Colm O'Rourke: Gung-ho Dubs need league title more than their rivals
Football's heavyweights are shaping up to go the distance in the summer, writes Colm O'Rourke
A nyone looking for a revolution in the GAA this year will be a bit disappointed by the trends so far. Last year the best teams in the country were Cork, Dublin, Kerry, Down, Kildare and Tyrone. Not much has changed. Apart from Donegal, there is not much in the way of radical alteration on the horizon. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
At this stage it looks as if Dublin and Cork will contest the Division 1 final. Both appear to have improved from last year and have developed big panels with players fitting neatly into their systems. The major difference with Dublin is the more attacking, gung-ho approach that has characterised their wins in Croke Park in contrast to the more measured, methodical way they played last year. It has rained goals and the range of scoring forwards has improved, Kevin McManamon, Diarmuid Connolly and Mossy Quinn have gone on the rampage. Particularly last weekend when Bernard Brogan was giving Barack Obama advice on which game to attend when he arrives here in May.
Last year, Dublin were a bit like an army in defensive terms with all the lines on the field retreating in a very structured way, but the downside was that Brogan was often left isolated. As a result, Dublin were more likely to win games which were not free-scoring affairs. I doubt very much, though, that Pat Gilroy has decided to let the big dogs off the leash and that a new policy of blitzing the opposition has taken over. That would be far too risky. If that was in place for the championship then there are a few teams who would be well capable of turning the blitz on its head. Both Cork and Kerry gave enough warning of that in their league defeats in Croke Park.
What is clear now is that the Dublin defence needs a bit of minding, even if many of those who have seen service in the last five games may not be in the starting line up in the championship. Winning high-scoring games is great entertainment but nearly all great teams are built on a defence which contains backs who can defend and mark, and who work together to stop forwards scoring and who leave the flashy stuff to the pretty boys up front. If there are any in that mode who were not playing against Mayo last weekend, then the Dublin management will be putting out the word in the county to form an orderly queue because there are places up for grabs.
Yet despite all this there must be a huge level of confidence in the team. Bottom line though is that Dublin need to win the League more than Cork or Kerry and it would be good for the championship if they can do so.
Cork are having a good campaign almost despite themselves. I have always felt that if Cork could learn the knack of scoring goals then they could dominate for a few years. They usually win more possession and are good for over 15 points a game. Add in a couple of goals, as they did against Down, and they go from winning a game by a few points to cruising home by eight or ten.
It does look like Cork are going to be a lot better than last year. Paddy Kelly has been very impressive, so too Daniel Goulding and looking at Sean Kiely in the Sigerson with UCC it appears they have another very good wing-back. And there is a great hunger in the team with most of the established players wanting to play every game. Conor Counihan has a strong hand but won't be making any rash bets in this league campaign. There are bigger fish to fry.
Kerry are moving too. The appointment of Gooch as captain has driven him to even greater heights and with half a dozen new players in the mix and a few old soldiers returning with a point to prove, a sense of optimism has replaced the wailing and gnashing of teeth which prevailed last year after the defeat to Down. Who can match a forward line with the Gooch, Darran and Declan O'Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy, Paul Galvin and one more from about another six serious contenders? Tough times in the Kingdom.
With Down also making some progress, the League is giving indications that the contenders in the championship might not just be counted on one hand. Like almost everyone else, Down need backs. The great unanswerable question is why nobody seems to want to be a back anymore.
There are two big stories in Division 2. Donegal are good, how good will only be revealed in the summer. If it could be possible, Ulster seems as if it is going to be even more competitive this year.
Meath have been the big disappointment of the League and while the performance against Kildare last Sunday was better than the horrible displays against Antrim and Donegal, you are clutching at straws when you look for consolation in defeat.
There was an expectation that this campaign would lead to promotion; now escape from relegation is a monumental task. There is a sense that the players are better than this but the only place to show that is on the field. A team depends on everyone being unselfish and that term covers every aspect of play, not just failing to pass the ball.
Too many supporters think that just because a back gets on the ball a lot, somebody makes the odd catch around the middle of the field or a forward kicks a few points that they are playing well, even if these players never win breaks, cover for their mates or help a man under pressure. Good forwards score but are also good tacklers and do a thousand other small things for the benefit of the team. Meath need to bury all individual egos to improve and it is a big test of whether or not these players want it badly enough.
Men of substance respond to adversity and it would be very disappointing not to see everyone put their shoulder to the wheel. Even if the level of effort was good against Kildare, it is not something that should be applauded; that is the very minimum expected when putting on a county jersey and it was not there in the previous two games.
There is no management issue, that idea is merely pandering to the lowest common denominator. The training and general preparations have been well received. Nothing succeeds for players like sheer hard work and honest effort. And if that is not bringing a reward in terms of results, there is always Plan B -- try even harder.
Sunday Indo Sport