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February wins bring out same old mantra

NEW National League season, same old managerial mantras. Is it any wonder that GAA fans get confused by the evidence of their own eyes -- no matter how seemingly irrefutable -- in the opening weeks of February.

Your team records a victory that is either historically significant or thrillingly emphatic and -- even before you have time to clear your throat for the first bar of 'Champione, Champione' -- the manager is telling you that it means nothing. Nada.

He will sound like George Lee talking about the state of the economy and/or the state of his own shamefully under-utilised genius.

"It's only February," he will warn. If, perchance, we've slipped into the first week of March, he will correct himself at the last second and say: "It's only the league".


The ten-point winning margin is -- he cautions -- a dangerous illusion because the opposition was obviously lacking fitness, lacking half a team or lacking full focus (his euphemistic way for saying they couldn't be arsed).

Over the weekend just past, as the Allianz Football League cranked into gear with several headline-hogging results, we had more variations on the above theme. For Pat Gilroy, it was all about the "performance" in Killarney, not the result per se. Having achieved both, now he was demanding some "consistency" of performance.

Reporters nodded in agreement as he demurred: "There's no point in doing this and then going out and playing brutal (against Derry this Saturday)."

Everything he said made perfect, logical sense -- even more so in the hyperbolic context of the Blues' boom-to-bust history, something the aforementioned George Lee, ex-TD, could surely empathise with.

And yet, for the Dublin diehards who had made the epic trek south, who hadn't seen their county win on Kerry soil since 1982, who had endured the humiliation of last August, why not celebrate the moment for what it was? Something seldom and wonderful and, if not quite famous, then pretty fabulous for February, all the same.

Around the same time that Giller was calling off the open-top bus parade down O'Connell Street, James McCartan was facing a similar conundrum in St Conleth's Park -- how to deflate Down's bubble after their 11-point demolition of another county that's no stranger to hype, Kildare.

Wee James may be new to the inter-county management gig but he was one cute hoor of a corner forward. Obviously, if his Mourne charges keep running amok this spring, he will have to call on all his reserves of cuteness and cunning to convince the world that Down are still mere championship pretenders.

"I think the game probably meant more to us than in did to Kildare. We're close to full strength.

"We have no rabbits to pull out of the hat," he maintained, before adding: "Their sendings-off made it much easier for us. The gloss that was put on the game at the end, sometimes as a manager you'd prefer if those went wide and we had won by four or three points because some people start hyping it up." There is only one thing for it, Jamesie: get nobbled in Newry this Saturday night by Meath!

Towards the end of his own playing days, Tom Carr shared a Dublin dressing-room with a young Gilroy, and the Cavan manager was preaching a similarly cautious message after the Breffni men blitzed Roscommon.


Surely, we thought, after all the county board intrigue surrounding Carr's future last year and all the talk of a manager under pressure, here was an opportunity for the embattled boss to deliver a metaphorical two-fingered salute to his detractors? Not a bit of it.

"The next game starts at level pegging and we have to keep our feet on the ground. Achieving a level of consistency is the most important thing," the ever-sensible Tom intoned.

Of course, the funny (as in funny-peculiar) thing about February league victories is how February league losses aren't always treated with the same underwhelming perspective. "If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same," was Kipling's advice to a conference of GAA managers before the launch of the inaugural 1925-26 National League (Scout's honour!), whereas today's team bosses are far more inclined to jump on the first heavy defeat as proof that something isn't right.

Around this time of year, there are so many 'wake-up calls' in dressing rooms that you'd wonder if every county team is up training at six o'clock in the morning.

Even genial Joe Kernan was talking of a "reality check" after his Galway reign got off to a surprisingly inauspicious start against the old Mayo enemy. Joe's former on-field lieutenant, Kieran McGeeney, was far more blunt in his assessment of Kildare's collapse to Down. "They're not doing what they're being asked to do," Geezer bemoaned. "I must be speaking French before the games because they're definitely not listening."

So, extra training and a crash course in 'Parlez Vous Francais?' for the wilting Lilies this week. While the Dubs go chasing consistency in a GAA world gone mad.