ON Leeside the football focus has very much centred around Cork’s campaign in Division 2 South of the National Football League, but a quick look at how the rest of the National Football League has panned out would indicate that there are many counties in extremely good health facing into the championship at this juncture.
It came as absolutely no surprise to anyone that the most competitive of the Division 1’s turned out to be Division 1 North.
None of the four teams managed to win even two games in the mini league, while no one lost every game either.
Half the games ended in draws, while Tyrone’s five-point win over Armagh proved to be the biggest winning margin, as Donegal topped it with a two-point win over Tyrone and two draws from their three games being enough to scrape top spot.
Division 1 South was all too predictable, with All-Ireland Champions Dublin and Kerry both finishing on five points, and there was no surprise that the pair couldn’t be separated in Thurles in Round 2.
The league semi-final pairings next weekend in Division 1 are likely to be fascinating, as Donegal will really fancy their chances of rattling Dublin this early in the year, while whenever Kerry and Tyrone lock horns you are always guaranteed fireworks.
Dublin’s year will obviously be defined by whether or not they achieve the seven-in-a-row, but even chugging along in third gear in the league, and being absent key players like Stephen Cluxton and Dean Rock, they are a formidable force.
They can change managers, they can lose generational players of the calibre of Diarmuid Connolly, Jack McCaffrey and Bernard Brogan, yet the team does not seem to miss a beat. Newcomers like Michael Shiel, Sean McMahon, Aaron Byrne, Peadar O Cofaigh Byrne and Tom Lahiff have been dropped into the set-up, and already the signs are that the new brigade have bought into the culture of the side, meaning the team can continue to regenerate itself regardless of how many ‘legends’ are lost to injury, poor form or Fr. Time.
Of course, it helps that full forward Con O’Callaghan is virtually unplayable at the moment, going by the 3-4 he bagged against Kerry and Galway, while Cormac Costello and Ciaran Kilkenny are both displaying All Star form already.
Everyone is expecting a Dublin v Kerry clash later on in the year, and down in the Kingdom they are particularly ravenous for such an opportunity, given they were denied the chance to stop the Dubs last year due to Mark Keane’s last second heroics in the Munster Semi-Final.
Galway took the brunt of this built-up frustration in Round 1, as Kerry unleashed six months of pent-up anger when dishing out a 4-21 to 0-11 hiding to the Tribesmen in Tralee.
David Clifford virtually beat Galway on his own, with his 3-6 haul easily surpassing what the entire Galway side managed over the 70 minutes, but the contributions of his brother Paudie, who himself bagged 1-2, Sean O’Shea 0-7 and Killian Spillane 0-4, were also eye catching.
Diarmuid O’Connor only came off the bench in that opening game, but he had a big game against the Dubs in Round 2, scoring two points from midfield, and he kicked a crucial three points against Roscommon in Round 3.
If Kerry are to threaten Dublin’s recent championship monopoly then you feel that the Na Gaeil youngster has to fulfil on his underage promise.
Mayo may have been hidden away in Division 2 North, but they did what they had to do, winning all three games, accumulating a points differential of +24 in doing so.
Right now Mayo, along with the four semi-finalists to win Division 1 outright, seem to be the only true contenders for Sam Maguire glory later in the year.
Cork might take note of the fact that the team that pushed James Horan’s men the closest this year was Westmeath, as they only lost their Round 2 encounter by three points.
Westmeath actually lost all three of their matches, hence why they are in a relegation play-off next weekend against the Rebels, but it is worth noting that they only lost the other two games by one-point margins, so they have been competitive in every single game.
Ronan McCarthy’s side better be warned.
Meath and Kildare are both making pushes to get back up to Division 1, but in truth both are miles off making Leinster a competitive province at present.
Baby steps though. If the winner of their promotional semi-final clash can survive a few years in Division 1 then they may be in a position to challenge Dublin then.
Clare continue to be an excellent league side, in recent times, and should they surprise Mayo then their meteoric rise from Division 4 football back in 2014 to knocking heads with the likes of Dublin and Kerry in Division 1 would be complete.
As early season GAA goodwill stories go this would certainly be an excellent one.