KERRY, and at least one Kerryman in another county, made the headlines as the All-Ireland Football Championship swung fully into gear last weekend.
In the case of Kerry, the reigning champions let their football do the talking with a very useful 2-18 to 2-6 Munster Championship quarter-final success over Tipperary in Thurles. The young Tipperary team performed well for long periods and were a credit to their manager, Kerryman John Evans.
But it was another older, maybe wiser, and definitely more experienced Kerryman in Mick O'Dwyer who really hit the headlines. Never one to hold back on a firmly held opinion, O'Dwyer accused the GAA authorities of trying to destroy the game after his Wicklow side had beaten Carlow 3-13 to 0-12 in the opening round of the Leinster Football Championship.
At 74 years of age, O'Dwyer has seen all there is to see on the Gaelic football field. But rarely has he been so annoyed as he was after a game during which a remarkable 16 yellow, and three red cards were shown.
And, as far as O'Dwyer is concerned, the real culprits are not the referees but the people who have brought about the rule changes at Croke Park. "I don't understand why they have done this. There was nothing wrong with the game. It was fine." he fumed.
"All these rule changes are a disaster. It's crazy. When you start changing the rules you have all this stuff. They want to change and change again, and it's making it tough for referees more than anything."
O'Dwyer found support in virtually every championship GAA ground around the country. Just listen to the current Kerry boss Jack O'Connor.
"Somewhere down the line, there's going to be a critical call, and all hell will break lose," he suggested. Primarily, what O'Connor, O'Dwyer and others are most concerned with, is the interpretation of the new hand pass rule.
They just don't know what is going on. So much so, that, prior to Sunday's encounter, both managers called the match referee David Coldrick into their dressingrooms for some last minute tuition.
As O'Connor put it: "There's no other game in the world where you would change a fundamental skill and give the players a a crash course a week before to learn it. I mean, these players have been passing the ball that way for 15 years. It's ludicrous."
Despite the handing out of many frees for illegal hand-passes, there was some good football on view. Tipperary opened impressively, with Philip Austin scoring a cracking goal after just seven minutes, and they were just a point adrift (0-8 to 1-4) at half-time.
But Kerry had the advantage of the wind in the second half. They also, importantly, had Kieran Donaghy back at his best up front with Colm Cooper delighted to feed off him.
Eventually, Tipperary's resistance did fade. Donnacha Walsh was a major influence for Kerry, along with Mike McCarthy, while Brian Sheehan finished with 2-5 (three from frees, one from a 45) and Cooper contributed five points (one from a free).
On the face of it, a decent enough first effort from Kerry, but, predictably, O'Connor and Cooper are looking for better when they face Cork in the Munster semi-final at Fitzgerald Stadium on June 6.
"I know we finished strong, but there are periods there where I thought we didn't keep the pedal to the metal," stated O'Connor. "Every game helps, but this won't be good enough to beat Cork," Cooper remarked.
Elsewhere, the big game in the Ulster Championship saw Armagh defeat Derry 1-10 to 1-7 at Celtic Park. Much had been anticipated but events conspired to make this a disappointing encounter.
Clearly, the new hand pass rule didn't help. Nor did the difficult conditions, but the real problem was that both outfits were much too negative. For example, just three of Armagh's 10 points came from play, while Derry managed just two from seven.
No doubt, Armagh, in particular, will get better. As far as they were concerned, this was all about making a a winning start against difficult opponents, and their tactics of getting as many players as possible behind the ball, worked.
The teams were level at half-time. Derry looked to be in business when Paddy Bradley scored a goal 10 minutes before the interval, but three points from the impressive Stevie McDonnell quickly cancelled that out.
Worse was to follow in the second half. Derry's Eoin Bradley was sent off for a second yellow card, and Gerard O'Kane saw a penalty saved. Armagh finished very worthy winners, their all-important goal coming from substitute Jamie Clarke following good work by McDonnell.
Better though will be needed for the June 6 quarter-final Casement Park meeting with Monaghan. For Derry there's the long wait for the qualifiers at the end of next month.
Down at O'Moore Park, Wicklow could feel pretty satisfied with their 3-13 to 0-12 Leinster success over Carlow. Well, that is if you leave aside all of the problems with the new rules which was three players sent off and 16 yellow cards.
Carlow manager Luke Dempsey was fuming with what he described as "Wicklow's incessant fouling" but the truth is that his team wasn't good enough. Wicklow finished well on top.
They had some very useful performances up front, captain Leighton Glynn contributing 1-4, and Tony Hannon managing 0-6. Wicklow played the entire second half with 14 men after losing forward Nicky Mernagh on a second yellow card, while Carlow finished without their two midfielders, Thomas Walsh and Brendan Murphy, both sent to the line by Galway referee Gearoid O Conamha.
[PHOTO BY INPHO/LORRAINE O'SULLIVAN Wicklow's Nicky Mernagh talks to his manager Mick O'Dwyer after being sent off in the first-round Leinster championshp game against Carlow.]
they are top dogs
YET again, a Leinster-Munster rugby match has lived up to its billing. This time, it was the Magners League semi-final, won 16-6 by Leinster after a pulsating game at the RDS on Saturday night.
By the finish Leinster, under Michael Cheika, had comprehesively proved that they are now the top dogs. Remarkably, they have now won the last four meetings between the sides, including three this season.
All of which must leave their supporters delighted with the influence of Cheika and somewhat disappointed that he is leaving after a five year stint at the Leinster helm to take charge of Stade Francais. After some early disappointments he has done a fantastic job.
Victory over the Ospreys in the Magners decider at the RDS on Saturday, May 29 would see him leave on the perfect note. And, if Leinster perform as they did against Munster, there's every chance they could pull it off.
In terms of intensity, it will have to go some to match the latest Leinster-Munster encounter. To be fair to Munster, they were missing Paul O'Connell, Jerry Flannery and David Wallace from their pack.
Flannery and Wallace, seemingly recovering from injuries, were named in the replacements. Still, absolutely nothing should be taken away from Leinster. They found themselves 6-3 down a minute into the second half after Ronan O'Gara landed a drop goal.
Munster had to fancy their chances, playing with the advantage of a stiff breeze. But it was Leinster, once again inspired by Jamie Heaslip, who took control.
Heaslip was magnificent, punching holes in the Munster defence. Everyone did their bit, Cian Healy putting in a second big performance in the front-row, with flanker Shane Jennings also outstanding.
Crucially, behind the scrum, Leinster had Jonathan Sexton fit to return at out-half. Considering he has not played since fracturing his jaw in early April, this was a tremendous effort. Apart from an early missed long range penalty, Sexton did not put a foot wrong.
He landed three further penalties, played a major role in Leinster's try, and converted it from the touchline. He undoubtedly won the battle between the two out-halves, although O'Gara did not get the same service from his pack.
The crucial Leinster score came withing three minutes of O'Gara's early second half drop goal. It was a stunning response, Sexton executed a perfect wrap-around with Gordon D'Arcy before sending Rob Kearney racing over in the right hand corner.
Munster were still in touch at 10-6 following Sexton's conversion but there was no way back. In fact, the situation could have been worse for the visitors as Leinster should have been awarded a penalty try after Tomas O'Leary's high tackle stopped Healy just short of the line.
Never mind. Two more Sexton penalties left Leinster in control, and as hard as Munster tried, they could not break through a magnificent home defence. Given the physicality of Saturday's clash, it is perhaps just as well that Leinster have a two week break before the final.
Understandably, Cheika is taking nothing for granted. "As far as the Ospreys are concerned, you probably won't find a team with more of an attacking threat. They've got a powerful set-piece a powerful back-row, they've got it all.
"So, it's probably going to come down to who has got the most nerve, the most hunger," he said. As for Munster, they have lost out in two semi-finals, and will surely now welcome the break before trying to put things right for next season.