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Three counties left in limbo and we're only in mid-February

By Declan Bogue

Any county team resumes training in October or November, with a range of targets for the year ahead in mind. The goals are invariably kept short-term and simple. Get a good pre-season under the belt. Remain injury-free as the body simultaneously winds down from the club season and gears up for a demanding county season.

See what we are like for the Dr McKenna Cup. Get four games, five games, win the thing. Whatever.

But every team, apart from perhaps Kerry in Eamonn Fitzmaurice's first few years in charge, target four points out of their first two National League games.

What it gives a team most of all is breathing space and comfort. Two wins from the opening games, before the first break in the National League, leaves a team almost safe from relegation. They then can play football with confidence and bring a bit of expression given that the chance of going down are minimised.

That's why the opening two rounds are, not only important, but essential for most teams.

In real terms, the likes of Derry, Down and Antrim are not going to win an Ulster title. The chances of any of them even putting together a run in the qualifiers has become slim given the recent back door records of these counties and how irresistible a summer playing in America has become (and yeah, if you wanna play a summer in The States, better get your skates on before The Donald gets his way with his restrictions).

They all have their problems, but none of them are seriously thinking about chasing senior honours any time this decade.

Given that county boards refuse to accept that different grades of competition - that work so well at club level - could work in county football, there is no silverware to chase.

The only tangible measure of increasing standards is the National League. This is recognised and acknowledged and, of late, being realised by the commentariat at large as providing a better spectacle than the summer Championship.

So with promotion looking unlikely for those counties, is it time to ask if - mid-February - their seasons are effectively over?

If so, time for a serious change in how we do things round here.

Belfast Telegraph


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