'Nice football' won't worry Jim Gavin's troops
Leinster challengers make entertaining start but Dubs look ready to sweep them all aside
Having watched four Leinster teams play championship games over the weekend, it is safe to say that Jim Gavin can rest easy if what we saw is to be the benchmark for the rest of the provincial campaign.
Louth and Longford will obviously be very happy with their results against Westmeath and Offaly respectively – and why not? Leinster championship victories are still very highly valued.
For Longford this was only their second win in Leinster in the past six years and amazingly, the first time they have beaten Offaly in 24 years of championship football.
This was an interesting game of what I would call 'nice football' – we got plenty of handy scores intermingled with as many wides and a tempo of football that was far removed from what will be on show later in the summer.
But Longford people will be delighted with this victory, especially as they will now be at home in Pearse Park for their next game against Wexford.
A sobering thought for those Longford fans, however, is that the winners of that game on June 9 will almost certainly have to face Dublin in the Leinster semi-final in Croke Park, unless Laois beat the Dubs.
That is for another day, and Longford and Louth now have the excitement of preparing for big championship games.
In Louth's case there is the extra bonus of being in Croke Park against Kildare. These contests are what maintains interest in provincial championships even though in their heart of hearts most such counties know they have little or no chance of winning the title outright.
In both games there was a lot of poor scoring attempts which in perfect weather conditions seems strange. It makes one wonder just how much shooting practice the current players actually engage in at all those training sessions we hear about. For example, I heard a Westmeath player on radio before Saturday's game boasting about the fact that they had been working in the gym since last November, as if this was a major achievement.
But I wonder how many sessions since last November the players spent working extensively and constructively on kicking.
After all, the most important part of the game is kicking the ball over the crossbar or into the net, yet I would venture to say that very little time is spent on perfecting scoring skills with many county teams.
Indeed, it is interesting to watch the extensive warm-ups that county teams now implement before big games, often lasting for 20 minutes or more.
They engage in all sorts of fancy drills with and without the footballs, but we hardly ever see even forwards actually practising their shooting towards the goals in which they will be attempting to score soon afterwards. It's strange.
Despite all that, Longford and Louth did get very respectable scores and Louth's Declan Byrne was probably the best forward on view over the entire weekend – he practically beat Westmeath on his own with his scores and his distribution.
I could not understand why Westmeath's John Heslin was placed on Louth midfielder Paddy Keenan from the start. Keenan won the contest hands down and Heslin was confined to scoring a few frees and did no justice to his undoubted football ability.
The same could be said for another outstanding player in Niall McNamee who, although he scored some fine points, seemed capable of doing a lot more. There did not seem to be a proper structure in the Offaly set-up to maximise his talents.
It was much the same for Longford's Paul Barden, who could have scored at least three goals but managed to get none and it was only in the final quarter that we saw his usual brilliance come to the fore – and of course that was the right time for that to happen from a Longford point of view.
A relative newcomer to the Longford team, Shane Doyle from Kenagh, was one of his team's best players. Longford desperately need new players like him to boost their panel's overall strength as subs are becoming more and more important in the modern game.
In a brilliant minor championship game on Saturday, I saw Kildare win by four points in extra-time against Longford and the main difference between the sides was the five strong subs which Kildare were able to call upon actually improved the team.
Louth will have no trouble putting it up to Kildare in the next round. They have a lot of hardened, experienced players led by Keenan, Dessie Finnegan, Brian White and Shane Lennon, and they have a mobile and intelligent forward line.
The advantage of having played a hard championship match should never be overlooked either and the same applies to Longford, who have had a series of small misfortunes against Wexford over the years and will be very determined to get revenge when they meet next month.
So even though the Leinster championship may indeed be a cakewalk for Dublin, there is still plenty of excitement and drama lying ahead.
The one good thing even about games involving teams from the lower divisions of the league is that thanks to the black card, games are still being played in a more positive frame of mind with less frees than in previous years and more continuity in play.
Referees are now more prepared to let the games flow as a result of the rule changes and this leads to far fewer frees.
LEGEND HUGHES LEAVES GOLDEN FAITHFUL LEGACY
Real sadness was evident among Offaly GAA people at the sudden death of Greg Hughes, who was one of the greatest full-backs in the game.
Along with Paddy McCormack and John Egan in the full-back line and Martin Furlong behind them, they formed one of the best defensive screens in football history from 1960 to 1972.
Greg was a most popular player with friend and foe and an exemplary sportsman as well.
Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dhilis.
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