There's a few words that should crop up quite frequently during the upcoming Allianz Leagues — development, competitive, even fun — but one go-to term that should be banned from all coverage of any current Division One team is crisis.
You’re familiar with the genre. Marty down the country on a Monday, Keys and Fogarty in the papers on a Tuesday, even yours truly maybe still at it on a Wednesday, highlighting and querying why some team that was not long ago playing in September are now dicing with relegation and what a ‘disaster’ the drop would be.
For the first couple of years under Éamonn Fitzmaurice, it was Kerry. Mickey Harte and Tyrone have also been subjected to such scrutiny more than once, only to blow someone out of it the following weekend or at the height of the summer.
Almost every year, it has been Mayo up until their customary last-day Houdini act, or last year when they went and won the thing outright.
In hurling, it has been much the same.
Whatever about crisis, the big word there for a long time was pressure. The spectre of a relegation play-off and relegation itself was constantly in the air, even if you were often also just a win away from a league semi-final.
This year all the big boys in hurling are safe from the prospect of the drop. Instead that will be the fate of either a Carlow, Westmeath, or Laois, most of which are just happy — and entitled — to be back mixing with the ruling class in the spring. While Waterford could do with a few Ws to raise the morale there, a transition of the kind Liam Cahill will have to oversee might involve even more Ls.
In the football, a big name might go down, especially with a Meath surely hellbent on attacking and maintaining Division One football after all these years craving it. But so what if this is the year Mayo finally lose their Division One status, as long as James Horan got some valuable playing time into his rookies and sophomores that will supplement and eventually replace his veteran All-Stars?
Donegal have won several Ulsters this decade either in or dropping down to Division Two; either way, with this being year three of the Bonner project, their season will be defined by whether or not they can finally get to an All-Ireland semi-final.
While Banty might feel like break dancing again should Monaghan stay up, it will hardly feel like his heart being ripped out were they to drop down; it was out of the top flight where Malachy O’Rourke had the scope to build and tweak his first team and a similar reconstruction might be needed now.
For Galway and Pádraic Joyce, embedding a style of play and an identity will take priority over finding and picking up a couple of points,although that would be nice along the way.
And even if Dublin fail to reach a league final for a second consecutive year, any scrutiny or criticism of Dessie Farrell would be lazy.
This is likely to be the most experimental Dublin have been in the league since 2010, at least in the early rounds, when the likes of Michael Darragh MacAuley and Kevin McManamon were given their head down in Tralee and helped in the rehabilitation and indeed transformation of the ‘startled earwigs’ of the previous August.
In time we will be able to judge whether he got the balance right between continuity and change — the team like with every league under Gavin are still training out in Innisfails — but that judgement won’t be during the league.
So, no, don’t believe the hype or hysteria. While Division One is understandably where most of the crowds and TV cameras will be at because that’s still where most of the quality and David Clifford reside, the headlines and storylines should primarily be reserved for Division Two and Division Three of the football.
That’s where the real pressure is at, and should Cork shockingly fail to win promotion from Division Three, even a possible crisis.
That’s, of course, because of the new-look championship. Whatever football will look like in 2021 — the Fixtures Task Force’s set of options won’t be voted upon until a Special Congress in September — we know what way it will be for Championship 2020.
For the first time in the history of Gaelic football, there will be a two-tier All-Ireland championship, which means some proud counties will suffer the ignominy of not participating in the main event. To avoid Tier Two, you need to stay in or get up to Division Two.
The league will be like Championship because if it goes bad, there is no championship.
Division Two will be particularly savage. While you’d expect Kildare under Jack O’Connor to win one of the promotion spots, two of their first three games are on the road; would you be surprised if they emerged winless out of both Ennis and the Athletic Grounds up in Armagh?
That would leave them having to beat almost everyone else, including Cavan and Roscommon.
There’s not a game where you could definitively say the home side will lose — any point won away in Enniskillen, Portlaoise, or Mullin-gar is hard-earned. It’s the kind of division where three wins might not be enough to stay up yet four might be enough to win promotion.
Division Three also has its own intrigue. Cork simply have to come up — and they will: They turned the corner under Ronan McCarthy somewhere between the closing games of last year’s league and prior to the championship, while their schedule of games this spring couldn’t be more accommodating to build up some momentum, with four of their first six games at home and no traipse up north. But the scramble for second will be ferocious.
Rory Gallagher didn’t drop down a division to stay in that division. Down are another county proud to have won a modern All-Ireland and contested another just 10 years ago. Tipperary were in an All- Ireland semi-final only four years ago.
When they issued that famous vision to contest a senior All-Ireland final in 2020, it wasn’t a Tier Two championship they were targeting.
They were the county to press that the makeup of the top tier championship wouldn’t necessarily comprise of those who participated in divisions one and two in the national league of 2020 but that of 2021; in seeking such a stipulation, Tipp were making no secret that they were seeking promotion.
The top divisions will still generate the big talking points. The mark — both offensive and defensive — could be the new VAR.
Under the TV and Saturday night lights, stars, past and future, will shine. But the real business will take place with a backdrop of grey, dreary skies and terraces.