Colm O'Rourke: League starts not with bang, but a whimper
Did any of you notice the big advertisement campaign for the start of the league? The giant billboard posters featuring Kerry and Dublin in full battle mode? The dramatic TV ads and the radio sound bites reflecting on commentary of great games of the past? Well, if you missed it, so did everybody because there was none.
Long-suffering, and that is the correct term, sponsors Allianz must be slightly irritated by the fact that there was zero promotion of the second biggest competition in the GAA calendar. And with Dublin and Kerry playing last night, it surely would have been an easy sell. The boys are back in town was a hit for Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy. It should be a selling point for the Dubs' league campaign.
"Guess who just got back today, them wild eyed boys that had been away. Haven't changed that much to say, but man I still think them cats are crazy. The boys are back in town, the boys are back in town."
More volume Phil. The idea should be to create a bit of talk and atmosphere around these games. At least try something new.
'Put the games on and they will come' is the GAA motto. Some day it may not happen like that, but it is self-financing to promote. Drum up a bit more in numbers going through the turnstiles and it will pay for itself. Imagine if all children in Dublin primary schools were told that they could go for a kick-around on the pitch at half-time in the game last night in Croke Park? There would have been thousands looking to go, and even if they were free, they would have to drag along their mum or dad or both. More paying customers.
Of course the usual story will be trotted out as an excuse. 'Health and safety' is the stock reply. How did people survive long ago when there was a mass invasion of every pitch at half-time for a kick-around? Providing more entertainment than in most games. Good suits of clothes destroyed, shoes lost, shirts ripped, the odd bit of blood but smiles on all faces. Definitely the good old days in that regard.
At the beginning of this year I had decided to be less grumpy than previously, but then I see so many areas where improvement could easily be made and the new year resolution is dropped. The GAA is only scratching the surface in games' promotion, there are massive opportunities to grow. Most of the league matches can be easy to market as a match, but there are other forms of entertainment which every county should try.
Some of this might mask what is happening on the pitch. Good games are a rarity. It was not much different in the past either, but continuous short hand-passing has caused me at times to consider leaving games early, something I would never have done in the past.
Last Sunday, Meath played Longford in the O'Byrne Cup final and Longford's unwillingness to do anything other than handpass must have been completely frustrating for their supporters. It made them easy targets for good tackling and interceptions. It is a style which will get them nowhere against teams in higher divisions, perhaps not even against those in Division 3, and they have a difficult start in Tullamore today against Offaly.
All is not lost, though, in terms of football possibly having a future. In the Leinster Minor League, which will begin soon, a few new rules are being trialled which could have a major impact on the game. No back passes to the goalkeeper allowed, no more than three consecutive handpasses and a mark for a clean catch from a kick-out. It is the right place to start experiments. Young players are more adaptable and won't complain like senior players - and their managers will get on with it. Of course, it is not ideal that players could be playing under different rules with various teams, but it is well worth a go.
This league is important for almost every team with the exception of Dublin, which means that they will probably win it as they have more ammunition to come in, even with a lot of players missing.
A Dublin sub is a different animal to a sub in other counties. A good league campaign might get him a place on the first 25 for the championship. That is an achievement. Kerry will be better with the sun on their backs and Cork are the most likely to come out of the pack, taking into consideration the first-year manager syndrome. The same applies to Mayo, but if they don't perform the crowd may not be as loyal as before.
The real story of the league is likely to be in the second division. A mini-Ulster Championship with horrible football to look forward to.
The game of the year might be between Derry and Tyrone. There will be no need for promotion of this one. The gates might have to be closed an hour before the game. A good chance of an all-out mill is still a great draw for crowds and the McKenna Cup was a great advertisement for it.
A good referee should let them at each other. They always talk about the respect they have for their near neighbours - sometimes even with a straight face.
Meath find themselves among these sharks and even getting six points to stay up would be an achievement. In all of this I find it hard to see many attractive fixtures, and it does look as if Tyrone and Derry will be favourites for promotion.
Kildare should bounce back out of Division 3 and Louth have a similar chance in Division 4, but the overriding sense for the league as a whole is of a competition which starts with a whimper and there won't be much of a roar at the end either. By April, eyes will be firmly turned towards summer. Yet when I was playing it was a competition I really enjoyed and was lucky enough to end up on three winning teams when there was just one league. Maybe the players still love the games as much, so hopefully we will have an early season of noble endeavour. Hope springs eternal.
Sunday Indo Sport