Friday, January 30, 2009

The phony war begins - national league preview

Q How is the national league like a prostitute?
A Because it can be anything you want it to be baby.

The national football league rolls into town this weekend amid the usual fanfare (little) even with a marquee game – Dublin/ Tyrone under lights, the uniqueness! - to announce its arrival. See, there are differing notions out there about its importance, its relevance and its standing in the grander scheme of things. Plenty decent footballing folk would have to strain a little to remember who even won the damn thing last year, or the year before, never mind explain what role it played in the 2008 footballing year as a whole. As reminder, it was Derry who lifted the trophy, but it mattered not a whit when they tumbled out of the championship later in the summer. Ditto for Donegal the previous year.

Truth is, it depends largely on your placing and how far along the path your county finds itself as to how beneficial the league can be. Will the league really open Mickey Harte’s eyes to anything new or help Tyrone cure their second-season sickness? Not likely. Will Cork learn how to kill Kerry off in Croke Park? Nope. Do Derry or Donegal (or even Fermanagh, Armagh or Monaghan) really need another successful league campaign to have a crack at Ulster? Not really. For many of the more developed sides, unearthing a new talent, filling a problem position, and avoiding any disastrous run of results would suffice. New managers could do with the confidence of a decent league but then it didn’t do Kieran McGeeney any harm at Kildare to take a few beatings in Division 1A last campaign.

That’s not to say there won’t be teams targetting the league as pretty important. For all that some would like to play down the fact, Pat Gilroy steps into a pressurised position with no experience of managing a team and with that group nearing last chance saloon territory. Gilroy could do with a few wins to get the players onside quickly, though he still won’t know till August if the breakthrough against the top sides is likely. John O’Mahony probably needs to build a structure and repair the heads of a downcast Mayo side. Jack O’Connor will surely blood some newbies down in Kerry, find positions and form for vital members of the team, as well as rebuilding any relations that might have been damaged by that book.
For this weekend, Dublin-Tyrone looks the most interesting by far, with Gilroy surely hoping to avoid being taught a lesson in football by Tyrone.

A few words on Cork (we’ll have a more detailed look after Meath on Monday). Meet the new team, same as the old team. It seems scouring the county with trials/ McGrath Cup didn’t turn up much to get excited about, with only Noel O’Donovan at full-back - an aggressive, strong, decent footballing sort - anything like new blood to run the rule over. Worries include a lack of strength in depth at midfield, and a half-forward line which mixes the unproven and the disproven. Still, the defence looks mightily strong and you’ll struggle to match that half-back line. This year’s a big one for Cork and Conor Counihan.

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