Colm O'Rourke: Time for heavyweights to show title credentials
Unlike last Sunday, there are three heavyweights in action today - Kerry, Monaghan, and Galway. All are long odds-on to win easily and the prize they are all looking to is the Super 8s. There are plenty of slip-ups still possible and they are not even all racing certainties but respective wins this afternoon puts them within touching distance of when the action really begins.
Kerry will be expected to sneak in the front door largely unnoticed. They have tried to find a few new players in the league, using almost 40, but while most have drank the water they would be no good to dig the well. So, a lot of men with miles on the clock will still be front rank in this campaign.
The only new player who has really impressed me has been David Clifford, which might not seem a big surprise as he was the boy wonder of minor football. However, few men at 19 make good senior county players; it takes a few years to learn the trade at the highest level. The body is not mature and the mind also needs toughening.
The experience of life and football helps maturity and Clifford seems to be getting there via the fast lane. If Kerry could go to war with Clifford, Paul Geaney and a fit James O'Donoghue in the full-forward line then most teams would need more than one sweeper. They would have to have a Dyson and a Hoover.
At least we could expect Kerry to get the ball in quickly. Most teams have at least one good forward but unless the perfect pass is on the ball is hardly ever kicked; it is recycled for another 45 hand passes before there is forward momentum. The position of corner-forward probably illustrates better than anything else how football has changed. In the past, the idea was always to isolate the best forward against a weak back and the ball was let fly in to that player. The inside man only had to win one out of every three balls in to him to cause mayhem.
Now corner-forwards rarely get a ball kicked in to them unless they are from Dublin. And they have to cope with multiple sweepers. The result is that many have now stopped making runs when the ball is around the middle of the field because there is no point in wasting energy on a futile cause. So, most of the time, the corner-forward stands and waits, and waits. Next year the GAA should supply corner-forwards with tight-fitting jackets for the early rounds of the league before some of this delicate breed end up with pneumonia.
In their win over Mayo, Galway's forwards could have said at least three Hail Marys when possession was won around midfield before there was any chance of seeing the ball. Needs must says Kevin Walsh.
Galway have made four changes today from that win, which means either the wrong team was picked or the subs are pushing hard in training for a place in the team.
There was a marked difference between the Tyrone-Monaghan match and Galway and Mayo. In Castlebar, the style of play was dreadful but the standard of basic football skill was also very low. In the match in Omagh the type of football was rotten but there was far more quality evident in every aspect of the game. The most obvious being the shooting. The standard of long-range point scoring by Tyrone and Monaghan was exceptional and the number of wides was incredibly low, considering the pressure being exerted on the kicker almost all the time.
Conor McManus best exemplified this. He was being suffocated in the corner but he had the wit and skill to drift out in the last 10 minutes and make a couple of huge contributions
Just in case he is wondering, he won't get any more space today either. Fermanagh are one of the county teams everyone hates to play against. Everyone knows that sort at club level. Fermanagh have their own style which is certainly more Tyrone than Dublin - swashbuckling they are not. They will stop first and play second.
Still, the win over Armagh was fantastic and the spirit in the squad meant the game was played entirely on Fermanagh's terms. That is their goal again today. They will work hard, hope to frustrate and wear Monaghan down mentally. That is not normally a weakness in Monaghan, even if they have to fight for every crumb to get over the line.
If Monaghan are in danger of being swamped by Fermanagh's manic enthusiasm then Galway should not sleep soundly. Sligo are team made more for the championship than the league, as the firm ground and heat will suit their young team better. Heat and firm going often sorts out the men from the shapers very quick. Weak players mentally can't cope with a boiling hot sun on their back and a good forward will force them to the limit early. A bit of thickness is no harm either. If you want to overcome your marker badly enough then it will work out that way, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Whoever got the contract in Pearse Stadium in Galway last Sunday for the supply of sand did all right out of it and it either made a hole in the Sahara or on the beach in Salthill. Anyway, Galway should be able to send out a signal today of what they are about. Can Galway seize the torch from Mayo and become a contender? I will remain with the apostle Thomas, for now.
Naturally, most people will feel that Kerry are the team who will push Dublin off their perch, whether it is now or in 10 years' time. Yet the cavalry from the successful minor teams are not ready at the moment and Clare are a better team than most give them credit for. They were right in the mix for promotion to the top division this year and will provide stiff opposition today. But again we are looking to see if Kerry can unleash some new warriors who will breathe fire in Croke Park.
The big concern, if the big three today don't show something, is that the Super 8s become a damp squib. We live in hope.
Sunday Indo Sport