Kelly factor should make Louth's mission trickier
The race for the 2019 All-Ireland Football Championship got under way last weekend, with Mayo and Galway jetting off to New York respectively and London to take on the locals in the first round of the Connacht Championship.
Ruislip and Gaelic Park have both proved difficult venues for visiting teams in recent seasons, but there were mixed fortunes for the home sides this term.
Before a packed crowd of more than 6,000 supporters crammed into Gaelic Park in Riverdale, The Bronx, Mayo cruised to a 21-point victory over New York on a scoreline of 1-22 to 0-4.
Much was expected from the home side after they came so close to beating Leitrim a year ago, but they were left chasing shadows from the very start. They didn't register a score until the half-hour mark, by which time Mayo had racked up 14 points. The one-way traffic continued after the break and James Horan side ran out comfortable winners.
Under Horan's astute stewardship, Mayo appear a much more rounded side and last month's National League triumph over Kerry indicates they mean business in 2019. They are by no means the finished article but have found a few badly needed additional players to bolster their squad and are capable of further improvements as the summer progresses.
They will stay on in the US for the remainder of the week for a training camp in preparation for a Connacht semi-final against Roscommon or Letrim.
Kevin Walsh brought his Galway side to McGovern Park in west London in the knowledge that the locals are always capable of causing an upset. He was at the helm in the summer of 2013 when his Sligo team were ambushed and defeated 1-12 to 0-14 at the same venue.
The Tribesmen had comfortably won their previous nine championship matches against London and another easy victory was expected as they began the defence of their provincial title. However, nobody told the locals.
With 13 English-born players in the London squad, the Division 4 minnows pushed their more illustrious Division 1 opponents all the way and could even have snatched a draw at the death.
A one-time candidate for the Louth job, Ciaran Deely had his players in peak condition for this encounter and they deservedly went in level at the break following a superbly struck goal from corner forward Killian Butler.
Missed chances was the story of the second period, with Galway in particular struggling to convert their chances. In the end they held out for a less than impressive 0-16 to 1-9 win.
Kevin Walsh will be relieved to get over this tricky assignment, but much improvement will be required if Galway are to retain their title.
Louth kick off their summer campaign on Sunday next as they travel to Innovate Wexford Park for a first-round Leinster Championship fixture against Wexford.
The bookies have installed us as comfortable 1/2 favourites for this fixture and on paper this should be a straightforward encounter for Wayne Kierans' men, but I'm not so sure.
Yes, Wexford had a particularly poor National League campaign, winning only three of their Division 4 fixtures. They lost to Leitrim, London, Waterford and Derry but showed steady improvement as the competition wore on.
Although they had nothing to play for in their final league game, Paul McLoughlin's men racked up 4-16 in a narrow two-point defeat against a decent Derry side in Celtic Park.
It's been well documented in this column and elsewhere, the reasons for Colin Kelly's kneejerk decision to throw his lot in with Wexford. His tactical prowess will improve their style of play and his knowledge and experience of the Louth players is bound to give the home side an added advantage.
I still think we should have enough to see off Wexford, but it will be a lot tighter than the tipsters predict.
All-Ireland champions Dublin await the winners in the quarter-final, The Dubs are going for their ninth Leinster in a row and their 14th in the last 15 years. They've won six of the last eight All-Ireland titles and this year go for a record five in a row.