Big guns silent as Tyrone fire
National Football League form is often taken as a barometer for the All-Ireland championship series.
Teams which show consistency in the league find that the odds on them making significant progress at championship level can be slashed considerably.
Yet the current league competition has been remarkable to date for what can only be described as a litany of bizarre results, particularly in Division One.
It was being confidently predicted at the outset of the competition that reigning titleholders Cork would be difficult to separate from their trophy, that Dublin would carry on from where they left off in last year’s All-Ireland final and that Ulster champions Donegal would blossom in the top bracket having gained promotion last year.
But things have not quite worked out that way. Cork may still be in the frame for a semi-final place of course but their form has been anything but convincing and you won’t hear of them being spoken about as potential favourites for the All-Ireland title despite their impressive track record spanning the past two years.
They were held to a draw by Armagh in the league and then beaten by Donegal yet they managed to destroy Down who in turn were able to get the better of Dublin.
Indeed, the Dubs have been something of an enigma in the league.
They demolished Armagh, then beat Donegal but that loss against Down was compounded by a hammering at the hands of Mayo last Saturday that underlined the problems which manager Pat Gilroy faces as his side prepare to embark on their bid to retain the Sam Maguire Cup.
And not the least of Gilroy’s problems is discipline.
His team has incurred seven red cards over the course of the league which hints at a lack of temperament.
Certainly there is not the cohesion and authority to Dublin’s play that were so manifest last year when they ended their 16-year All-Ireland title famine.
Dublin would appear to have some way to go if they are to enter the frame as potential All-Ireland champions and the outcome of their game against Cork on Sunday will be awaited with considerable interest.
Kerry of course sit at the top of the Division One table and although they have been missing some regulars manager Jack O’Connor has introduced new faces who have made the most of their chance to impress him.
The Kingdom’s fortunes are in contrast to those of Donegal. Not only are Jim McGuinness’s side confronted by the prospect of relegation but they will be without their brightest star Michael Murphy for Sunday’s do-or-die test against fellow-strugglers Armagh.
The Ulster champions have been unable to find any level of consistency in the league and indeed it’s old hands such as Murphy, Colm McFadden, Karl Lacey, Neil McGee, Neil Gallagher and Rory Kavanagh who have been helping to keep them afloat rather than inspirational contributions from the younger brigade. Armagh meanwhile have been desperately unfortunate with injuries and this plus the unavailability of their Crossmaglen contingent as well as Steven McDonnell’s decision to enjoy a sabbatical has also robbed them of key assets.
Yet when they drew with Cork in their opening game and then beat Kerry in Tralee the notion that something spectacular was about to unfold began to form.
But the Orchard County were brought down to unearth by successive losses to Dublin, Mayo and Laois before rediscovering a modicum of pride in winning against Down.
Now they must face Donegal but they have been boosted by the fact that Ciaran McKeever has been cleared to play now that the Central Competitions Control Committee has indicated that he has no charges to face. And manager O'Rourke will be further encouraged that at least some Crossmaglen players appear to have made themselves available for Sunday's all-important game.
If consistency is lacking in Division One, then Tyrone and Fermanagh can supply it in spades elsewhere.
Tyrone have glided through Division Two and are already assured of promotion after six straight wins while Fermanagh need only a point from their visit to Carlow on Sunday to assure them of taking the step from Division Four to Division Three next term.
Mickey Harte’s team are playing with considerable verve and confidence right now and it would be extremely foolish to exclude them from the All-Ireland final equation. Harte has rich selection options and has already inculcated a hunger within his side which is almost frightening in its intensity.
And Fermanagh boss Peter Canavan is following in the footsteps of his mentor Harte.
His steely approach has ensured that Fermanagh have improved their fitness levels and sharpened their mental approach — so much so indeed that they are unbeaten after six games and look a safe bet to be playing in Division Three next year.
This time last year Fermanagh were in a right mess — today they are not only contemplating promotion but are looking forward to the Ulster championship clash with Down in Brewster Park, Enniskillen.
Now that should be a tasty contest!