Kevin Cassidy

KEVIN CASSIDY: Setting down a marker

DO away with the league finals they said. Nobody wants them they said. There is no room in the calendar they said.

Well, anyone who was of that opinion before last weekend’s games will certainly have changed their tune on Monday morning. What we witnessed in Croke Park is everything that is good about our game and it’s exactly what we want in terms of competitions.

Let me start with the Division Two final. When I arrived in Croke Park and saw the amount of injuries Donegal were carrying into the game, I almost conceded that Armagh would win by three or four points.

Judging by the body language of the Donegal players and management before the game, I think that this was also their mind-set. They knew they were extremely understrength and looked like using the game as another stepping stone towards the Derry championship game in Celtic Park.

That mentality soon changed as soon as the game began. You could tell early doors that Armagh where nowhere near the levels required and Donegal outplayed played them for the majority of the game apart from that five-minute spell at the end.

Heading down the road, Jim and his players would have been absolutely delighted with how things panned out.

Jim rested a number of his key players who are carrying slight niggles which gave opportunities to the younger lads. That experience will stand them in good stead heading to Celtic Park in just over two weeks’ time.

I heard the excuses from Kieran McGeeney after the game, but for me that performance was simply just was not acceptable. Everything that is good and dangerous about Armagh in terms of their long kicking game, they didn’t even try it once. For me, big question marks hang over them at the minute.

Switching to the Division One final and what a contest both teams served up. Heading into the game, I just felt that Mickey Harte had to have a go at Dublin because sitting back just simply wasn’t an option. They needed to find out exactly where they were in terms of making a burst for Sam.

From the very first minute, it was obvious that Derry were going to have a go and they went toe to toe with Dublin all over the pitch. In truth, they had the game won on three occasions but let Dublin back into the contest and overall they were probably deserving winners.

This league title will mean more to them and help more with their development than it would to Dublin, so I think most neutrals were happy after the game.

From a Dublin point of view, I wouldn’t be overly worried because one area where I know for a fact they didn’t contest was the Derry kick-out. I watched closely in the first half as Lynch got 12 of his 14 restarts away and all of those were chipped uncontested to a corner-back.

If we fast-forward a few months and these two teams meet again you can be certain that Dublin won’t stand off and allow Lynch to pop the ball out and set Derry on the attack.

Like I mentioned, this game meant more to Derry than it would have to Dublin. I now think that the Derry players now know that they can mix it with the big boys on the big day and that will do wonders for them as they prepare to head into the championship.

I’m not so sure about other provinces, but here in Ulster, we are in for an absolutely cracking Ulster Championship. Lucky for us, we won’t have too long to wait before it begins.

Obviously Derry are out and out favourites, but you can be guaranteed that Jim McGuinness has a plan as he prepares to head into Celtic Park.

When you throw in the likes of Tyrone and Monaghan into the mix then it’s fair to say that there will be a fair few twists and turns before we see who is crowned Ulster champions for 2024.

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