As the final whistle blew on the 2012 National Football League matches on Sunday, the game of the All-Ireland Championship predictions, is thrown-in. An Easter weekend which offered everything from the mundane and predictable, to Louth annihilating Meath at Páirc Tailteann, has set up a wide open Championship with every county boasting a shouting chance.
While everyone may believe they have the time to get things in order, three of the weekend’s matches offered great insight into what we can expect from championship football this summer. Down south Pat Gilroy’s Dublin kept the critics guessing with a lack-lustre performance against a similarly unimpressive Cork side at Páirc Uí Chaoimh . Gilroy’s experimental fifteen pushed the ‘renewed’ Rebel set-up all the way to the seventieth minute with Aidan Walsh’s first half goal being the difference between the two teams at the final whistle. Yet again, Dublin make it through the League avoiding both demotion from the top flight, as well as a real threat of silverware as their ‘dark horse’ type entrance into the Summer period might just give them the same edge that pulled them to glory in 2011, game by game.
Over in the west the action had a different fervour to it as Galway and Kildare battled it out on the Tribesmen’s soil for a coveted place in Division One. With both teams professing the belief that All-Ireland Champions come from the first Division, the game had a pace and hunger to it that Cork and Dublin looked almost immune to. Whether it was Kildare’s need to silence the critics of the last four years, or Galway’s ever dwindling prowess on the field, the ‘Lilywhites’ pulled through and snatched the required draw as Johnny Doyle stepped up to see his last minute penalty rattle the Galway net. The scores level at 0-18 to 2-12, Laois man Eddie Kinsella blew the final whistle to the joy of the travelling supporters. Kildare now see themselves in Division One for the first time since 2008 and surely have to push on to add consistency and nerve to their 2012 Championship campaign, something that previous years have lacked.
With contests to be won in every corner of the country, the limelight was a hard one to claim, yet the old Leinster rivalry of Meath against Louth was always sure to draw a crowd. After 70 minutes of football action in Navan the hint of revenge in the air what went hand in hand with it was the knowledge that Louth were the better team on the day. Reduced to thirteen men after both midfielders Brian Meade and Mark Ward received two yellow cards each, Seamus McEnaney’s men never showed signs of a comeback once they fell behind. With the men from the ‘Wee County’ appearing to grow in confidence as the minutes ticked by, Louth ended up 2-13 to 1-08 winners after a painful performance from the ‘Royals’. A match Meath will be hoping to forget saw the Leinster contest gain a new edge as Louth began to play like a real winning team, for the first time in a long time. Before the summer Louth need to establish a rhythm of play they can sustain while the Meath men face demotion and a long road to recovery before any real plans can be made for a competitive championship campaign.
Now that the football action over the past two days has confirmed the fight for Sam Maguire is wide-open all that remains is the wait until Championship throw-in and all the excitement, uncertainty and brilliance that comes with it.
Other results from the NFL this weekend were; Carlow 0-08 Fermanagh 1-16; London 0-12 Wicklow 1-16; Leitrim 0-14 Waterford 1-08; Laois 0-10 Down 2-11; Kerry 1-12 Mayo 1-12; Donegal 0-13 Armagh 0-10; Westmeath 1-15 Derry 0-10; Tyrone 1-16 Monaghan 1-06; Cavan 0-12 Antrim 4-06; Longford 2-12 Wexford 1-13; Tipperary 0-11 Offaly 0-08; Sligo 1-12 Roscommon 0-12 and Clare 2-29 Kilkenny 1-04.