Wednesday 18 October 2017

Hard to look past glorious trinity in scrap for riches

Paidi O Se

But the championship is not the place to experiment with the rules, says Páidí ó Sé

I'll never understand why a new rule which could have a critical impact on football comes into force at the start of the championship, rather than at the end.

The change in the square ball rule may be a good thing, or it may be a bad thing. I'm not sure about that yet. But I am sure that today is not the day to find out. Chaos may reign in Longford, Navan, Roscommon, Limerick and Cavan, or it may not, but this rule should not have come into being until October 1, when it could apply to all games over the winter and spring and be well and truly part of the game by the time the championship rolls around again next year.

I really hope that we are not all talking about the square ball rule tonight, instead of the football.

And how unusual it is for all of the provinces to be kicking off today (with all due respect to Sligo's earlier outing in New York), even if you have to wonder every year why there isn't some joined-up thinking with the provinces when championship dates are being pencilled in so that there's a mouth-watering game or two to whet the appetite from the start.

The pick of the games for me today is in Dr Hyde Park, mainly because I'm curious to get a right look at this Galway team. I like what little I have seen of them, and although I'm leaning towards Mayo to come out on top in Connacht, we will know a lot more about Galway this evening.

I liked the cut of their under 21 team and they haven't shown their hand too early this year. If they don't win out in the province, they are one of a few teams I fancy to go well in the qualifiers this summer.

Kerry, I think, will want to avoid the back door this year. Eamonn Fitzmaurice's return to the management team has been seen down here as a sign that he is being groomed for the hot seat whenever Jack O'Connor stands down.

The league was useful for Jack but it hasn't all been rosy, and Tom O'Sullivan's decision not to come back to the panel for the championship is another blow. Still, though, I think O'Connor has enough talent at his disposal and they may even overcome Cork to win a Munster title this year. I have no doubt that the direct route, heading straight to Dublin for a quarter-final, would be the best option for Kerry.

Conor Counihan, meanwhile, must feel that things are falling into place nicely for Cork at just the right time. Players like Daniel Goulding and Colm O'Neill have returned, and Ciarán Sheehan will be back too. Cork and Dublin have the two best panels, by some distance in truth, in the championship but Counihan's ace is that he possesses the most free-scoring forward line in the country when all are fit.

He will feel that things did not go his way last year -- especially with all the injuries -- and he will also feel that there is more than just the one All-Ireland in this group of players.

That is why I can't see Counihan shedding any tears if Cork don't win a Munster title this year; all eyes are on the big prize. And if there's one team who don't fear the qualifiers, it's Cork -- they travel well.

Of all the provincial championships, Ulster remains the most prestigious because all teams take huge pride in winning the title. The big guns never have it easy in Ulster, and after last year's success I include Donegal in that category, because the lesser lights will always put it up to them. For those teams, it's always when they leave the province for the qualifiers that their troubles begin.

There was a lot of talk about a rejuvenated Tyrone during the league but I have to say the Division 2 final between them and Kildare was one of the worst games of football I have seen in a long time. If football is going to become a relentless grind of meaningless passing then we are in trouble. There was a frightening number of handpasses -- 345 in all -- in that game.

The jury is still out on Mickey Harte's transitional Tyrone team and yet the most likely outcome is that they or holders Donegal will come out on top with challengers Down and Armagh looking to catch them napping, or else make an impact in the qualifiers.

Longford are another team that might make some headway this year, even if a bit of luck will be needed along the way. The team, and manager Glenn Ryan, are making steady progress. I was in Longford last week and was talking to one of the players and I was struck by how confident he was. He wasn't over-confident -- no Longford footballer could be cocky going into the first round of the Leinster championship -- but there was definitely an assuredness about his talk.

There is a good buzz after the league final win over Wexford so it will be interesting to see how they cope with some expectation on their shoulders that they can down more fancied opponents this afternoon.

The problem, of course, for any team like Longford in Leinster is that they must beat either Dublin or Kildare to get to the final and that's just not going to happen.

Those two are far superior to the rest, particularly in terms of physique. They will blow most teams away with their power, if not their football. Dublin have a long year in store again but while Pat Gilroy will want this team to win back-to-back All-Irelands, he will want the Leinster title too. Dublin are another team who will be best served by taking the direct route.

So Dublin it is in Leinster, with Kildare and Longford teams to take note of when the qualifiers begin.

And, as for September's riches, it looks like the three counties who won the last three finals, Kerry, Dublin and Cork, will be there again. It will be one of those three.

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