The curtain comes down on the Allianz Football League today and this means that the spotlight switches to the provincial and All-Ireland Championships.
The pandemic has played havoc with both competitions over the past two years but I discern a huge interest in this year’s All-Ireland series in particular.
There is no doubt that with spectators having been permitted to return to matches and the League having shed a new light on how things might materialise, there is a keen sense of anticipation as we await the start of what I feel will prove a fascinating Championship series.
I know this has been said prior to major competitions in seasons gone by but with Dublin’s dominance now well and truly terminated and several sides having already put their heads above the parapet as potential All-Ireland title candidates, I believe we are confronted by a very intriguing situation.
With the more fancied teams — and here we are surely looking at Kerry and Mayo — now likely to come up against a more rigorous challenge from what we might deem to be lesser sides, there is certainly scope for upsets.
And in this respect I feel that Kildare, Galway and Derry are three teams who could potentially bring a whole new dimension to the All-Ireland series. They have shown in the League that they are durable, competitive sides and I think they have the capacity to prosper.
I will go further and predict that Jimmy Hyland (Kildare), Shane Walsh (Galway) and Shane McGuigan (Derry) will help to set the Championship alight through their spectacular scoring skills.
But let’s not focus entirely on forwards. Defenders will get their place in the sun and I feel that Brendan Rogers (Derry), Aaron McKay (Armagh) and Kieran Duffy (Monaghan) can rise to the occasion.
There is no doubt that teams such as Roscommon, Louth, Limerick and indeed Cavan will have gained extra confidence over the League.
Mickey Harte, for one, will relish this with his ambitious Louth side — their ace marksman Sam Mulroy is the top hotshot on the island right now — while Roscommon boss Anthony Cunningham is hoping that Ultan Harney, Donie Smith, Conor Cox and Enda Smith can continue to turn on the style.
There is a view within the GAA that a team can embark on a consistent winning run but suddenly on the day they are caught short.
We all know that any team can have a bad day at the office in just the same way as a weaker county can rise to the challenge and perhaps get the better of one of the ‘bigger’ teams.
When that happens, most of us derive great satisfaction if only for the reason that a competition is actually shown to be competitive! Yet at the same time we have to take on board the fact that a body of teams must compete in the Tailteann Cup. This is one of the problems less successful teams must be prepared to confront yet I remain hopeful it will take on a life of its own.
I think that the Tailteann Cup could prove the springboard for some teams to reach the next level.
There is no doubt that the perceived gap between teams in Division Two and Division Three in the League has narrowed somewhat.
I advocated last weekend that the GAA should make every effort to maximise the popularity of the last round of fixtures in the Allianz League on an ongoing basis and I think some of the results and team performances last weekend underlined my viewpoint.
It’s those kind of results and similar style performances that we now want to embrace at Championship level.
I can see games becoming increasingly competitive because some teams who may have been operating on the margins are now candidates for honours.
Given what was perceived to be the inevitability surrounding Dublin’s results on an ongoing basis for many years, people are now more than happy to eagerly embrace those Championship ties that are not easy to predict.
Dublin have come back into the pack and as a result the All-Ireland Championship is not a foregone conclusion.
Tyrone threw a spanner in the works by winning the Sam Maguire last year and there is no doubt they will carry a great hunger into the major competition this year having regained confidence by maintaining their place in Division One in beating Kerry.
Who’s to say that the sides won’t meet again down the line, but here’s one for you to absorb — what about Louth v Dublin!?
It would be a case of would the last person leaving Dundalk please turn out the lights!
There has been much tampering with football playing rules of late and I am making a plea that this practice should cease.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that having talked to many people involved in our great sport — players, administrators, managers and supporters — there is a great sense of unity that the product we have now is as good as it gets, although this will not dissuade me from urging the abolition of one particular law.
And that is the offensive mark, which I feel does nothing to enhance the image of the game. I know there are people who favour its retention but I cannot understand why.
In my opinion, the time is now ripe to simplify the game further as opposed to making it more complex.
I think we should forget about rules such as that governing the offensive mark and go with what we have. There is now a real opportunity for the powers-that-be to simplify things and I think they should grasp this with enthusiasm.
I think the game should be made more painless from the point of view of players, managers, coaches, referees and fans.
Last weekend we had a couple of wrong calls in important games by whistlers highlighted on television and this does not serve to cast Gaelic football in the best possible light.
In my book, the offensive mark brings nothing whatsoever to a game. Rather than helping to exploit players’ talents, we are in fact holding them back with this particular law. Maybe other people may not see things this way but I cannot help feeling it is a deterrent rather than an advantage.
I think it’s a very one-dimensional rule and I like to think that GAA players are rather more than this. In fact they have brought fitness, stamina and application to a new level so a stop-start rule that interrupts a game is not quite what is required to allow them to maximise their talents. I believe there is pressure on those in charge to do their utmost to further facilitate players in executing their skills in what has become a great sport.
Anything that can be done which renders the playing rules less complex is to be welcomed, particularly if it happens to maintain the flow or speed up the overall pace.
It was great to see crowds flocking to the Allianz League games particularly in Ulster and hopefully these numbers will be added to when thousands more respond to the call of the Championship season.