Colm O'Rourke: Now if the Dubs players' body fat changes in winter there is an inquiry
It was a tale of two venues last weekend, Dublin and Roscommon. Croke Park on a Saturday night is always worth a visit. The only thing that is stopping everyone shutting up shop and not bothering going to see the Dubs is the fact that they play such attractive football. Crowds still come to see them and 26,000 on a January night is a fair attendance.
There was also a big gathering in Killarney on Sunday; they may have come to see the new talent unleashed and were not disappointed. Yet the reason for big crowds at matches at this time of year, or indeed any time of year, continues to stare everyone in the face.
Where teams are evenly matched there is huge interest. That is why the league works. Imagine if these teams were playing in more favourable weather conditions. The gates would double. So the future must be a championship where counties are graded:, three divisions, home and away games with promotion and relegation. And the top four in each playing off for their respective championship, in Croke Park too.
It all sounds very simple but the lesson of the league is exactly that. Imagine the Dubs travelling to Killarney, Castlebar, Galway or Donegal in May or June. The venues would be packed, the tourist business would treble and there would be more money for everyone. But the provincial championships would have to go, and those who run those bodies would not countenance change, even if it is for the good. Most counties will play their football in winter and do most of their training then too.
With the Dubs only recently back from crocodile hunting in South Africa I thought that Kildare would have a great chance. But it seems there is nothing more dangerous than Dublin with some new players on board. Colm Basquel and Brian Howard brought extra energy and ability, and it helped the more seasoned group grow into the game.
Brian Fenton was immense; he is getting better, which is bad news for everyone else. He has obviously decided to try and score more. All he can do now is catch high balls, solo at speed, kick great foot-passes, tackle hard, cover the field in support of his team-mates, kick brilliant points and slot easy goals. Apart from that he is an ordinary enough player.
Another who made a big impact was Bernard Brogan. He has not gone away. In fact, this was Brogan in a different guise, laying off the ball and dragging defenders out of position. A beautiful flick set up Dean Rock for the first goal; the finish was sublime.
Nobody ever accused Bernard of being totally unselfish in the past but it looks as if he has studied the tea leaves and worked out that this is his new role. This is not good news for the opposition. Brogan also looked lean and fit. God be good to the days when players expected to put on a bit of timber over the winter and work it off in spring. Many thought this was a healthy practice. Now if the Dubs players' body fat changes in winter there is an inquiry.
This group are so self-motivated that their collective training does not have to be concerned with fitness - that is already looked after individually. Therefore, the Dubs can collectively train less than everyone else. The players do it on their own.
Their play has a few general principles; width in attack is obviously one and the tackling by forwards is ferocious. Anyone who has ever played with a great team know that the ultimate in tactics is when there are almost none. Everyone knows exactly what they have to do and they keep doing it even when things are going wrong. You trust your team-mates. When there is a hard-core of experienced players in the side others can then be easily introduced; that is the way with Dublin now. On Saturday night there was no Diarmuid Connolly, Cian O'Sullivan, Philly McMahon, Eric Lowndes, Con O'Callaghan, Paul Mannion, Paddy Andrews, Eoghan O'Gara or Kevin McManamon in the starting 15.
The one who linked most of the play was Ciaran Kilkenny. Mayo got it right by man-marking him in the final. If teams allow him to run the field unaccompanied this year he will cause them big problems.
And despite the advertisements for clothes and cars in the match programme, which puts Dublin in a different league to all others, there is no big secret to their success apart from the fact they have far more high-quality players than anyone else. That is not a factor of current resources or commercial revenue, that is primarily down to careful husbandry of young players over the last couple of decades, which can be linked to the extra coaches employed in Dublin.
The Dubs could write their tactics on the back of a cigarette box, give it to most opponents before the game, and still beat them off the pitch.
Kildare, with a lot of work behind them over the winter, were blown away in the third quarter. In the end they were quite uncompetitive.
I thought Kildare would do much better; they are a side who have potential. They need more than fitness, though. They certainly will have to get a quota of players who won't back down from start to finish. Body fat does not measure that.
Playing in Croke Park suits the Dubs too as the pitch is always in excellent condition, which leads to a fast game. No other ground is like that.
On Sunday in Roscommon the day was cold and damp. The pitch was slow and it was a different type of match altogether. Nonetheless, the game was exciting but it is a disadvantage going from slower pitches to Croke Park. Players get found out for speed in the main arena in Dublin and it is too late then.
At the end of Sunday's match it was hard to know who had messed up more. Roscommon appeared to be in control for a good bit of the game and had to rescue a draw at the end. Meath would have been happy with a point halfway through the second half but then proceeded to play with a bit of passion and abandon, got into a winning position but then squandered it all with total innocence.
Division 2 may not be as hard to get out of this year as last. Galway and Kildare went up and I will be surprised if both don't survive in Division 1. Meath and Roscommon should be in the fight for promotion, yet there will be a lot of bends in the road before the end of March.
Sunday Indo Sport