The National Football League is heating up nicely after the third round of fixtures.
In Division 1, the Dubs kept Donegal at bay to maintain their 100% start to the campaign while there was more late heartbreak in Newbridge for Kildare.
Elsewhere, Clare and Wicklow battled back to earn impressive draws on a freezing weekend that forced four games to be postponed.
Galway have the measure of Mayo ahead of Championship meeting
It’s all going rather nicely for Kevin Walsh right now.
His Galway side are joint-top of Division 1 alongside the All-Ireland champions with a 100 percent record that includes victories over last season’s beaten semi-finalists (Tyrone) and finalists (Mayo).
They have yet to concede a goal in their league campaign and are conceding an average of just eleven points per game.
And now they have registered their third consecutive win against neighbours Mayo in a nasty encounter that saw referee Anthony Nolan dish out 18 yellow cards and three reds.
This was just the latest flashpoint in an increasingly hostile rivalry. In an FBD League match last month, Galway had three men sent off.
The many melees and off-the-ball brawls in Sunday’s match resulted in eight minutes of additional time.
Walsh will be pleased with how easily his side managed to rattle Mayo’s cage.
They are beginning to show the wiles that all successful football teams deploy– a late tackle here, a jersey tug there – and are getting under the skin of their opponents.
All of which should make for an explosive Connacht Championship match when the two teams face off in May. Galway can use their league momentum and recent history against Mayo.
Kildare are good. Just not good enough
Aside from a lame second half effort against Dublin, Kildare haven’t done a whole lot wrong in Division 1 this season.
And yet, Cian O’Neill’s men are bottom of the table having lost all three matches so far and have tricky visits to Donegal and Kerry to navigate yet.
For the second game in a row, Kildare played some very fine football and lost. They managed to keep pace with a Tyrone side far more experienced than themselves but when the game entered the crucial last few minutes, they seemed to wilt under the pressure, kicking bad frees that could have earned them a point.
O’Neill cut a frustrated figure after the game, proud on the one hand of the battling performance from his young side but cursing their luck on the other.
Much like against Monaghan, Kildare were right in it with only minutes to go.
Kevin Feely had given a massive effort in midfield and kept the scoreboard ticking over for the Lilywhites.
But as the game drew to a close Kildare had two kickable frees that were missed, one by Feely and the other from goalkeeper Mark Donnellan.
An incredible Mattie Donnelly point at the death broke the hearts of the Kildare fans and nudged them closer to relegation.
Inspirational point from leader and captain Mattie Donnelly! pic.twitter.com/RvGTSDuHZk
— The GAA (@officialgaa) February 11, 2018
Mistakes are costing Kildare dearly, as is their lack of experience. Against both Tyrone and Monaghan, Kildare gave themselves a chance by being within a score in the last few moments but on both occasions were turned over by sides with far greater experience of playing at this level.
Their upcoming trip to Donegal feels like a relegation play-off and defeat will bring about an end to their short stint in Division 1.
Division 2 is ultra-competitive but Down have what it takes
Division 2 is shaping up nicely to be a right battle.
Meath and Cavan are the only sides unbeaten as of yet and they still have to square off against one another yet as their third round fixture was postponed due to weather conditions at Kingspan Breffni Park.
— Official Cavan GAA (@CavanCoBoardGaa) February 11, 2018
Cork and Down currently lead the way with four points apiece with Meath, Cavan, Roscommon, and Tipperary on three.
Only Louth appear to be out of the equation having lost their opening three games.
At this point, there are seven teams quite capable of making the league final and gaining promotion and you can make a case for any of them.
But one team that particularly caught the eye at the weekend was Down who earned a precious away win against a fancied Roscommon team.
Manager Eamonn Burns has now led the Mournemen to two wins from their opening three fixtures having registered a comfortable victory in Drogheda on the opening weekend.
But for a disappointing performance in Newry against Cork, Down could already be within touching distance of promotion.
Caolan Mooney has been excellent in the league so far and will be essential if Down are to push for Division 1 football next season.
Burns will also be pleased with the spread of scores across the team against Roscommon as nine Down men got their names on the score sheet.
With home matches to come against Clare and Tipperary, the Ulster side will fancy their chances of having a big say in Division 2 at the business end of the campaign.
Longford are a team going places… Maybe
Few sides in the country are as hard to read as Longford.
Take their exploits in last year’s Championship for example.
After being roundly trounced by Laois in O’Moore Park in the preliminary round in Leinster, they then went on to dole out a thrashing of their own away to Louth.
In a dreadfully dull encounter in Ballybofey, they were eventually dumped out of the competitions by Donegal but only after the Leinster side had passed up a terrific goal chance and kicked a total of 17 wides, each more hideous than the one before it.
But on their day Longford can be a formidable outfit and came agonisingly close to registering their third consecutive league win in an absorbing encounter against Armagh.
There perhaps should have been a free out to Longford in the attack that ended with an Ethan Raftery’s goal for Armagh that brought the sides level late on.
A 75th-minute point from the brilliant Rory Grugan broke Longford hearts and handed them their first defeat of the campaign.
But Longford can still draw huge encouragement from their performance in Armagh and still very much have promotion to Division 2 in their sights.
With home matches upcoming against Fermanagh and a Wexford team low on confidence, Longford look like they could register enough points to make a league final.
Division 4 is a three-horse race
There are eight teams in Division 4 of the National Football league but five of them are essentially out of the running for a promotion bid, even at this early stage.
Instead, it will be left to Carlow, Laois and Antrim to fight it out for the top two places.
Both Carlow and Laois maintained their perfect starts with commanding wins over Leitrim and Waterford respectively. Antrim, on the other hand, were in a more merciful mood as they somehow allowed a 13-man Wicklow to get a valuable point on the road.
Carlow have matches coming up against Wicklow and Waterford which they will fancy winning. The key matches will be Laois v Antrim at O’Moore Park on March 4 and Antrim v Carlow on March 18.
Credit must also go to London who are unlikely to be in the shake-up for promotion but who have registered three points from three games thanks to a big win over Wicklow and a draw this weekend against Limerick.
Kevin Boyle, Pundit Arena
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man where we discuss criticism of the Kildare footballers and discuss the club hurling semi-finals: