Title-chasing pack get scent of blood
Those who dismiss the struggles of Kerry and Kilkenny in this year's National League are a bit too quick to impugn the relevance of the secondary competition.
It's been stated, for example, that the league doesn't particularly matter to Kerry. Yet on the three previous occasions that Jack O'Connor managed the Kingdom to the All-Ireland title, in 2004, 2006 and 2009, they were completing a league and championship double in September.
Brian Cody is another manager who's always eager for league success. In 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2009, a championship victory was preceded by a league triumph. Kilkenny also reached the league final in 2007. During their record-equalling four-in-a-row run, 2008 was the only year in which they didn't make the league decider.
Of course the quickest way to get poor in this country, apart from investing in Anglo Irish Bank shares, is to bet against Kilkenny and Kerry in the championship. But the vulnerability of both teams in the league, coupled with a series of unimpressive displays by Tyrone, gives genuine hope that, for the first time since 2005, we'll have someone other than the big three in possession of at least one of the major trophies come the end of September.
With Kerry having lost Tommy Walsh, Tadhg Kennelly and Darragh O Se, Tyrone in apparent decline and Kilkenny looking finally touched by the ravages of time, things seem more open at this time of the year than they have for some time. The door is opening for the likes of Cork and Mayo footballers and Tipperary and Galway hurlers. Every point dropped in the league by the reigning champions will give a little extra belief to the pretenders. And, given that a lack of belief may have made the difference between victory and defeat for both Cork and Tipperary on final day last year, that is not an insignificant consideration.
If Kerry and Kilkenny win this year, there's no beating them.