IT WILL go down as one of the most unique and unusual GAA Championships of all time, devoid of crowds, sunscreen, umbrellas, tinfoil sandwiches and everything else you associate with a traditional summer series. However, the usual bucket loads of drama and entertainment have been there in spades, despite everything.
The short lead-in time from league to championship, pitted with the old knockout format resurfacing for one year only, has created a real novel feel to the 2020 All-Ireland Football Championship. Indeed, one of the favourites to topple the invincible Dubs—Kerry—succumbed to their old rivals Cork courtesy of a dramatic last gasp Rebels’ goal in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. That paired with Cavan’s stunning comeback win over neighbours Monaghan in Clones ignited the Football Championship and, in the process, dumped two of the country’s best and most consistent teams out at the first hurdle!
Dubs drive on
Despite all of this, some things never change as Meath and Dublin booked their date in a Leinster decider along with a Galway and Mayo renewal in Connaught. The Royals had clocked up an impressive 12 goals in just two championship outings whilst the 5-in-a-row Kingpins have coasted through Westmeath and Laois without breaking a sweat or shifting out of second gear.
However, that meant very little when Andy McEntee’s men came up against Dessie Farrell’s charges on a historic night in Croke Park which coincided with the 100-year commemoration of Bloody Sunday. Meath were second best from start to finish as the dominant Dubs lay down a marker with the finest performance of the year issuing a statement of intent to the remainder of the country with a simply mesmeric performance. From a Meath stand-point it was a total disaster and ends what has been an encouraging year on a real sour note. Many Royal supporters felt this was a genuine opportunity to illustrate the progression that has been made but the end result and performance would suggest otherwise.
Donegal arguably looked to be best set for a tilt at Dessie Farrell’s prior to the weekend, but that was before they took on the Breffni men. It looked for all the world that Declan Bonner’s troops had all the characteristics at their disposal with a mean defence along with a plethora of quality, scoring forwards.
Beware of the underdog though and Cavan produced an extremely good 70+ minutes of football to dethrone the Anglo-Celt Champions and spring yet another seismic shock, their third in all so far this year. The Breffni Blues were outstanding and if Cork’s win over Kerry was smash and grab, Cavan’s was anything but as they controlled proceedings for long spells despite suffering two black cards along the way. Ironically, the last time they captured the Ulster Championship was in 1997 when they were led by Donegal’s Martin McHugh. Fast forward 23 long years and McHugh’s son, Ryan, was a key member of the Donegal side that was stunned.
In Kerry’s absence, Munster had a fresh feel to it with Tipperary and Cork making up the provincial final and the carrot of semi-final spot on offer. Cork have made huge strides in the last 18 months having made the Super 8s in 2019, backing that up with promotion from Division 3 eventually before taking out the Kingdom. Tipp have been knocking on the door for several years now and this represented an excellent opportunity for the Premier County to make their mark.
That’s exactly what they did too under the guidance of David Power who has had success with underage squads in Tipp in the past and they defied odds of 4/1 to claim their first Munster Championship for 85 years. It was fitting too that the county unveiled a unique and gorgeous remembrance jersey to mark the Bloody Sunday anniversary. What was even more remarkable than the upsets was the last four pairing for the semi-finals, which mirrors that of 1920—Cavan, Dublin Mayo and Tipperary… pretty unbelievable even by this year’s standards!
Many people have spoken about Mayo in the same breath as 2020 as a year, so unpredictable and random that it may just illustrate Mayo’s best chance of ending their jinx, curse, hoodoo or whatever you want to term it. James Horan’s men were far from their brilliant best in the Connaught decider against Galway but they got the job done and have now somewhat snuck under the radar to put themselves just a couple of games away from Sam Maguire glory.
Exciting and entertaining hurling
It is no secret that hurling has been the more exciting and entertaining of the codes in recent years but the fact the backdoor has remained has probably taken the attention off it somewhat to this point. The major talking point for the opening couple of weeks of the championship was centred around the colour-change to the luminous yellow sliotar from the traditional white and black. After a few rants by viewers, it has been widely accepted as more visible and a good move from the GAA.
Despite the elements that winter hurling brings, the quality has still been good in the main with Brian Cody’s Kilkenny rolling back the years to stun Galway in the Leinster Championship Final with a vintage performance in a dormant Croke Park courtesy of a Richie Hogan masterclass.
Then there was the Davy Fitzgerald testosterone-filled derby between his native Clare and Wexford side in the qualifiers and it was a Tony Kelly inspired banner that kept their Liam McCarthy aspirations alive only for them to be quashed at the hands of Waterford in the All-Ireland quarter final! The Déise then went one better in semis by ending the Cats’ championship dreams, defeating them 2-27 to 2-23.
The Munster Final suggested that John Kiely’s Limerick were still the side to beat having overcome Waterford and they lived up to that billing by knocking Galway out of the championship by a scoreline of 0-27 to 0-24. Waterford now await them in the All-Ireland Final and will be out to avenge the Munster Final defeat on the biggest stage of them all.
It’s incredible to think we are nearing the start of the Christmas rush and we are only arriving at the business end of the championship but it’s great that we have it to keep us entertained in this dull, depression that we find ourselves in. If anything can shorten the gloomiest of winters and get us out the right side of the challenging times we find ourselves in, it’s the GAA Football and Hurling Championship and we would not have it any other way!
Davy is a sport and GAA fanatic from Meath and keen footballer for his local club, Cortown GFC, located just outside Kells. He is also the co-host of the We Are Meath podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @Davy_Rispin