The spring version of the Super 8 is on at present. It is called the Allianz Football League and, like all competitions where teams of similar ability are grouped together, it is proving quite entertaining.
Next year's summer model will have many of this year's first division teams in it. It's a certainty that the championship eight will have Dublin, Tyrone and Kerry involved. Probably Mayo and Donegal too, so it does not leave many places for the rest. The following counties won't be in it next year or any other summer in the foreseeable future: Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow, London, Carlow, Antrim, Fermanagh, Louth, Longford, Offaly, Laois, Sligo, Leitrim, Down, Derry, Louth, Limerick and quite a few others too. But I'll take Yeats' advice to "tread softly because you tread on my dreams". There are not many Leicester City stories . . . or Barcelona either.
Anyway, the system is designed for money and means that a good team can get beaten twice and still win the All-Ireland. If you are happy with that then fine, but the day of the giant-killing is gone forever. Dublin or Kerry can now get caught twice but still rear their ugly heads at the end of the summer. Now a small county knows that if they pull off a shock it's probably only going to energise one of the big counties and get rid of complacency.
The first division of the league is now a mini-championship. Every team is fit and looks to have trained for most of the winter, despite the guidelines from Croke Park. They would be as well off getting rid of those guidelines as there probably isn't one county board or county manager who passes any remarks on them.
Dublin have played two games at home and I have gone to Croke Park on both occasions to see them. My main reason for attending is that the Dubs are one of the few county teams worth watching. They play an attractive type of football which is in contrast to most of the muck that passes for the ancient game. If you want entertainment, there is the theatre, horse racing, cricket or club football - and often the lower the grade of club football, the better fun to be had.
Perhaps the answer to running with the ball and continuous handpassing is to make football a game for players who are not too fit. Then players just kick the ball as long and as far as possible and hope that it does not come back into their area until they have a few big gulps of air.
Some of these rules should apply in every sport. A few weeks ago I was writing about cycling and getting out on the bike with a few gringos who pedalled slow but spoke fast, especially when telling lies. We christened ourselves 'The Fat Club' and all was well with the world. The peloton consisted of O'Rourke, Rogers, Harford, McDermott, Ward, Norris and sometimes some poor amigo we picked up on the road. We found it very hard to get up a big hill but we could come down very fast. Then Paddy Reilly and Mick Sweeney decided to join and the pace quickened. Members started to lose weight and get fit, which was completely against the rules of the organisation. The Fat Club broke up, the internal discipline had gone.
The Dubs are experiencing no such difficulties. New recruits blend in as if they were there for years. Last Saturday night there were four first-choice backs missing: Jonny Cooper, Cian O'Sullivan, James McCarthy and Jack McCaffrey, yet Mayo did not score from play in the first half. So it appears that despite themselves, Dublin keep on rolling and certainly won't want to lose their record in Tralee next Saturday night. Also missing up front were Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan. Paul Flynn, Paddy Andrews and Kevin McManamon sat with their tracksuits on until the second half and yet Dublin played with skill, mobility and a certain panache. It is only March but . . .
I was expecting Dublin to take it easy early on this year and peak for the summer but there is so much internal competition that no player can afford a bad game and no player can afford to stay away too long either. And the greatest enjoyment of all for each individual is to play on a team that is winning and playing great football as well. No wonder everyone is pushing hard for a place.
The Dublin display was near perfect for a long way and they could have been ten points or more up at half-time. They were dominant in the midfield area; Brian Fenton continues to improve and Michael Darragh Macauley was like a runaway windmill, all action and flailing away at anything that moved. No county will have as mobile a pair as these.
The hard running was provided by Ciarán Kilkenny and Niall Scully and in poor weather conditions the handling of the ball and the accuracy of kicking by Dublin was of the highest standard. Mayo, who I thought would really make a scrap of it, were woeful. No shape or make to them and a few of them were quite ratty too.
Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O'Connor and Evan Regan among others were narky all through. That cuts no ice with a hardened outfit like Dublin who basically ignored Mayo and just kept playing. If Mayo thought they had a big game in them, they better hope that the sun will bring a massive improvement. They also have a few to come back but they have a very limited panel compared to Dublin and a new Super 8 will play right into the Dubs' hands. They can afford the injuries which might cripple other teams.
So the last few weeks have made a mockery of my idea of Dublin taking it easy and Mayo coming back with a surge from last year's disappointment. The old order prevails. The only jockeying for position is around who is second to Dublin with Tyrone and Kerry in front of Mayo at present.
It may not count for much in August but in recent years the league has been an excellent guide to the All-Ireland. Dublin have found that it is no handicap winning the league and continuing into September. This year it looks like the pattern will be repeated.
Now something of interest in Roscommon. There has been a certain disharmony in the camp recently with a few low blows directed at Kevin McStay. These certainly would not be tolerated under the Queensbury Rules or any other rules for that matter and I am not sure how place of origin impacts on a person's ability to do a job.
Anyway, Roscommon can certainly unite around one man, Gerry O'Malley, who was a real star before there was such a thing. He played for his county from 1947 to 1964 and was an inspirational figure for St Brigid's and the Rossies.
Now a group have come together to erect a statue to his memory in his home place of Brideswell. Maybe these fine people were thinking of Horace the Roman poet when they undertook this project. Exegi monumentum aere perennius, regalique situ pyramidum altius - I have finished a monument more lasting than bronze and higher than the royal structures of the pyramids.
Well, maybe the Brideswell monument will not be that high but close enough and Gerry O'Malley would deserve it. If you wish to donate ten euro or ten thousand then contact Frank Donnelly at 087-3453845.
Around the time he won three senior championships with Cuala, and kept goal for Dublin, Damien Byrne went on a recruitment drive to schools in the local catchment area. Despite the club's prosperity, manifest in winning a first senior hurling championship in 1989, and two more by 1994, they could tell from their juvenile numbers that they were in trouble. Below the age of 18 the count might be as low as 40 and rarely exceeded 60. They could see the rain coming.
On the day after Slaughtneil were crowned All-Ireland senior club camogie champions, at an event to publicise the club's forthcoming football final against Dr Crokes, Chrissy McKaigue was asked if he and his team-mates had been present to see the ladies' success. "There wasn't a single person in Slaughtneil left at home yesterday," McKaigue responded, removing any doubt. "There couldn't have been. That's the great thing; our footballers, hurlers and camogie players are supported the same and that's why things are going so well because the level of support behind us is so great."