Championship watch

Looking back Game of the Weekend: Only one contender. In fact the Dublin/Meath game might well be the best game of gaelic football that we will see in 2007. It had everything: hard-hitting, controversy, great scores and players putting their bodies on the line in every challenge. When it is played like this gaelic football can be a mighty game. Player of the Weekend: There are several contenders. JP Rooney for Louth turned back the clock with a great display against Wicklow. Michael Tierney of Laois broke Longford hearts with an excellent display in Tullamore on Saturday night but all the heroics were seen in the Dublin/Meath game. Conal Keaney played his best game in a Dublin jersey and he kicked some great points. Graham Geraghty probably should have been sent off but he is the heart and soul of this Meath team and he  almost single-handedly pulled them back off the floor when they were down – but sub Cian Ward must surely get the nod here. He came off the bench into the white heat of a championship epic and kicked five points in a little over twenty minutes, including two 45s and that incredible sideline kick to draw the game late on. A sensational performance. Talking points: Several crucial controversial refereeing decisions were the hallmark of almost all the games last  weekend. However it’s the controversy over the ‘square ball’ rule that has come to the fore. In the first four weeks of this year’s championship we have had at least five controversial decisions on this rule while last year there were hardly three in the whole season. It proves that teams are now letting the ball fly first time into the full-forward line this year. The umpires will have to take more of a part in making these crucial decisions or the rows will go on. Referee watch: Not a good weekend for referees. I thought that Vincent Neary had a very poor game in the Longford/Laois encounter on Saturday night. It was hard to see what was wrong with the Longford goal. Similarly on Sunday in Croke Park Jim McKee of Armagh had a good enough game overall but there were three very controversial decisions: the Geraghty goal (not allowed) the Brogan goal (allowed) and a possible penalty for Geraghty and Meath (not given). It proves what a difficult job it is to referee a big championship game. Looking forward Bank of Ireland All-Ireland SFC Leinster: Carlow v Offaly (Sunday in Portlaoise at 2.10 pm): This is a crucial game for Offaly who would have the embarrassment of playing in the Tommy Murphy Cup if they lose this game because of their poor league campaign. Carlow always produce an honest effort but they have been in turmoil for most of  2007. Carlow will huff and puff. Offaly will blow the house down.  Prediction: Offaly.   Ulster: Derry v Antrim (Sunday in Casement Park at 3.30 pm): This game was called off last Sunday because of a waterlogged pitch. The furore over Paddy Bradley will unsettle Derry. It will be a lot closer as a result – however the Oak Leaf County should have too much for Antrim. Prediction: Derry.   Ulster: Down v Monaghan (Sunday in Newry at 4 pm): This could be the game of the day. Down improved against Cavan and were the worthy winners of the replay. Monaghan were excellent in Division 2 of the league but are no world-beaters. Down have such a championship pedigree it’s hard to go against them but Monaghan look stronger to me.  Prediction: Monaghan.   Guinness All-Ireland SHC Leinster semi-final: Dublin v Wexford (Saturday in Nowlan Park at 7 pm). This is an intriguing prospect. Dublin have improved while Wexford have gone back in recent years. I find it hard to go for a Dublin shock. Wexford get a hesitant vote. Prediction: Wexford.   Leinster semi-final: Offaly v Kilkenny (Sunday in Portlaoise at 4 pm): Offaly are definitely much better this year than they have been in recent years but this will be a training spin for the Cats who have much bigger fish to fry later on in the summer. Prediction: Kilkenny.   Munster semi-final: Limerick v Tipperary (Sunday in Gaelic Grounds at 2 pm): Will be  a cracking game. Like most others I’m waiting for Limerick to come good one of these years. Tipp should be the winners but I’m going for an upset here and if the best Limerick team turn up on the day then we could be in for another Munster SHC epic.  Prediction: Limerick.