Gaelic football shows its better side in a spectacular Division One final

Inside Track with John McIntyre

The GAA’s split season is run on an extremely tight schedule but persistent appeals about dispatching with the National League football finals to ease some of the pressure was surely firmly kicked to touch by the quality and drama served up at Croke Park over the weekend.

In three of the four deciders, the outcome went down to the wire with extra-time and penalties needed to produce a winner in a thumping Division One showdown between Ulster champions Derry and Dublin – the best team in the country. Only the Division Four final was a letdown as Laois proved way too strong for Leitrim.

Top billing had naturally gone to the top-flight decider and the match lived up to its status with a no-holds battle for supremacy. Derry looked to have their first league title since 2008 in the bag on several occasions but eventually had to rely on their expert penalty taking to get the job done.

Mickey Harte’s charges created a bag of goal chances as their rapid counter attacks repeatedly exposed Dublin at the back. Sure, there were lots of times when both teams had nearly behind 15 players behind the ball, but a refreshing gung-ho attitude permeated the exchanges.

Tempers had become frayed by the finish. Dublin midfielder Brian Fenton was dismissed on a straight red card – a bit harshly on second viewing – while Paddy Small also got the line on a day when Con O’Callaghan, Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny all failed to score from play. Yet, the All-Ireland champions still had 14 players hitting the target during a marathon struggle.

In the teams’ recent league clash at Celtic Park, Harte had held some of his big guns like Conor Glass back, but they went for broke on Sunday. It’s rare to see Dublin cut open so often with Derry number six Enda McEvoy emerging as the final’s most influential performer with an impressive haul of two goals and two points.

Pictured: Aidan Naughton celebrates after scoring a goal for Galway Bohemians in their First Division clash with Cois Fharraige at Millars Lane on Sunday. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

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