LEADING to up last weekend we trawled through national league preview after preview for both football and hurling and each one followed some form of the argument that new championship structures/ league timing issues were making the competition irrelevant or impossible to know how seriously it should be taken.
The temptation was strong to pay little attention to games.
And then, well, it happened. You know those Match of the Day nights where there were loads of decent games on and you haven’t already seen the action during the day?
League Sunday felt a little like that as there were stories and scores and players that needed noting and every time we turned on the radio over Saturday evening and Sunday it was hard to escape the sense of excitement.
Over ten thousand people invaded Killarney for a look at Kerry’s latest plan to catch the Dubs.
Anyone who walked down the hill towards the Páirc for the first night game would tell you of the buzz of anticipation.
It’s hard enough to make a case for nobody caring about a league when it gets so many people out and interested and it may be that we need to enjoy these sort of days and nights rather than write them off.
Anwyay, there were pointers for the year ahead already.
If the limitations of overly focusing on just locking games down with mass defences have been remarked on by many even this past few weeks (Declan Bonner, Sean Cavanagh just for starters and Eamonn Fitzmaurice has commented on the mistake of thinking too defensive v Mayo last August), then it seems teams may overcompensate this year.
Kerry got caught for three goals by Donegal – for goal two they were caught two-v-one in on goals, for goal three they were caught with a long ball in behind a full-back left one-v-one in front of goal. Donegal gave up 2-16 themselves. Dublin and Kildare shared an awful lot of scores and could have had more.
Cork and Tipp had seventeen and nineteen scores each and it was noticeable how Cork were able to open goal chances with hard running into spaces and Tipp were able to catch Cork short for numbers in the full-back line.
It seems defenders will be asked to do a lot more one-v-one defending this year and if teams like Dublin and Mayo and Slaughtneil at club level are praised for defending bravely and trusting their defenders in these positions, there’s a balance to be found between being brave and leaving defenders isolated in space against the best forwards - it’s rare enough for example that Dublin get caught short at the back for all their attacking.
If football teams are concentrating on getting numbers forward there will be a lot of counties searching for their best manmarkers to leave back to mind the house.
It happens every now and again that an individual just dominates a position so much that it kind of changes the perception of what a player in that position can do.
The role of a midfielder hasn’t particularly settled in recent years with the transition from the traditional fetcher kickouts moving through an attacking player like Sean Cavanagh to athletic runners and back a little to dominating presences there again like a Neil Gallagher or Anthony Maher.
The mark last year brought around the idea of a player in centre-field who could pluck four or five clean balls from restarts and control aspects of a game.
And yet Brian Fenton’s performance against Kildare last weekend was so dynamic and forceful and outstanding in all aspects of the game – 1-3 from play, constant ability to beat a player and open defences, ball-winning as well – that it set a template to redefine what a top midfielder could look like.
Fenton was simply awesome and could well go onto another level this year after his one season where he didn’t win an All-Star last time.
At one stage of the Cork game Saturday evening a Tipp defender lobbed what looked like a harmless enough kickpass across his goal but if he’d taken note of Sean Powter’s location what seemed like a safe distance away he probably hadn’t accounted for his powers of acceleration; Powter turned on the turbo boost and the stadium made a collective breath intake as he got a fist to the ball and punched slightly over the bar.
That’s the effect of pure unstoppable speed on an opposition and the crowd.
A Cork player chasing after Michael Quinlivan later in the game got left for dead.
Ruairi Deane absolutely blew a hole in the Tipp defence for Colm O’Neill’s goal by running hard and fast and Ian Maguire’s got that burst to leave a marker in the first 5-10 yards.
That’s just from one game but when you think of point one above, the very last thing that any defenders wants to face with thirty yards of grass either side is proper pace.
Kerry football has seen most things over the years and still, there’s something different in the reaction to David Clifford this past eighteen months or so and there was something different in the genuine excitement last weekend to get a sight of him at senior level and even if everyone was falling over themselves to say nobody should expect too much everybody still wanted to spot even a little moment of magic.
If anything it was a reasonably ordinary debut and that’ll be enough for now, especially with Sean O’Se raising hopes elsewhere.
Kerry are buzzing for now.
Cork’s injection of new energy and legs won’t be quite as dramatic immediately but they’ll hope to have its own effect.
Even Jim Gavin knew the benefit of throwing a few new faces in to keep the squad on their toes and as an aside, keep the fans interested.
Yeah, we’ll take a boring league weekend like that opener for the spring.