Shooting stars Brogan and Murphy light up league
The odds laid by most bookmakers for Footballer of the Year at such an early stage of the season say it all. Just two at the top of the market, the field stretched a long way behind them.
Bernard Brogan at 15/2, Michael Murphy just half a point easier at 8/1 on one list. The rest, Colm Cooper included, are 16/1 and better. The incumbent, Karl Lacey, is as far back as 50/1 as he nurses himself back to full fitness.
Odds for such a contest don't generally go so low at this point of the season but, on the evidence of what we have seen, it really is hard to see it being any other way.
If Gaelic football had an individual order of merit these two would top the list by any established criteria. All the stellar moments this season have belonged to them.
Murphy's sorcery and nerve to score that point with the outside of his right boot for DCU against UCD in the Sigerson Cup quarter-final has been viewed more than 40,000 times on YouTube.
But his point for Donegal against Kildare where he came to meet a miscued Paddy McBrearty free in the second half of their Croke Park league match and drove it over with his fist from 20 metres out was just as aesthetically pleasant, a brilliant piece of skill that looked so simple in its execution.
Last Sunday, prior to his red card against Tyrone, that rich vein of form was in evidence when he twisted and turned his marker Conor Clarke before stepping back outside him and nonchalantly curling over his third point.
The night before, Dublin star Brogan put on his own show against Mayo, picking up man of the match awards for the third time in four games (including Dublin v Kerry and Leinster v Connacht).
He really didn't put a foot wrong and his willingness to show for every ball – and win most of them – was the mark of a player oozing confidence. His sideline kick in the second half with the outside of his right boot tells you everything about where his head is.
Brogan's form seems to stem from Jim Gavin's policy of fielding him in virtually every game Dublin have played so far this season.
On top of the three Allianz League games, he was on O'Byrne Cup duty in four out of their five matches in the January tournament – an unusual statistic for such a marquee player in his late 20s on a squad that had more than 50 in personnel at the time.
Clearly, Gavin feels Brogan benefits from playing regularly and that keeping him busy gets the most out of him.
"That's what players want to do, they want to play games, they'll tell you themselves they don't want to train for three or four weeks and then wait for a game," said Gavin. "Guys in form, they want to keep playing in any sport."
Both Murphy and Brogan have been averaging a point every 10 minutes from the time they have been on the field.
Murphy has been used a little more sparingly, without the exposure of a Dr McKenna Cup campaign, but there has been no sense from Jim McGuinness that he wants his key man held in reserve.
Since January 20, Brogan has played games on seven consecutive weekends on tricky underfoot conditions. Only once, in the O'Byrne Cup final against Kildare, was he withdrawn early.
Including the opening two O'Byrne Cup matches, his schedule has seen him involved in nine matches in an eight-week period from January 5 to March 2.
With three league matches in successive weeks it will be interesting to see if Gavin opts to sit him out should Dublin edge any closer to qualification for the semi-finals.
Murphy has been equally busy, with a little more than six-and-a-half matches in a five-and-a-half-week period from the end of January, when he featured for DCU against Queen's. So much for burnout having an impact on performance in either case.
Neither player featured much in last year's league. Brogan didn't play at all as he was held in reserve after coming back to training late following a trip to Australia and then allowing a series of minor injuries to heal as Dublin struggled through the campaign.
Murphy required groin surgery in January, which left him out until March, but on his return scored a memorable goal against Cork before crashing out of action again with a knee injury against Dublin that required surgery and left him out of Donegal's opening championship game against Cavan.
The absence of both from the early part of the season clearly had an effect. Brogan had his moments against Louth and Meath in last year's championship but never hit the heights of the previous two seasons, while Murphy was playing catch-up, it seemed, until the All-Ireland final, when he really exploded.
Right now, though, they are on top of their games, an example of how regular games can bring the best out of the best.