No indication yet if new rules will kill or cure football
Wexford 0-16 Louth 1-6
It fell to the footballers of Louth and Wexford to be the first inter-county guinea pigs for the GAA's controversial package of five experimental rules changes.
Louth's Centre of Excellence in Darver provided a bleak setting on a rain-sodden December evening for the clash of two sides who would probably have preferred to begin afresh in the new year.
Neither wishes to be reminded again of the annus horribilis they endured in 2018.
Between them they won two competitive games: Wexford won one in the league though were still relegated from Division 3, while Louth were winless in being relegated from Division 2 and although they beat London in the All-Ireland qualifiers, they then endured a 10-point mauling from Leitrim in the next round.
Last night represented a fresh start for Louth under new boss Wayne Kierans.
But the journey ahead for both sides looks precarious enough without having to cope with a plethora of rule changes.
And it didn't take long for the first controversy to surface. After just seven minutes, Wexford's Paul Curtis had the ball in the Louth net after a quick inter-change of handpasses.
The umpire waved his green flag and the score was signalled by the referee. But there had been four consecutive handpasses in the build-up
The Louth bench protested and the linesman brought the error to the attention of referee David O'Connor, who acted promptly and following consultations with the umpires, the score was disallowed.
Apart from that early error, the referee had no issue counting the consecutive handpasses and neither had the players. It was noticeable how much the players acted themselves as unofficial counters during the play.
There was certainly more footpassing than is the norm - particularly in the first half. But after the break when Wexford pulled more players into a defensive position, the rate of footpassing dropped. The new rule could impact on the goal-scoring rate, which is already at a critical level.
2 Sideline kicks
This wasn't much of a factor in the game, with a limited number of sidelines, though the referee did rule that one Louth sideline did not go forward and awarded a throw ball.
3 The advanced mark
Seventeen minutes had elapsed before we witnessed the first mark, which was a defensive one with Louth full-back Dan Corcoran making a clean catch. But twice within the space of 90 seconds late in the half Louth centre-forward Cian Callan found his corner-forward Ryan Burns with long deliveries which he fielded cleanly, hitting one over the bar. Wexford's Kevin O'Grady also scored a second-half mark. Overall there were five advanced and two defensive marks.
Louth midfielder Tommy Durnin was rather unlucky to be black-carded just before half-time for a trip. But his absence had little impact on the game - indeed Louth scored their only goal while he was off the field.
5 Kick-out from the 20m line
No discernible impact. Wexford still went short with virtually all their re-starts whereas Louth were a bit more adventurous but coughed up two first-half points after kick-outs were turned over.
The take-home message is that there is no evidence the new rules will prove the death knell of Gaelic football, but the jury will be out for a long time yet on whether they will improve the game.
Scorers - Wexford: J Bealin (3f), K O'Grady (1mark), C Devereux (1f, 1mark) 0-3 each; C Carty, P Curtis 0-2 each, B O'Connor, D Shanley, B Brosnan 0-1 each; Louth: S Mulroy 1-0; T McEneaney 0-2 (2f); C Brannigan, C Callan, R Burns (mark), N Conlon 0-1 each.
Wexford: C Swaine; M Furlong, G Sheehan, C Carty; G Malone, S Doyle, M O'Connor; B O'Connor, N Hughes; C Devitt, J Bealin, K O'Grady; P Curtis, D Shanley, M O'Regan. Subs: R Frayne for O'Regan 52m; B Brosnan for Shanley 57m; C Devereux for Curtis 59m; D Shannon for Devitt 61m; S Barden for M O'Connor 67m.
Louth: A McGauley; H Osborne, D Corcoran, P Englishby; L Grey, D Marks, J Clutterbuck; T Durnin, C Early; C Brannigan, C Callan, C McKeever; R Burns, T McEneaney, J McEneaney. Subs: A Willians for Clutterbuck, S Mulroy for T McEenaey; E Callaghan for Grey all half time; R Moore for McKeever 50m; N Conlon for Burns 57m; B Duffy for Marks 57m.
Referee: D O'Connor (Dublin)
Longford 1-7 Wicklow 1-6
Longford emerged with a single-point victory from this O'Byrne Cup tussle played in dreadful conditions. Robbie Smyth led the charge for Longford against an experimental Wicklow side with three scores and was a thorn in the side of the visitors all evening.
Wicklow could have had a healthy lead at the break, but 10 wides indicates the level of their wastefulness, while Longford notched one of the luckiest goals they'll ever score when Barry McKeon's shot from distance bounced horribly in front of Robert Lambert in the Wicklow goal and flew past him into the net.
Wicklow's Gearoid Murphy produced a moment of magic near the end of the first half with a double dummy before slotting home sweetly and the visitors led by 1-3 to 1-2 at the break.
Longford improved in the second half and took a 1-7 to 1-6 lead late on. Rory Finn had a late free to level but he fired wide.
Both sides adapted well to the new rules with three frees given for more than three handpasses. Overall it was a good game in poor conditions. Wicklow probably should have won, but Longford proved that bit more clinical.
Scorers - Longford: R Smyth 0-3; B McKeon 1-0; D Gallagher (f), D Mimnagh, C P Smyth, D Quinn 0-1 each. Wicklow: G Murphy 1-0; A McLoughlin (2f), R Finn (1f) 0-2 each; C McGraynor, C O'Brien 0-1 each.
Longford: P Farrell; D Quinn, B O'Farrell, S Donohue; P Lynn, M Quinn, D Mimnagh; D Gallagher, P Hanley; N Rabbitte, R McEntire, B McKeon; R Smyth, A Farrell, I O'Sullivan. Subs: M Hughes for I O'Sullivan (h-t), C Lee for A Farrell (45), B McKeon for P Hanley, J Hagan for N Rabbitte (65).
Wicklow: R Lambert; K Kirwan, R O'Brien, J Snell; C Healy, S Mooney, D Fitzgerald; P O'Toole, C Mc Graynor (M Fitzsimons 24); G Murphy, A McLoughlin, R Finn; M Kenny, C O'Brien. P O'Connor. Subs: D Keane for P O'Connor (34), M Fitzsimons for C McGraynor (34), Fintan O'Shea for C Healy (34), T Maher for J Snell (49), P O'Connor for C McGraynor (58), C O'Shea for D Keane, M Doyle for R Finn (70).
Referee: Niall Ward (Westmeath).
Sunday Indo Sport