Tuesday, May 16, 2017

2017 Football Championship Preview

To consider this year’s football Championship is to long for the open competition of the Big Four era four or five years ago. The truth of the 2017 Championship is that there is Dublin, and there is the rest.

The Champions reign far above anybody else in the firmament and no circumstance can be imagined in which any path to glory can bypass them.

Kerry’s recent win over Dublin in the National League Final suggests that Dublin’s great historical rival may be on the way back, but being on the way and having arrived are two different things.

Kerry are the aristocrats of football – how could they not be? – and that made the artisanal nature of their game against Dublin so strange. One does not expect to see royalty with the shirt off, down in a hole, digging, but that’s exactly what Kerry did to do something, anything, to keep up with Dublin.

And more luck to them. Kerry people love to talk about beautiful football but that’s just blather for the tourists on the jaunting cars around Killarney. Kerry know that the only beauty is in winning, and whether that winning is done with the rapier or the broadsword is very much a secondary detail.

If Kerry and Dublin win Munster and Leinster – and goodness, what a shock it would be if they didn’t – they are not due to meet until the final and such a final would be a game everybody in the country could look forward to. But the chances of Kerry putting another one over on Dublin are slim.

A rare sight in contemporary football was to be seen in the League Final as Dublin’s Cian O’Sullivan, emperor of the Dublin defence, was utterly unable to figure out just what was going on. Kerry had found a way to get past him and for once O’Sullivan had little impact on a game. But what will Kerry do the next time, now O’Sullivan and Dublin are forewarned?

Jim Gavin gets insufficient credit for his tactical nous – Dublin have so many players the idea exists that all a manager has to do is roll them a ball and let them get on with it. But Gavin proved his worth in the All-Ireland replay. Gavin made three tactical changes for the replay, all of which worked. His opposite number made only one, and that blew up in Stephen Rochford’s face. Game, set and match, Gavin.

While Kerry are not in Dublin’s league, is anyone else in Kerry’s? It’s a hard case to make. For a time, it looked like Mickey Harte was about to do what only Seán Boylan has done, and build All-Ireland teams from two different generations. Tyrone faced Kerry in the 2015 semi-final and it is a fact that the Kerrymen were scared of a Tyrone returned to their opening-years-of-the-century glory – you could sense the fear in the players before the game, and the sheer relief afterwards among the Kerry support.

But the new model Tyrone lack the score-taking ability of their forebears and you can’t win games of Gaelic football if you can’t take your scores.

Donegal are still a threat, but that threat is lessening. There are hints of trouble in the camp and, while Michael Murphy is the best pound-for-pound footballer in Ireland, we are reminded of the remarks of Doctor Henry “Indiana” Jones, Junior, to Marian Ravenwood in their desperate flight from Egypt aboard the good ship Batu Wind – it ain’t the years, honey, it’s the mileage.

Galway were impressive in their win over Kildare in the National League Division 2 Final. They have forwards with that little bit of cut about them, and the day when Galway were too posh to press in defence are long gone. It’s been a long, long time since anyone outside the top flight won the All-Ireland however, and it’s hard to see Galway doing it this year for that reason. Seasoning counts in modern football.

For those who enjoy a longshot bet, I would consider Monaghan at 40/1. Galway are a shorter price even though Monaghan are now veterans of Division 1 and Galway haven’t played in the top league in years – this is the benefit of being glamorous, which Monaghan never have been. But if Sam is to go further than Dublin – and it’d be a really big surprise if he does – Monaghan at 40/1 looks the value bet to me.

Mayo? Tomorrow, friends, tomorrow. What’s one more day in a sixty-six year wait?