Sunday 23 September 2018

Comment: Galway's revival lights the way for Rebels and Royals

Tribe prove fallen giants can rise again, argues Donnchadh Boyle

Cork manager Ronan McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile
Cork manager Ronan McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile

The weather has claimed this weekend's fixtures, leaving us with a most rare weekend, where it's expected every GAA pitch around the country will fall silent.

In some corners the break in terms of schedule in the most physically demanding season in GAA history will be welcomed. In others, it may be cursed.

Galway have been the team of the Allianz football League so far. Four rounds into their return to the top flight, they remain unbeaten and have yet to concede a goal. Year on year under Kevin Walsh, the Tribesmen have shown discernible improvement.

They were due to welcome Monaghan to Salthill this weekend where they'd likely have been favourites. With momentum on their side, perhaps they will have been less than pleased at the enforced break. But on the evidence of this season, one of football's traditional powers has reawakened.

After the big two of Kerry and Dublin, Galway are third in the list in terms of All-Ireland wins. They are followed by Meath and Cork on seven, who find themselves in a very different scenario.

Before the fixtures were called off yesterday, the Royals were due to welcome the Leesiders to Navan's Páirc Tailteann on Sunday. Meath and Cork kept the whole country enthralled when it enjoyed a spell as the game's most intense rivalry for a few years around the late 1980s and 1990s.

From 1987-1990, the pair carved up four All-Ireland titles between them and won three of the four National League titles on offer.

These days, however, the fixture has drifted into relative obscurity.

The first four games of their respective league campaigns have drifted from the promising to the discouraging.

After a decent start that saw Meath draw away to Roscommon - they only failed to win after conceding a last-gasp penalty - and beating Clare, their promotion challenge faded dramatically with comprehensive defeats to Cavan and Tipperary which leaves them second from bottom on three points.

Cork are doing only marginally better with wins away to Down and at home to Louth - who remain without a point - leaving them on four points. They were well beaten at home by Cavan last time out.

There are still six points available and given the way results have gone in the division so far, it would take a brave man to predict how it will all finish up.

Cavan are the division's only unbeaten side but even drawing a line of form through them looks unreliable. They drew in Clare in round one. Clare subsequently drew with Tipperary but were hammered by Meath in Navan.

So there's likely to be plenty of twists and turns over the next few weeks in Division 2 but it doesn't change the fact that the losers of the Cork-Meath clash, which is likely to take place next weekend, will spend the rest of the campaign looking over their shoulders at the trap door when they would have had designs on securing a return to the top flight.

Perhaps they should be used to such a topsy-turvy existence. The sides met last year with the roles reversed.

Cork were on three points and Meath on four and they played out a predictably unpredictable game. That day, Meath were eight points down with just over 20 minutes to go but kicked 1-9 without reply. Despite that recovery they still needed a 75th-minute equaliser to secure a share of the spoils.

Transformed

Both sides could reasonably have expected things to improve over the last few seasons. Andy McEntee is in his second season with Meath.

His record speaks for itself having transformed Ballyboden St Enda's from a top five or six team in Dublin into All-Ireland champions, while before that he steered the Meath minors to an All-Ireland final appearance in 2012. So far, he hasn't had the impact he'd have liked.

Cork have enjoyed some underage success in recent times and made an All-Ireland U-21 final in 2016. The club scene remains strong as witnessed by Nemo's march to an All-Ireland final but Ronan McCarthy is the senior side's third manager in four seasons which hasn't helped as they look to gain traction.

They are set to face each other next weekend. The heady days of the '80s and '90s will feel very far away for both sides. However, Galway have shown that fallen giants can reawaken.

Irish Independent

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