Has removal of relegation trapdoor dulled competitive edge?
It might seem a harsh judgement on the first national league game of the year, but is the absence of relegation staining the competitive element?
Though both managers in Nowlan Park - and elsewhere - would disagree, does the lack of a trapdoor mean the mindset is slightly tainted?
Granted, this is difficult to quantify. As Brian Cody said after the game, conveying a sense to players that it doesn’t matter if they win or lose a game is an inadvisable course of action no matter what the sport or competition is, but one wonders if it’s more insidious at management level.
Today in Nowlan Park neither side made an unusually high number of substitutions, but given that there is no immediate consequence for losing a game, do managers feel, even unconsciously, that they can take a risk and throw a couple of players into games because there are no drawbacks to the team’s league status if an experiment backfires?
The sample size is still very small, and no-one is saying it’s necessarily a bad thing - but upcoming games should be interesting in terms of selection, not to mention selectorial attitude.
Are Limerick behind last year’s pace?
A softened Division 1A because the threat of relegation has been taken off the table? Rubbish, insists John Kiely.
Yesterday’s trip to the south east bridged a nine-year gap to the last time Limerick sat at the league’s top table and even though their pre-season was curtailed by a team holiday, the All-Ireland champions showed at Wexford Park that they’ve no intention of easing back into a spring which holds far less repercussion for those who finish fifth and sixth in Division 1A, than was the case in recent years, given the restructuring coming on stream in 2020.
“We are thrilled to be in 1A. We have waited a long time [to be here] and we are going to give everything we can in every single game. We won’t be holding back and all the counties are the same way," Kiely maintained.
"People are talking about a soft approach to this year’s league with no relegation. That is nonsense. Every team is going out to win their matches, to get as many competitive games as they can under their belt before summer."
The Limerick manager reckons his own crowd are “a little bit back compared to last year” given their late start to 2019, but is confident they’ll get back up to pace soon enough.
“We know we are behind the curve and we are just going to knuckle down and get on with it over the next couple of weeks. We still have plenty of time.”
Keane lifts the pressure with early marker
Kerry manager Peter Keane hardly needed a look at the calendar to recognise it’s January, but there was plenty about their performance in Killarney yesterday to indicate that the transition from old to new may not be as bumpy as first thought.
But he also knows it’s early days. With the change in management, backroom expertise, and the playing squad itself, consistency will be hard to pin down over the spring league campaign. Putting another titanic shift in at Breffni Park next Sunday is an ask in itself. The emotional charge of a first game in front of nearly 13,000 people yesterday will be difficult to repeat next week – and Dublin come to Tralee a week later.
However yesterday’s victory doesn’t just deliver a rush for the players – it takes a huge amount of pressure off them to have two early Division 1 points in the bag.
Donegal’s better spread of scorers
And that’s without Michael Murphy or Paddy McBrearty to call or rely on. It’s been a long time since Donegal have entered a game without either of them or a Colm McFadden to lead the attack – back to the days of Devenney and Sweeney, actually – but yesterday all but one of their starting players from midfield up scored, and even that exception, Ryan McHugh, carved up scoring chances with his customary industry. Clare in contrast had just two starting forwards who scored from play
Horan rebuilding Fortress Castlebar
Not long after James Horan was ratified at the beginning of last November, he spoke about the need for Mayo to address their poor home record in recent seasons at MacHale Park.
Despite reaching four All-Ireland Finals in six seasons, before last Saturday night they had won only 14 of their previous 28 National League matches in Castlebar.
The victory over Roscommon was only their fourth success in their last 11 league games on their home field.
The test for James Horan now will be repeating last Saturday night’s trick with Cavan, Galway and Monaghan all due to visit in the coming weeks and months.
Remarkably, Mayo lost all six games they played in three different competitions at MacHale Park last season.
The most costly and high-profile of them, of course, was their Connacht championship exit against Galway.
Time will tell if Horan can turn Castlebar into a fortress again.
Rules star makes his mark
Four marks Conor McManus took in yesterday’s game in Clones. A considerable amount in light of the fact he only came in the second half, though we are talking about one of the finest forwards in the county. We are also talking about arguably the best International Rules player of the last 10 to 15 years and the offensive mark is manna from heaven for him.
Along with Michael Murphy, he has been the star of the last few series where their catching ability has won them marks and overs, pardon the pun, over and over again.
In Clones, McManus stuck over two marks, ran one to help set up Shane Duffy’s goal before making a rare mistake in kicking a low percentage shot after doing enough to claim a mark. The more we see it in action, the more we might appreciate that those with Rules experience, be they forwards or defenders, will thrive with the rule in place.
Teams must learn to exploit the bin
The five black cards issued in the second half between Galway and Cavan certainly opened up plenty of space at Pearse Stadium but this was not reflected in an improvement in scoring.
Galway outscored Cavan by 0-2 to 0-1 while Cillian McDaid was in the bin. Then Cavan were reduced to 12 men for a four-minute period — Galway had Peter Cooke in the bin at that time as well — but only conceded 0-1 in that time.
The key thing now will be for managers to exploit the extra man much better for those 10-minute spells in the way rugby teams usually punish their opponents with at least one try when they briefly have an extra man.
But the merit of the new rule will become more apparent as the league progresses and teams can learn how to exploit the advantage.