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League offers something Championship doesn't but there's still one issue that needs to be addressed

Ciaran Whelan


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John Small of Dublin is tackled by Colm Boyle, left, and James Carr of Mayo

John Small of Dublin is tackled by Colm Boyle, left, and James Carr of Mayo

SPORTSFILE

John Small of Dublin is tackled by Colm Boyle, left, and James Carr of Mayo

We may well be only approaching the third week of the National League but it's fair to say that its resumption has been for the large part a welcome one.

The action across the country over the past two weekends has generated a fair degree of optimism, and rightly so, about the direction in which the game is headed, particularly in terms of how teams are approaching the game.

There was a sense roughly 18 months ago that football was coming out of a recession of sorts, where the football prior to that point was heavily focussed on the defensive side of the game.

Thankfully, that feeling of positivity has been maintained over the past fortnight and as a consequence, the public have been treated to matches that are focussed on the positive elements of the game and more importantly, that are competitive in their nature.

In that sense, the league generally offers what the championship cannot, and that is a series of matches on a consistent basis that pits teams of relatively similar ability.

The league is generally a level playing field and the great thing about it is that it offers realistic goals for all the sides.

You only have to look at the results in Division 1 over the first two rounds to highlight how well matched most of these teams are, with a decent chunk of the games going right down to the wire.

Galway, for example, could very easily be sitting at the summit of the table with four points from two games and could just as easily be languishing at the bottom with no points, give or take the bounce of a ball or a contested refereeing decision.

They were probably fortunate to edge Monaghan by a point in their opening fixture while the flip side occurred in Tralee last Saturday night as they succumbed to a late Kerry sucker punch.

Indeed, Galway are an example of a team that are adopting a far more positive approach in terms of attacking play. Much of that has to do with incoming manager Padraic Joyce, who is a breath of fresh air following the more pragmatic and dour mindset of his predecessor, Kevin Walsh.

Their development shows that football is in a healthy place but as in most walks of life, it's important that we don't get carried away patting ourselves on the back too much.

There are still issues that cause me concern and that need to be addressed properly and the key worry that I would have is that there is still too much pressure placed on inter-county players at this moment in time.

In my opinion, the fixtures committee has failed to deal adequately with the current overload that these individuals face and nothing has been implemented to alleviate this burden.

This pressure has resulted in quite a number of individuals stepping away from the inter-county game, from a pastime that they love, and that is not something that the organisation should allow to happen.

Naturally, there is a balance required and that is skewed at present, with a lot of players being forced to serve too many masters.

It is a particular burden at this time of year for players in both football and hurling that are attending third level institutions as the Sigerson Cup and Fitzgibbon Cup loom large into the public consciousness.

Thankfully, that won't be an issue for too much longer this year but the point remains that too little thought and initiative is given to the players, and they are the most important element in this fixtures conundrum.

Another problem that could well ensue down the line is the effect that the new rules will have once the championship begins. I think it's fair to say that few teams, if any, have focussed too much on the attacking mark, for example, so we haven't really seen how these regulations will influence matches as the year progresses.

Details haven't really come to surface in relation to any potential tweaks that may happen to these rules but you can assume that teams will be looking to use whatever is in their armour to curb the threat of an attacking mark.

Isolating key forwards in an attacking sense or, conversely, ensuring sufficient aerial protection at the opposite end of the field will be increasingly paramount in the minds of inter-county managers as the year unfolds. But there still remains a fair degree of uncertainty as to the merits or otherwise of these rules.

Dublin haven't appeared too preoccupied with these issues in their games against Kerry and Mayo, as Dessie Farrell has looked to use the league in determining the strength and depth of his panel.

So far, the results have been encouraging, given the absence of key personnel such as Stephen Cluxton, Jack McCaffrey, Jonny Cooper and Con O'Callaghan and they'll look to continue that encouraging start when they host Monaghan tomorrow evening.

Monaghan have always been a team that has relished its encounters with the Dubs and indeed, have won their last two league matches against Dublin. They'll have little fear of taking on the All-Ireland champions in Croke Park.

They had a decent win against Tyrone last Sunday, albeit it's hard to know where Mickey Harte's team lie at present, and they are sure to give Dublin a right test that should well go down right to the wire.

Ultimately, that's what we all want to see.

Online Editors