Colm Keys: 'Kerry hit form, Costello states his case and Leitrim rising - Eight subplots that have emerged in football this spring'
For so many counties the Allianz Football League is a priority that offers the most accurate measure of their progress and commands their greatest concentration. Consequently, the headline-makers can differ to those in the summer and there is no shortage of sub-plots threading their way through the four divisions. Here, we look at some of the more relevant ones just past the halfway stage . . .
Cormac Costello has picked up man of the match awards for both his Croke Park outings against Galway and Mayo, scoring 1-6 and 1-4 respectively. He's a player designed for the place with his pace and energy yet he has only ever started two championship games (against Donegal in 2014 and Roscommon last year). Is his time about to come? Even his current streak of form can't guarantee that. If he's to be included in the Dublin attack, who loses out? Perhaps Brian Howard could drop to midfield but that would leave selection dilemmas further back.
McManus makes his mark
No prizes for guessing who leads the individual attacking mark table so far in the league, given his propensity for it in International Rules. Monaghan's Conor McManus has only started two games but already he's a clear leader with five of his 19 points so far exploiting the experimental rule.
Consequently, Monaghan lead the way with seven, Michael Bannigan and Conor McCarthy were also on target, but many counties have either been reluctant to adapt to the rule or just haven't become properly accustomed to it.
Mayo's Andy Moran has got it for two of Mayo's three; Donie Kingston, Ryan Burns and Patrick Begley also have two each for Laois, Louth and Limerick but pick-up from counties has been generally low. Galway, Clare, Tipperary, Meath, Fermanagh and Armagh have had no scores from marks registered so far.
Kerry's best start in 10 years
At least Peter Keane avoided the fate of Kerry's last three managers by winning his first league game in charge. Jack O'Connor lost away to Longford in 2004, Pat O'Shea to Mayo in 2007, the same county where Eamonn Fitzmaurice got his six-year spell off to a bad start in 2013.
But in between O'Connor, in his second coming, got it right at home to Donegal first time out and embarked on an unbeaten run to a league final where they beat Derry. Four successive wins under Keane is Kerry's best start since then.
As predicted at the outset, a 10-minute sin-bin which didn't take account of stoppages was always going to be ripe for conservatism in possession and exploitation.
That four-minute spell coming up to half-time between Tyrone and Monaghan, when Monaghan had Dessie Ward sin-binned, illustrated the worst excesses of that while back passes to the goalkeeper also, noticeably, increase.
Goalkeepers' private battle
Tyrone's Niall Morgan has upped the ante in the goalkeepers union with points from play in back-to-back games helping him on to the scoresheet in each of Tyrone's four Division 1 ties. Morgan has seven points to his credit, five from frees, but he's still in the slipstream of Wicklow's Mark Jackson who has nine and, like Morgan, has registered in all four games.
The main concentration of placekicking goalkeepers is in Division 1 where Morgan is routinely joined by Monaghan's Rory Beggan, Cavan's Raymond Galligan the recalled Rob Hennelly from Mayo and Roscommon's Darren O'Malley. Outside of that though there are just two regulars through the divisions, Jackson and Sligo's Adrian Devaney.
Fermanagh find less is more
Fermanagh have delivered the lowest scoring return of all 32 counties after four rounds with just 2-34 amassed. Does it matter? Not when you have by far the lowest concession rate too. Last year's Ulster finalists have been taken for just 3-26 to date (1-5 v Cork, 2-5 v Tipperary), 0-6 v Kildare and 0-10 v Donegal). That works out at just over seven scores conceded per game, highly organised defensive work by any standards. The average score in their games so far works out at Fermanagh 0-10, The Rest 8.75.
It doesn't please everyone, naturally, but making the most of the resources available is what Rory Gallagher is doing so well.
Meath find themselves in unfamiliar territory, on top of Division 2 after four rounds. Since the divisions were re-organised in time for the 2008 campaign, they have spent 11 of the 12 seasons since in the second division and in that time have only won three consecutive games once (2014). They get an opportunity to match that when Kildare travel to Navan on Sunday. It's their best start since that 2008 redraft.
Perhaps the story of the league that leaves Leitrim on the cusp of a first game in the 'new' Croke Park in league or championship (they played the 2006 Tommy Murphy Cup final there) and a first promotion since the leagues were redesigned back into four straight divisions after 2007. Remarkably, in all four games they've won so far against Wexford, Wicklow, Antrim and Limerick they've been behind at half-time, requiring injury-time winners in three.