Saturday 24 March 2018

Tomás Ó Sé: Rory’s story makes for best reading but chasing pack have loads of work to do

Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone haven't shown anything in this league to keep Jim Gavin up at night

Ryan McHugh in action and (inset) Jim Gavin and Rory Gallagher
Ryan McHugh in action and (inset) Jim Gavin and Rory Gallagher
Michael Murphy in action. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Tomás Ó Sé

The league is almost done. Things are starting to take shape and we've a better idea of what might happen later in the summer. 

And for the chasing pack, that's the problem.

Ask yourself. What do we know now that we didn't before the start of the league? 

Not much.

We know Dublin are dominant but we knew that before a ball was kicked in the league. But we were looking for signs from the rest that a surge would come from somewhere. That something would stir and the gap would close. 

Can any of the main contenders say they have done that in the league? I don't think they can. If anything, the gap is wider.

Probably only Donegal have made strides from where they were expected to be. They lost so many of their old warriors the thinking was that those older lads got their All-Ireland, and their moving on meant Donegal would go away for a while.

I saw our Marc writing as much a few weeks ago; he said they were gone and had been for a couple of years. 

But they've been brilliant in the league. They lost to Kerry in the first round but have been unbeaten in five from there. Rory Gallagher has some lovely footballers that he's obviously been coaxing along quietly in the background.

Ciarán Kilkenny in action for Dublin against Donegal’s Anthony Thompson, at Croke Park on Saturday night. Photo: Sportsfile

That Ciarán Thompson (above) is a classy boy. Cian Mulligan is good, Eoin Bán Gallagher too. They still have an experienced core there with Paddy McGrath and Neil McGee. Ryan and Eoin McHugh are very good ball players.

Fearless And, of course, they have Michael Murphy. If there was a transfer market I'd set himself (or possibly Brian Fenton) up in Ceann Trá and send him into Eamonn in Killarney for training.  

So Rory's report card reads well. They have real experience and talented, fearless young fellas. And another thing they have is the ability to kick points from distance. Any team that beats Dublin is going to need that. That way you can draw them out and maybe get an extra yard inside.

Now transferring that form into championship is a different thing. And Ulster is a particularly long haul. No matter the standard, it's always very competitive. But I'd imagine Donegal are pretty happy with how things have gone for them lately.

Will anyone else bounce into championship? I'm not sure they will. Kerry were at their best against Dublin. And that's both encouraging and annoying at the same time. Raising your game for Dublin is grand but why can't we be more ruthless? Why didn't we see that game against Dublin out?

If we had, I'm sure we'd have won in Cavan. Would Dublin have ever coughed up the ball we did late on? Not a chance. Had we enough in the forwards to cause Dublin problems. With the exception of Paul Geaney, I don't think so. 

I watched the Kerry 21s in Páirc Uí Rinn on Wednesday. They played with a swagger and a boldness that the seniors are missing. Now I know they are the top-ranked team in their grade and our seniors aren't. But I like that they played like they owned the place and the scoreboard reflected that.

A fella who is a smart type told me after the game that the most important team in Kerry right now is the U-21s. I can see his point. Kerry won U-21 All-Irelands in 1995, 1996, 1998 and lost another final in 1999 and that proved the core of the team of the 2000s. There's no doubt bringing those lads through is vital for our future. 

But Jesus, it's this year I'm more interested in. You don't wait for the worm to turn, you have to make it turn.

And in the same way Kerry will raise their game for Dublin, Cork will raise it for Kerry. But like Kerry and Dublin, Cork won't go and take the final step and actually beat Kerry. 

I took a bit of flak a couple of years ago for suggesting they lack leaders but there's something not right there. Now, Cork might have been expected to have too much for Division 2 but going into the last round, they are out of the promotion picture.

I don't know whether the problem is the players or the managers or the training. It might be a mix of all three. The Cork public aren't backing them either, judging by their attendances and that doesn't help when a team is struggling for traction.

But what I do know is that they are better than they are showing.

I've been around Cork football enough now to know they shouldn't be coughing up nine-point leads at home to Meath. 

Kildare have done well to get up out of Division 2. Meath and Galway will battle it out for the last promotion spot but whoever comes up it means little for the big picture. I don't think I'm being overly harsh when I say that none of those teams would lace the boots of the top four.

So we're back with the old reliables if we're going to see a changing of the guard. Kerry haven't done enough in this league to suggest they are better than they were 12 months ago. And that sense of stagnation has people frustrated down here. 

I look at Mayo and I still have faith in them. I'd fear for Kerry a little if they met in the Connacht-Munster All-Ireland semi-final because Mayo have the tools to rattle us. But I feel I'm part of a dwindling number of people who still think they have a chance to go all the way. 

Every year there are theories on what they need to do to get over the line. Some people reckoned they needed to go all out to win this league. I don't buy that for a second. It's a championship or bust for those lads. 

Aidan O’Shea's return may be delayed. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

We haven't seen much of Aidan O'Shea (above) so far this year and he'll be a help when he's back at full speed but Mayo need a big year from him. Either he starts delivering regularly or they should leave him on the line. When you get talked about as a big player, those are the stakes.

Roscommon seemed to be a team going places but it looks like they have gotten in their own way. Kevin McStay is a shrewd man and won his club All-Ireland but there's a problem there somewhere. They need to be all pulling together and looking in it looks like that's not happening. They've a good chance of getting to a Connacht final with the draw but they really should be better than they are showing.

choke Tyrone are the other big contender. And the more I see of them the more I think the balance of the team is wrong. They can defend alright. They'll choke the life out of most teams no problem. But their problem is at the other end. They've scored one goal in their six league matches so far and managed just 12 points in the defeat to Mayo. That's not championship-winning stuff.

Look, the likes of Tyrone, Mayo and Kerry will be better in the summer than they are now. And yes on a given day of course one of them are capable of taking out Dublin. But none of them can claim to have shown us anything radically different.

Whereas Dublin gave a load of young lads experience and then Paul Flynn - a veteran of the side - was tearing around the place like a cub against Roscommon. Bernard Brogan's ball-winning ability caught my eye too. They won't be giving up their jerseys too easily, despite what people might have thought towards the end of the championship last year.

I'd love to go to one of their training games in the summer. I'd say they'll be turning each other upside down for places. That'll insulate them against any laziness. Come the championship, the rest will have to take a chance and try something new either tactically or through different personnel. 

Because right now, with the league almost over, there's nothing keeping Jim Gavin awake at night.

Irish Independent

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