Saturday 16 December 2017

Scrambling for summer edge

Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

In recent years, the quality of football in the Allianz National Football League has improved immeasurably. Despite the fact that some team managers, even from the lower divisions, proclaim that only the championship matters, the reality is that most counties have a very good idea of where they really stand in relation to the forthcoming championship when they have completed their league programme.

In Division 1 this year, in particular, we have had many excellent games already, but, equally, we have learned a lot about the overall composition and 2013 championship prospects of the teams.

For example, Saturday's defeat of Dublin by Tyrone shows clearly that, despite all the hype in recent months, the pool of top-class players ready to compete for outright All-Ireland success this year might not be quite as extensive in Dublin as was first thought.

hardened

Even with some notable absentees, including Bernard Brogan, Dublin should have won this game at home, but a hardened, competent team such as Tyrone showed up quite a few flaws in some of the Dublin players, who were already being hailed as stars for the coming championship.

A defeat like this will benefit Dublin at this stage, because when they look at the football landscape in Leinster in 2013, it is hard to see a major threat to their ambitions unless Kildare get their act together in a more cohesive manner than in recent Leinster campaigns.

Experiments often do not work in the league and the placing of Ger Brennan at full-back on Saturday proved the point. He was taken to the cleaners by Stephen O'Neill, who had scored three excellent points before Brennan was removed from No 3.

It was a costly experiment, bearing in mind that Dublin lost the game by just one point.

But if the Dubs learned a few harsh lessons, so too did Mayo, who have now lost four games in a row following a dismal performance against Kildare.

Having got a six-point head-start playing against the wind, Mayo somehow managed to lose, largely because they recorded 14 wides.

Mayo football is often in a rather fragile mental state because of their lack of All-Ireland success and as they face into the 2013 campaign, it is clear that all involved, players and mentors, have some serious problems to sort out. But playing in Connacht at the moment does allow them time to rectify things.

Donegal, on the other hand, do not have the luxury of time to get their show back on the road and reach the brilliant levels of last year.

Apart from struggling in the league at present, they must play Tyrone in the Ulster championship on May 26, which is just 10 weeks away, and an ongoing controversy over the venue, fixed for Ballybofey at present, is already overshadowing the match.

Tyrone, as they showed against Dublin, have a very solid core of crafty, experienced players, but the most important person on duty that day may well be the referee.

A rejuvenated Sean Cavanagh could have a crucial impact in Ulster this year, while scoring 0-18 against Dublin was impressive for Tyrone at this stage.

Cork's defeat of Donegal was laboured for a long while, but as often happens, they produced enough brilliance for about 20 minutes to revive the cliche of Cork having the best selection of players in Ireland.

Yet while they played very well in the second half, there is still an element of casualness in the team that seems to indicate a scarcity of tactical ingenuity whenever the team is in trouble.

Good players on their own nowadays will not win the big games – unless there are plans to cope with the opposition.

There is no doubt that the Sam Maguire Cup will be won by a Division 1 team this year, but on the evidence of what we have seen over the weekend, there is a variety of possible winners, even if Dublin look the most likely at this stage.

Irish Independent

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