Wednesday 24 January 2018

Eoin Liston: Be fair and make the big boys play away from home

Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

As a Kerryman, it is easy for me to say that it has been a satisfying opening to the championship season. Two comfortable wins to build confidence, a place in the Munster final confirmed before the first Sunday of June, and plenty of room for improvement ahead of the bigger tests that lie ahead.

But, as a GAA man, the reality is different. So far, the provincial championships have been dominated by ruthless beatings inflicted by the big boys on teams from lower divisions.

Kerry have won their two games by a combined total of 43 points. Last weekend, Cork annihilated Limerick by 18 points.

Dublin opened their campaign with a 16-point drubbing of Westmeath. Even in Connacht, the traditional clash of the big two – Mayo and Galway – was a one-sided 17-point romp for last year's All-Ireland finalists.

Westmeath will ply their trade in Division 1 next season, but the gulf between the top of the first and second tiers of the league was blatantly obvious on Saturday. I don't know what the answer is but I do think the time has come for this to be addressed.

It is no good for anybody to be involved in such one-sided – and virtually meaningless – games. Perhaps the venues could be looked at.

Why is it that, no matter what, Dublin play all their championship games in Croke Park? I don't care what people say, it is an advantage.

Crowds are falling all the time, so there is no real reason to justify it in the earlier rounds at least. What was to stop their game with the Lakesiders being played in Mullingar?

Or why didn't they send Kerry to play Waterford in Dungarvan? It may not alter who wins these games, but it would give smaller counties a boost if they know they have a home crowd behind them and they are getting the chance to play one of the big boys on their own patch.

Benny Coulter has joined the chorus calling for an overhaul of the championship system, and I am inclined to agree with him. The appetite is also there among the players for change.

Even forgetting the results, the basic structuring of the current format is not efficient. Dublin and Kildare will play their Leinster semi-final in four weeks. Why is the gap so long?

Kerry played two games in six days and now will wait five weeks until the Munster final. It does give their manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice time to iron out a few issues, however.

It may seem a strange thing to say, but Kerry's performance was very much a mixed bag. They started well in the first quarter but Waterford outscored them by 0-3 to 0-2 in the 20 minutes before half-time.

In that opening 35 minutes, we coughed up 10 turnovers – simply not good enough. I spoke about the requirement to up the intensity, but the players didn't start out that way.

Waterford, to their credit, flooded 13 men behind the ball at times and made life difficult. But that shouldn't have created problems for a team with aspirations of winning an All-Ireland.

At times, when Kerry's defenders pushed up with their men, it reaped rewards. Fionn Fitzgerald, Peter Crowley and the O Se brothers all scored. But sometimes, when Waterford's forwards retreated into defence, it left four or five Kerry players sitting idle inside their own half.

OPTIONS

I really feel that the half-backs, in particular, could move further up the field when such situations arise as it gives more options with possession, and it is easier to prevent quick counter-attacks without it. It must be added, though, that the football was at times breathtaking after the interval.

The long passing, the clinical shooting and the movement at pace was a joy to behold and it only took 10 minutes to put the game to bed. The forwards also worked very hard without the ball. This is what needs to be done for the entirety of every game.

Dublin managed to do that against Westmeath. From start to finish they played at a hundred miles an hour, moving off one another and delivering good, quick ball.

The variety was in their play, but the key to this was when it was necessary to use the short game, it was done exceptionally well.

But, interestingly, they didn't dominate at midfield. Michael Darragh Macauley has the potential to be a phenomenal operator and, with him going well, Dublin are a different team. But he only showed glimpses of what he is truly capable of.

The Dubs are many people's favourites for the All-Ireland, and Saturday did nothing to change that. I tipped Kerry from the start, and I will stand over it, but they will need to take it up a notch.

Irish Independent

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