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10 things the National Football League has served up so far

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Michael Murphy, Donegal

Michael Murphy, Donegal

SPORTSFILE

Michael Murphy, Donegal

Three rounds in and the Football League is taking a shape with a few definitive trends and facts surfacing. We look at 10 that have clearly stood out.

1 Maher and Moran now the game's best midfield axis

It was interesting to hear Kieran Donaghy's take on the pressure Kerry successfully applied on the Dublin kick-out last Sunday. Force them to kick it long was the logic because when it does reach the airspace of their now-formidable midfield, it is advantage Kerry. David Moran's resurgence after injury and Anthony Maher's consistency have forged probably the best midfield axis in the game right now.

Kerry now have a vast array of attacking options but at midfield there is clear distinction between two and the rest.

2 Goals have dried up

Where have all the goals gone? The average from 46 games played to date is just 1.45 per game compared to two per game at the same stage last year. In last year's championship, the average goal per game was 2.34. A clear move towards better defensive set-ups and greater scrutiny and analysis of opponents has made it harder to penetrate but a lack of ambition is obvious too.

3 Kildare conceding too many frees

Kildare obviously have many problems but the consistent concession of scoreable frees is haunting them right now. In three league games they have conceded 41 points with 18 (six in each game) coming directly from frees. That fails to take into account the scoreable frees missed, Meath being especially guilty in that regard.

As they search for an escape route from the rut they now find themselves in, refining their tackle and being more patient has to be a priority.

4 Michael Murphy and the physical conundrum

Michael Murphy's presence on a football field ensures that within a battle there is always another battle taking place.

Murphy is capable of giving it hard but is also on the receiving end quite often too. Because he is so powerful and so physical opponents clearly see different terms of engagement with him. Referees may be seeing it that way too. Murphy has not finished either of his last two league games, courtesy of a black card against Dublin and double yellow against Cork. 5 Galway's goalkeeping dilemma

In six games they have played between Connacht League and NFL Division 2, only one selected Galway goalkeeper has actually finished. Brian O'Donoghue had the distinction of not being replaced during the Meath game but a rotation policy adopted by Kevin Walsh saw changes in every other game.

Walsh has used four different goalkeepers - O'Donoghue, Manus Breathnach. TJ Forde and Thomas Dolan - in those games with Corofin's Thomas Healy still to come in. Finding an established goalkeeper has been an issue for some time now for Galway and clearly continues.

6 The value of Stephen Cluxton is soaring in his absence

There are plenty who consider the value of a goalkeeper finding colleagues from kick-outs to be one of the most over-rated aspects of match analysis but any doubter in Killarney last Sunday might have been easily converted. Dublin's kick-outs were a mess at times, though not all the fault of Sean Currie it should be stressed. Stephen Cluxton has made restarts look seamless and Sunday was one of those days his quality was enshrined.

7 Donegal spreading themselves thinly again

The conductor's baton has been handed over but many of the fundamentals remain in place in Donegal including consistency of selection. This time last year Jim McGuinness had picked the same 15 for the opening three league games. Rory Gallagher is a little more flexible but not much.

From 24 players used, just 17 have started with 12 starting every game, once again underlining how dependent Donegal are on their front-line players.

8 Real options with Aidan O'shea

So the Aidan O'Shea for full-forward debate re-opens again after hitting 1-3 on Sunday. When introduced against Kerry, he helped to establish control of the game by operating behind his midfield. Wherever he plays he is offering a range of options that will allow Mayo to cut their cloth to suit it as the season goes on.

9 Goal-shy Cavan

Cavan are a county with ambitions of climbing higher but their sparse creation of goal chances will hold them back.

They have yet to find the net in this league. Excluding McKenna Cup campaigns, their goalscoring record has been poor in recent seasons, five in 11 league and championship games in 2014, 10 out of 14 in 2013.

The last time they scored more than a single goal in either a league or championship game was their opening Division 3 game against Antrim in 2013. That's a sequence of 27 games in which they have drawn 14 blanks. They have enjoyed great U-21 success but doubts abound about their cutting edge up front persist.

10 Cork don't mind the quality

Aesthetics clearly aren't on Brian Cuthbert's mind this year. Whatever has to be done to make Cork more difficult to beat, he will instruct them to do, whether that's 13-man defence or a near eight-to-one ratio of handpasses to foot passes to ensure possession is kept and opposition are frustrated. In fairness, they've learned the hard way.

Irish Independent