and Cavan did have a similar chance immediately but failed to convert, so Cork advance to meet Galway in what should be a great final.
Faithful's minor miracle revenge for 1970 thriller
In the history of Offaly football, I doubt if a county team has ever scored 6-10 in a 60-minute game, but that is what happened in Navan on Saturday when the Faithful County's minors trounced Meath, who reached last year's All-Ireland final.
Not alone was this massive score recorded, but, astonishingly, Meath were leading by six points at half-time – 2-6 to 1-3. The final score was Offaly 6-10 Meath 3-8.
Maybe that result might give Offaly people some revenge for the 1970 Leinster senior final between the same counties when, at one stage, Offaly led by 10 points, scored 5-12 in total and still lost the game by 2-22 to 5-12.
Championship games were 80 minutes that year but it was still incredible scoring and an amazing result – especially for Meath.