League provides long-range forecast for summer journey ahead
But Cork's rivals may have learned more from the campaign than they did, writes Páidí ó Sé
Cork have retained the League, and are favourites for the Championship, but the important question that must be asked is: what have they learned from their League exploits?
The League is a good competition, but it's what you learn from it that counts most. For instance, in 2000, we were beaten by Meath in the League and I realised that we had a problem at full-back. Despite being told I was devaluing a great player, I decided to play Seamus Moynihan there and, as it transpired, that was the move that won us the All-Ireland.
Dublin were coasting in the League final but Cork held their composure and showed their experience by picking off their scores and keeping in touch.
If Dublin have learned anything from that defeat it must be that the primary function of a defender is to mark his man, and not be depending on his half-forwards to come back and help out.
In getting to the final, there was a pattern to most of Dublin's matches -- they chalked up big scores, but they also conceded big scores. So they must look at their defence. However, I believe Dublin will come out of Leinster.
Also to be reckoned with are Kildare. It's a case of whether they can build on last year when they played a lovely brand of football, mixing the long and the short passing game. They will be no pushover, while Meath, despite an indifferent League, are also in contention.
In Munster, Kerry got great value from the League. They were in contention to the final game. They are one team that, with a limited amount of possession, can put games away very quickly because they have very good forwards -- Declan and Darran O'Sullivan, Colm Cooper, Bryan Sheehan, Kieran Donaghy and Donnacha Walsh.
If Kerry have any worry it's around the middle of the field. They have tried different combinations to no effect, and it's here they will feel the loss of David Moran.
However, they will bring fierce freshness to the championship. They tried a lot of players in the last few months, putting no pressure on them to win. They played relaxed football getting ready for where they are now. With this freshness and their forward line, Kerry could even go down the formal route and win out in Munster. I don't think Tipperary or Limerick are making the progress they promised in previous years.
In Connacht, while Roscommon reached the quarter-finals last year, they haven't shown me that they have improved. So I think it will be Galway, with four or five from their under 21s, especially midfielders Tomás Flynn and Fionntán ó Curraoin and the two wing-backs, giving most teams a formidable game. Mayo, meanwhile, will be as predictably unpredictable as ever.
When a manager goes to a county he brings a certain amount of gloss in his first season. I did that with Westmeath and achieved what I set out to do that
first year. In that regard, I think Kevin Walsh has brought Sligo as far as he's going to.
Ulster, as ever, is the hardest province to call. Tyrone are consistent, so they will be there or thereabouts. A long shot would be Donegal, where Jimmy McGuinness is doing a good job. Cavan's under 21s failed dismally, and the problem for counties like Cavan and Monaghan is that their defenders don't have a physical presence. So I'm looking at Donegal and Tyrone. I'm not too sure if Down have come on from last year. However, northern teams are very effective in the back-door system. They use it to better effect than any of the other provinces. They look at the bigger picture.
Finally, there is a perception that emigration might take its toll on counties, but I can assure you it won't take its toll on any of the leading counties. It will present a problem where it's known that the best they can do is perform well without ever being contenders.
Sunday Indo Sport