Friday 22 September 2017

no mystery to summer success of league stars

IT seems an awful long time ago since the 2009 inter-county football season ended with the familiar lilt of a Kerry voice making an acceptance speech after receiving the Sam Maguire Cup. But then it has been a long time -- 20 weeks on Sunday to be exact. Still, the wait ends next weekend when the Allianz football league lifts off for a 12-week orbit that's a whole lot more relevant to the longer-term prospects of counties than they admit.

Over the coming weeks, you'll hear defeats explained away with blather about heavy training and claims that the opposition were 'more advanced.' There will also be knowing looks, inferring that the league is no more than an irritating distraction amid the sophisticated business of preparing for the championship.

It's an attempt to create the illusion that every county has a grand plan for release in summer and that everything that happens in the league is largely irrelevant. It's not, of course.

winners

Kerry (5), Tyrone (3), Armagh (1) and Galway (1) were the All-Ireland football winners last decade. It so happens that Kerry also won three Division 1 League titles, while Tyrone won two and Armagh one. Galway were beaten in three League finals, while Kerry also lost one.

As for hurling, Kilkenny backed-up their seven All-Ireland titles with five league titles and one runners-up spot.

Isn't it interesting that the most successful championship teams also led the league honours in the last decade? Could it be down to something as simple as this -- good players perform well whatever the competition or the time of year.

It's easy to make the case as to why league form -- whether good or bad -- can be ignored as a championship pointer. Last year's NFL table shows that Donegal were relegated from Division 1, that Meath won just two games in Division 2, that Limerick were relegated from Division 3 and that Wicklow finished fifth in Division 4, yet all four went on to make significant progress in the championship.

Closer inspection gives a more accurate reflection of what actually happened. The margins between relegation and a place in the various divisional finals are often quite small, which is to be expected in eight-team groups.

Derry, who reached the football final, took nine points to Donegal's five in Division 1 last year.

Donegal lost to Dublin by two points and to Tyrone by three, while they drew with Mayo. With a little luck they would have taken an extra two points and remained in Division 1.

Later on, with a little less luck, the All-Ireland qualifier draw wouldn't have handed them Division 4 Carlow and Clare (both at home) to ease them back into championship contention. The early qualifier draw was good to Meath too, handing them Waterford, a demoralised Westmeath and a rebuilding Roscommon in the early rounds.

Limerick dropped from Division 3, having finished on six points with four other counties, only to lose out on scoring difference. However, Limerick lost two games by a point, underlining just how narrow the gap between top and bottom can be in most groups.

As for Wicklow, they were understrength for much of the league which wrecked their promotion ambitions. Significantly, though, they drew with Antrim and lost by a point to Sligo, both of whom were promoted. Antrim went on to enjoy their best championship for years; Sligo came mighty close to beating Kerry and, of course, Wicklow had their best ever championship.

League trends held fairly solid on other fronts too. Dublin struggled in a largely non-Leinster Division 1 and were even more exposed once they moved on from provincial opposition in the championship; Westmeath, Fermanagh, Laois and Wexford all of whom had poor league campaigns, won just three games between them in the championship.

In hurling, Kilkenny and Tipperary combined league and championship excellence, while Clare's inertia last spring carried into the summer.

Nobody is suggesting that the league can match the championship in terms of prestige of public interest, but it's still an excellent competition in its own right. Structurally, it's much fairer than the championship since counties play the same number of games against opposition decided by previous performances rather than geography.

So then, enjoy what unfolds over the next few months. It won't have championship atmosphere, but, in many cases, it will be a solid pointer to what lies ahead.

A final point. The GAA are lucky to have such loyal sponsors in Allianz, who are backing the league for an 18th consecutive season. In the current climate, that's quite a plus for the GAA, especially since they have never really driven the league in the manner it deserves.

did Adams hurling remark startle the dup horses?

Could it have been Gerry Adams' reference to hurling which frightened the DUP horses last weekend?

Commenting on the protracted talks on 'Morning Ireland' last Monday Adams said: "after the first 70 or 80 hours (of discussion) it became like a game of hurling. We were able, I think, to have control of the pitch and to have game on with the DUP."

One can only imagine what such well-known GAA names as Poots, McCausland, Dodds, Paisley and Robinson made of that analogy.

Irish Independent

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