The NFL works
IT’S BEEN a crazy league. The media do tend to get carried away with the meaning of the league, and even two losses in a row sparks headlines in the more excitable papers about teams and management being in crisis.
Perhaps it’s a knock-on effect of Sky Sports coverage, but the fact remains; it’s impossible to make sense of the top division. You can win three games, lose four, and be talked about as a basket case. On the other hand, if you win four and lose three you are in with a chance of winning it all.
Winning a couple of games early on also provides a smokescreen. After Armagh’s revival against Cork, and then their win away to Kerry, some were proclaiming the O’Rourke/Grimley axis as the canniest duo going. I wonder how they feel about those theories now?
Dublin ended up with the same points tally as Donegal, yet there was so much fault found with Donegal. It shows how everything can change.
Mayo are the most Jekyll and Hyde of teams. I saw them a few times this year and find them really hard to figure out. They were woeful against Down in Castlebar and Donegal in Ballyshannon. Then they went down to Tralee on Sunday and got a result. Where did that come out of?
Laois were relegated with a bit of a whimper, but not before they came to Letterkenny and destroyed Donegal with the power they had. The week after that, Michael Murphy comes back into the Donegal team and leads them to a win over Cork – keeping their forward line of all talents to a mere six points. Let me ask again, where did that come out of?
With Tyrone and Kildare going up for the 2013 league, I think we will definitely have the best teams in the top flight. Every so often, the GAA are tempted to take the teams and jumble them up a bit, but within three years, the cream always rises again and teams find their natural level.
With a division one encompassing Tyrone, Kildare, Dublin, Donegal, Kerry, Down, Mayo and Cork, you are looking at seven of the eight teams that were in quarter-finals of the All-Ireland race last season.
That’s seriously mouth-watering stuff, and if the league ever escapes the curious place it inhabits in people’s minds, then it could become the best competition we have, outstripping the Championship.
There’s a danger here though that the glamour and media interest in division one will begin to outshine the other divisions, similar to the way the Premiership has blocked out everything beneath it in English soccer. We need to promote all levels of the association, but is that view unrealistic?
Doing commentary for the BBC last weekend, I was thinking Armagh were going into the game as slight favourites, having all the Crossmaglen boys back, and Donegal missing Michael Murphy.
At the throw-in, Jamie Clarke and Aaron Kernan had their warm-up tops still on, seconds before the game started. When the 15 players line up for the anthem it was pretty obvious that they were going to be playing.
This was a curious plan. At the start of the week, Paddy O’Rourke said that he would be giving the Cross boys another fortnight off, before it was revealed a day or two later that a few of them had actually attended Armagh training on the Tuesday night. It is this kind of play-acting that doesn’t really give a team an advantage.
Knowing the Donegal set-up, where they have every angle covered twice over, they would have known exactly what their roles were if player X, Y and Z were starting.
I think it was a serious blunder to start the two boys. They had just come off the back of their second All-Ireland and would have spent the week relaxing and unwinding. The best way to utilise them would have been to bring them on for the last 25 minutes, when the game had opened up, and let the cheer from the crowd rouse them for the last big push.
Instead, they both started well, but in the second half they faded well. They may not be physically jaded, but there must be a psychological comedown when you go from playing with an All-Ireland winning team and you are plunged straight into a relegation dogfight.
Even for all their struggles, Jamie Clarke had a chance to nail it for Armagh towards the end.
I have to say I was amazed to hear how O’Rourke described it after the game. It wasn’t blatant, but there was some measure of criticism in his assessment of how one of the most dangerous finishers could have done better. Is there some frustration about having to cope for so long without the Cross boys seeping through?
He also made mention of wanting them back earlier, perhaps there is a thin veneer of his patience beginning to wear away. In fairness to him, it is totally understandable. Joe Kernan never had to cope without the Cross contingent the way O’Rourke has had to.
Armagh threw on their subs but got no lift. Indeed, some of the shooting was very poor.
Before this game I was thinking they were a dark horse for the Ulster Championship. Right now I look at them and think that they are severely weakened. It doesn’t look like Stevie McDonnell will be back either.
Perhaps he sees the writing on the wall.