Ballyboden St Edna’s Luke O’Dwyer and Bill O’Carroll of Kilmacud Crokes. INPHO/RYAN BYRNE
By P.J. Cunningham
They should be strutting their wares in Croke Park, Pairc Ui Chaoimh and Semple Stadium but instead the Gaelic football and hurling stars has to make do with showing their class in local grounds as county championships opened up in earnest last weekend.
Even then, the “live” audience was contained at 200 under the Covid-19 restrictions, giving a totally surreal feel to what would normally be great summer occasions.
Having been one of a handful attending a virtually deserted county ground on Sunday, I can vouch for the fact that we are indeed playing sport under a totally new ‘normal’ in July 2020.
However, with live streaming and radio commentary doing their best to make up for the absence of supporters, the players certainly hit the ground running.
None more so that Tipperary star footballer, Michael Quinlivan, who led the goal rout for holders Clonmel Commercials as they had 10-points to spare over a game Cahir side at Ardfinnan, winning by 4.12 to 2-10.
Quinlivan raised the first green flag of the day and set the tone as his colleagues such as Brian Lambe, who also goaled, responded to run out easy winners.
Former Dublin defender and two-time All Ireland medal holder, Ger Brennan, made his managerial debut next door in Wicklow as his young Bray side surprised everyone, including themselves, by handing out a 13 point drubbing to traditional county Kingpins Rathnew by 4-13 to 0-12 in Aughrim.
There will be little chance to savor this victory as Bray now meet last year’s beaten finalists, Arklow (AGB) in the second round this Sunday. Goals from county stars Paul Cunningham before the interval and two more from Cathal Magee in the second half, completed the rout.
In hurling, Wexford Allstar Diarmuid O’Keeffe and Lee Chin led their teams to narrow championship wins in two keenly contested encounters.
O'Keeffe, was inspiration as his club St. Anne's saw off a keen Rathnure challenge to win by two points on a scoreline of 1-25 to 3-17 at Bellefield. Last year’s beaten finalists were under the cosh for long periods and it was only when O’Keeffe’s rattled over five points that his side kept in touch.
His county colleague Lee Chin was also in exhilarating form as he notched 1-8 to power Faythe Harriers to a one-point victory over Ferns St. Aidans on a 2-11 to 0-16 scoreline, also at Bellefield.
Star Dublin footballer Con O’Callaghan swapped games to shoot 1-4 from play as Dublin senior hurling holders Cuala had a 10-point win by 1-22 to 0-15 over Thomas Davis in Bray.
The Tallaght outfit showed up well for long stretches but O’Callaghan’s goal knocked the stuffing out of their challenge.
However, the peripatetic Covid-19 also wanting to make headlines and did so by ensuring his presence led to one game not taking place in Mayo while in Donegal, Naomh Colmcille was forced to suspend its activities.
In a statement the club said it carried out a risk assessment and took the decision to suspend all activity.
However, the Donegal County Board later tweeted that Colmcille had not advised them that they have actual or suspected cases.
The game between Louisburgh and Balla was called off following a confirmed outbreak in the Louisburgh area. The clubs have halted all activities as they continue contact tracing this week.
In Donegal, Naomh Colmcille also temporarily ceased all activities after playing a challenge game against Derry side Glack.
On the plus side, Carlow’s Old Leighlin are resuming normal activity this week after follow up contact tracing tests proved negative following one player contracting the virus.