Tomas O'Sé exclusive column: 10 things I want to see in this year's Championship
My brother, Darragh, has warned me about the shock to the system it will be – going to matches this year outside the cocoon of the Kerry team.
For 17 years, I became kind of institutionalised into having nothing to do but present myself on the bus at an allotted time.
That's the biggest change I'm finding already. Being in charge of my own time-keeping and the simple logistics of going to a game as an individual. What time do I need to leave the house? Where do I park the car? What stadium entrance do I need to go to?
In my Kerry career, I was suspended for the Meath game in '01 and the Down game in '10, but I was still part of the group. Still travelled on the bus, still took my place in the dressing-room.
So, I'm wary of the change, but also hugely excited about the football year ahead.
Here are 10 things I'm most looking forward to.
1 Watching how Dublin's opponents work on figuring out Stephen Cluxton.
No single player exerts more influence on the game today and the key to breaking Dublin, I believe, is in cracking Cluxton's kick-outs. In Kerry we spent long hours at it and succeeded a good few times. But it's something you've got to sustain for the full 70 minutes.
Mayo seemed to have him figured out in the first 15-20 minutes of last year's All-Ireland final, but were giving the ball away for fun in the second-half. Cluxton uses Michael Darragh Macauley, Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly, he uses his corner-backs.
I've never seen a fella as accurate left and right who is equally comfortable going short or long.
2 Watching how some of the young, up and coming hot-shots of the game manage to cope with the white heat of senior championship.
It's certainly not a given that fellas flying in March or April will keep that form through summer. The ones that genuinely excite me right now are Dublin's Cormac Costello, Roscommon's Diarmuid Murtagh, Cork's Brian Hurley and Donegal's Odhran MacNiallais.
Costello may have the best opportunity, given the virtual certainty that Dublin will still be around at the business-end of the season. He's a serious prospect and could be brilliant to watch, as could Hurley if Cork get a decent run.
3 Seeing Kerry's luck turn for the better as the season progresses.
Right now, Eamonn Fitzmaurice must feel as if he's driven over a dozen black cats after losing 'Gooch' for the season and, more recently, Kieran Donaghy for an unspecified spell. I know the amount of time Fitzy's putting in and it's going to be hard looking in from the outside.
No question, Kerry have been too patchy so far. I think that their middle eight need a huge year, they need to step up to the plate and start bossing games. Kerry haven't been doing that for a while. They need to be more consistent rather than just producing the odd big performance. I hope to God they get that.
4 Seeing what kind of fist Sky make of their Championship coverage.
I have mixed feelings about the deal with them and I don't care what anybody says, it is about money.
I just sense more and more commercialism creep into the GAA, yet players feel if they step sideways, they'll get a slap on the wrist.
Players know the GAA can't sustain pay-for-play, but we now have pay-per-view.
To be fair, none of the big decisions the GAA has made in recent times has been a disaster and, hopefully, this won't either. But two deals down the road, how many games will Sky have?
5 Watching the story unfold of another gripping Ulster Championship.
This is, by a distance, the toughest of all the provinces and trying to win an All-Ireland from there, must sometimes feel like trying to climb Everest.
For the likes of Tyrone or Down to be Ulster champions this year, they have to win four serious battles. I admire the hardness of Ulster and I honestly think that Monaghan might well win it again. I reckon they're the most physical team in the country now.
6 Monitoring how the black cards work.
I just hope there are no issues with them and that referees use their common sense. Cynical play is cynical play, no matter where it happens, so there must be consistency with how the rule is applied.
That said, I don't want a situation where a fella is afraid to go in with a genuine shoulder in case he gets it a millisecond wrong. When I was playing, there were two or three refs you could really trust.
They knew the fellas who were dirty and those who weren't and would give a fella the benefit of the doubt based on that. I know they argue there must be black and white interpretation of the rules, but a bit of cop-on goes a long way too.
7 Seeing someone step beyond the Dublin hype to give them a genuine stress-test.
I just hope that the likes of Kerry, Cork, Mayo, Donegal, Tyrone and Monaghan can put it up to them.
You'd hate to think too big a gap was opening between Dublin and the rest, but that was the impression left by the league.
There's no doubt they're playing out of their skins and Jim Gavin is crossing all the 'T's, dotting all the 'I's. If they're to be caught, it will have to be at the quarter or semi-final stage. Because if the Dubs make it to the final, it's curtains for everybody else.
8 Waiting for someone to break the new trend of open, attacking football.
The league was terrific with its high-scoring games and generally entertaining football.
Hopefully, the championship will follow suit. But I have a hunch that someone is going to try a return to the blanket defence.
Why? Because I don't know if there's a team in the country that can put it up to Dublin in terms of football. You have to have a plan. Unless you play defensively, can you actually beat them?
9 Seeing someone step into the huge void left by 'Gooch' Cooper.
Someone has to because the game needs players like Gooch.
I played with him for 12 years and he's the greatest forward I've ever seen in my life. Bearing in mind I played with Maurice Fitzgerald, too, I don't say that lightly. But Gooch is just on a different planet.
I was listening to a programme on Radio Kerry recently and a lad who won a raffle had a choice of two prizes. He could either have a weekend away in a five-star hotel or a football signed by Gooch. He took the football. Enough said.
10 Hopefully going to a Munster final between Cork and Kerry.
Historically, the two biggest games on the calendar in Kerry would be playing Cork in Munster and playing whoever showed up in an All-Ireland final. If you weren't right for those two games, you weren't worth your salt.
Páidí had a saying for it. If he was trying to figure out whether a lad was up to playing for Kerry, he'd ask: "Is he a fella for Cork?"
In other words, had he got the mettle?
As a Kerry footballer, you judged yourself on how you coped against Cork. They both still have to get to the Munster final, of course, but I think they will.
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