50 things we want to see
1: That Division 1 remains close all the way to the final series of games. However, with four of eight teams qualifying for the semi-finals, there's a real risk that the competitive edge could be diluted over the last few rounds. Six points would have been enough for a semi-final place two years ago, while seven was adequate last year.
2That referees apply common sense, especially when it comes to allowing an advantage. The rule, as it stands, is a complete joke as the referee must make an instant judgment, which often results in the offending player getting the advantage. Since the legislators won't act, referees should give themselves more time before making a call.
3 That county boards don't rip off the public by charging up to €3 for poor match programmes. Not all are guilty, but far too many appear to regard programmes as a surcharge on entry rather than a paid add-on for supporters.
4 That team managers realise that not every goalkeeper is an accurate long-range free-taker. Just because it works for Dublin doesn't mean it will work for everybody, yet an increasing number of counties (colleges and clubs too) are using goalkeepers for long-range kicking. How unimaginative is that?
5 That county boards show more initiative when it comes to selling league games. Dublin proved that marketing works, so why such apathy in the rest of the country?
6 That the goal rate increases. It's not uncommon to see games (league and championship) where neither goalkeeper is tested with a goal-bound shot. Relatively few games are lost by teams who score two goals, which is scarcely an over-ambitious target in a 70-minute game.
7 That more free-takers revert to kicking the ball off the ground. It's a lost art in football and should be insisted upon for kicks at goal.
8 That statisticians be rounded up and locked away in a room full of numbers. A smart manager shouldn't need to know precisely how many kick-outs his team lost, he needs to know why. The answer to that doesn't come from counting.
9 That referees' assessors realise there's more to a good refereeing performance than ticking all the boxes on the report sheet because it doesn't have a section for common sense.
10 That counties who send on players whose names aren't included on the match programme face heavy fines. It happens far too often for it to be anything other than a total disregard for the paying customer.
11 That no player or manager calls for the introduction of Hawk-Eye to adjudicate on 'square ball' issues. If Hawk-Eye were to be used for that, what about TV re-runs to examine a whole range of other offences?
12 That Division 2 counties raise the logical question of why they are denied the opportunity to win the league title outright while their equivalents in hurling (Division 1B) have the top two in the quarter-finals.
13 That the weather gods smile on the GAA, as the schedule is extremely tight from early March onwards. Some Division 4 counties will be in action on seven successive weekends.
14 That Mayo are not relegated from Division 1 or, alternately, that Galway are promoted from Division 2. Otherwise, Connacht would not be represented in the top tier next year, scarcely an ideal situation for the West or, indeed, the game in general.
15 That any player or manager who uses the phrase "we put in a good shift today" be ordered to write out 100 times: "I must not ape the limited vocabulary of your average English Premier League player."
16 That the GAA ends the nonsense whereby the Central Competition Control Committee refuses to release their recommendation for suspensions to the media (and by extension to the public). It emerges from the counties involved anyway, so why such secrecy from Croke Park?
17 That Dublin expand -- as they did after winning the All-Ireland title in 1974 -- as opposed to contract -- as happened following the 1995 success. With the pressure of ending the All-Ireland drought lifted, the squad looks good enough to retain a high altitude. That's assuming, of course, that they can handle the new pressure of being All-Ireland champions.
18 That Jim McGuinness takes the Donegal project to the next level. His team certainly knows how to defend -- now the challenge is to retain tight security while increasing their scoring yield.
19 That Padraic Joyce, arguably Galway's greatest ever footballer, extends his senior inter-county career into a 15th season. The legs may not be as quick as they once were but the brain speed hasn't diminished. If he stays on, it would be invaluable for the emerging youngsters.
20 That Eoin Bradley is fit enough to play a few league games for Derry near the end of the campaign and that his brother Paddy remains free of injury. If that pair emerge from the league on full power, Derry will be very well placed for the championship.
21 That Cavan don't come to regret not having Seanie Johnston on the panel. They must be really well off for attackers if they can manage without him. Results will show if, indeed, that is the case.
22 That Cork have better luck on the injury front than last year. How crucial was it in undermining their attempts to retain the All-Ireland title?
23That Mayo sort out their midfield area. They are solid enough defensively and have a good attack too, but they need greater momentum coming through from midfield. If they achieve that, they will be a real force.
24 That Kerry target the league with the same sense of urgency as they did after losing the '05 and '08 All-Ireland finals (they won the Division 1 title in '06 and '09). Kerry, on full throttle, add to any competition.
25 That Monaghan enjoy better luck than last year. Relegated on the head-to-head rule, they had a better scoring difference than Armagh, who stayed up. Scoring difference is a fairer system of separating teams on the same number of points but, for reasons unknown, the GAA persists with the head-to-head system to decide placings.
26 That Crossmaglen Rangers' involvement in the AIB All-Ireland club championship doesn't do too much damage to Armagh. If Cross reach the All-Ireland final, their top men won't be available to Paddy O'Rourke for the first five rounds of the league, by which time Armagh could be in serious trouble.
27 That Kildare improve their goal rate and advance their prospects of making the big breakthrough. They scored only four league goals last year (the second lowest in Division 2, just ahead of Antrim, who were relegated) and three the year before (joint lowest with Laois). It's very difficult to be in the promotion hunt when scoring less than one goal per game.
28That Down don't miss Marty Clarke too much. They had an indifferent season in 2011, shedding much of the momentum built up over the previous year. They need to re-establish it quickly, which won't be easy without their influential playmaker. It's time for other forwards to take responsibility.
29That Tipperary discover how they upset the gods to such a degree that they were punished by being paired with Kerry in the Munster championship for a third successive year. Against that unfortunate background, they deserve every break available in the league.
30That Roscommon supporters give Des Newton time to impose his personality on the team. Fergal O'Donnell is a revered figure in the county so Newton will face comparisons from the start. That's fine provided they don't become negative if things don't go well initially.
31 That Antrim manager Liam 'Baker' Bradley continues his straight talking. "I know if I had to pay in to watch that I wouldn't do it. I was quoted talking about puke football earlier in the week but that is the modern game," he said after losing to Donegal in last year's championship.
32 That Graham Geraghty exerts a major influence on Meath. It's great to see a player still performing at this level as he approaches his 39th birthday.
33That Sligo stabilise after a disappointing 2011, during which they won only one of nine league and championship games. They need to bottom out quickly and regain the impressive momentum they established in 2010.
34 That Wicklow react positively to new management. It hasn't always been the most united county under local managers. But nobody knows Wicklow football better than Rathnew's Harry Murphy so hopefully he will get full support. Mick O'Dwyer left Wicklow in a good state -- now it's vital that they drive on without him.
35 That Tyrone's rebuild is quick and solid. They have added greatly to the Gaelic football scene for the past decade and are now expected to be at the top table all the time.
36 That Wexford get more consistency into their game. At their best, they're well ahead of Division 3 standard, but they have been patchy in recent leagues. They have also been unlucky, missing promotion on scoring difference for the past two years.
37 That the Peter Canavan project works in Fermanagh. He was the ideal choice as manager after a season where internal rows left them seriously underachieving.
38 That Glenn Ryan continues the upward graph with Longford. He runs a good show and, having been promoted last year, Longford should be well capable of competing vigorously at the higher level.
39 That George Dugdale and Barney Breen build on the solid base Mickey Moran established in Leitrim. They worked with him so they know the model. It's most unusual for a league campaign to start without Moran managing some county. His knowledge and experience will be missed.
40That Brendan Murphy gets enough support in Carlow to launch a genuine bid for promotion. His talents deserve to be showcased in higher surrounds.
41 That Paddy Keenan enjoys his 100th senior appearance for Louth tomorrow. Also, that the injury bug which is leaving the Wee County short-handed doesn't undermine them in what looks likely to be a relegation battle all the way.
42 That Laois live up to their potential rather than talking about it. They have been underachieving for a long time now but they're in Division 1 so they have every opportunity to press on.
43 That Kilkenny cut the margins of defeat (it averaged over 22 points per game in last year's league). It's all they can hope for.
44 That Offaly show signs of a real revival. They hinted at it when beating Monaghan in last year's All-Ireland qualifiers, only to collapse against Limerick. Memo to current squad: the 'noughties' was the first decade since the 1950s that Offaly didn't enjoy a glory spell. Are they going to let this decade be the same?
45 That Limerick produce the summer form which took them to the All-Ireland quarter-finals, via the qualifiers, rather than the lethargy which saw them relegated to Division 4 last year.
46That the absence of the Garrycastle contingent (either for two or five games, depending on how they fare in the All-Ireland club semi-final) doesn't prove too much of a handicap for Westmeath. With limited resources to start with, the absence of Dessie Dolan and Co is a major negative for them.
47 That Waterford return to the 2010 level when they topped Division 4 after remaining unbeaten in eight games, rather than last year when finished bottom of Division 3 and were relegated.
48 That Clare begin the 20th anniversary year of their Munster title success by putting down a base which will give them a good chance of reaching the provincial final (they play Limerick or Waterford in the semi-final).
49 That London win more than one game (v Kilkenny). After beating Fermanagh in last year's qualifiers, London will be hopeful of a higher-than-usual spring return.
50 That, by the end of the league, the number of credible contenders for the All-Ireland title will have increased rather than decreased.