Wednesday 17 January 2018

League Lessons

After being hammered in the Championship in successive years, Pat Gilroy has built Dublin's league campaign this year on the foundation of defence.
After being hammered in the Championship in successive years, Pat Gilroy has built Dublin's league campaign this year on the foundation of defence.
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Don't weep for

Kerry just yet

Killarney was at its majestic best on Sunday last where Kerry secured their Division 1 status with ease. There were glimpses -- just glimpses mind -- of the movement and control that brought them title No 36 in two months of near perfection late last summer.

The exodus is not as bad as it looks, neither was the 4:3 ratio of defeats to victories: goalkeeper Brendan Kealy has established himself as a safe pair of hands; Seamus Scanlon has grown in stature to offset any midfield deficit left by Darragh O Se's departure; Kieran Donaghy's sharpness and energy was a feature of the league and Mike McCarthy has now reversed initial fears that he had retired.

Plenty of young guns have their hands up for active service. Above everything else the pressure is essentially off them and stacking up on Cork. Not the landscape they feared two months back.

beginning of the end for Tyrone as we know them

Tyrone will be back. We know that much. Mickey Harte has boldly declared that much. They're simply too good to stay down for long. They may even win another Ulster title.

But the team, as we know them, are slipping. Too many limbs are creaking in vital parts of the field. Their beating heart, Brian Dooher, faces an uncertain future.

We hate writing them off because they have a habit of biting back. But as Division 1 status is something they have always taken so seriously during Mickey Harte's reign, the fact that they lost it is evidence of natural erosion.

Dublin have a plan

Pat Gilroy has ripped up the script and sought a different way. He will build his teams from the back and work progressively from that base. Defence is paramount, attack will eventually rest with the Brogans.

A system has been developed, it's just a matter of choosing the right personnel to fill the roles. David Henry and Alan Hubbard, corner-backs of yore, have started all seven league games in attack with the imprimatur to defend.

It may not be pretty but by and large it has worked. Only once were they torn apart (by Cork) and their record of concession, (7-72) is matched only by Mayo (5-78) in the top flight.

Kildare are holding something in reserve

Their supporters will have to trust that Kieran McGeeney has something up his sleeve. Do the same thing and you'll get the same results their manager says.

So Kildare have tailored their training to the detriment of league results. That's the theory and that's the reality of how the campaign worked out.

They won the games they'd be expected to but lost the major battles. The expectation was that they would kick on in this league but they showed nothing to suggest they will. With a full team at the right pitch a Leinster title at least can still be theirs. That's where the great gamble is pointing to.

Galvin is a marked man

Normal service resumed for Paul Galvin in Killarney last Sunday. Two months off due to suspension left him in good shape and his football, for the most part, was in perfect nick.

Three first-half points were overshadowed by the sublimity of his vision and general awareness of what was going on around him. But the impact he has on opponents is best underlined by the close up photographs from the game.

Rory Woods picked up a second yellow card for catching his face with an open hand, Dick Clerkin also 'handed' him off in a separate incident. A different dynamic exists between Galvin and opponents who are constantly tempted by the prospect of winding him up. That's the challenge he will face for the rest of his career.

Galway's defensive holes

They improved as the campaign went on and that's a sure sign that they at least addressed the issue.

But, at one stage, Galway's defensive record was so poor only London and Kilkenny had shipped more than them. The concession of 8-104 is worse than the three teams below them in the division with only Westmeath leaking more in the next division down.

Making themselves less vulnerable will be Joe Kernan's priority in the coming months.

Munster's move

A rising tide lifts all boats then. In any football order of merit Kerry and Cork occupy the top two places. But, beneath them, others in the province are stirring. Tipperary may have been relegated but they went down with some honour having taken the provincial U-21 title two weeks ago.

From a long way off it was apparent that the two promoted teams from Division 4 would be from the southern province.

Leinster's malaise

Not one Leinster team in any of the four finals for the second successive year. That tells its own sorry story.

The difference Martin Clarke makes

It didn't take long for Clarke to make an impact on his return from three years in the AFL. In fact he has positively transformed a Down football team that lost to Fermanagh and Wicklow in last year's championship. Somehow we can't see that happening again. Clarke hasn't lost his prodigious talent for the game and orchestrated most of Down's six league wins. His brother John has also benefited from his return and their attack is now one to fear. Promotion to Division 1 was achieved with ease.

New playing rules lead to more scores

It's the only conclusion to be drawn from the Division 1 scoring stats at least. Each side in the top flight scored an average of 12.25 more points in the campaign than the eight Division 1 teams in 2009 (cumulatively 'score for' was 884 points compared to 785 last year).

The mark, the greater proximity of the penalty spot and the modification of the square ball rule all had to have contributed to that. Averages weren't as high in other divisions, a consequence of dropping standards.

Irish Independent

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