Everyone must face League pressure cooker head-on

In the middle of December, I spotted the story online about your man, Keval Nakeshree, the fella from Gloucester who placed a £5 bet on Leicester at 1000/1 to be top of the Premier League at Christmas. My heart went out to the poor auld devil at the time. ‘Jeez, what a bet, it’s a pity he’ll come up short’. After Leicester defeated Everton 3-2 on Christmas week, Mr Nakeshree picked up a cool £5,000.

Everyone must face League pressure cooker head-on

We’ve been laughing at Leicester, and waiting for them to fall all season but who’s laughing now? As an eternal Spurs fan, I’m hoping they will stumble at some stage and leave the door open for us but you have to admire what the Tinkerman and his troops have achieved so far. It has been remarkable.

I saw Ciaran Carey say in these pages on Wednesday that if Leicester can achieve what they have, Kerry can do the same in Division 1B. You cannot compare amateur and professional sports but in the face of Kilkenny’s complete dominance, the Leicester story is an inspiration to every other county trying to forge its way up to Kilkenny’s level.

I admire Ciaran’s positivity. I know from my time in Kilmoyley how passionate the hurling people are in Kerry. But the overall system in hurling now – especially at this time of the year – is so stifling that it sucks the life out of every county, never mind the likes of Kerry. If Vardy and Mahrez and Huth took up hurling, the imbalance to the system would wreck their heads.

Every county has to help themselves first but surely there has to be some leeway granted to a county like Kerry. Their three away games are to Clare, Laois and Offaly. They won’t beat Clare but they might have had a chance of scalping Offaly and Laois at home, which would give them a chance of survival. Having only two home games – against Limerick and Wexford – also feels like a smack in the face.

I’ve had an issue with the six-team system for a while now. Division 1A is too competitive. You get no chance to blood players. If you lose your first league game at home, you’re nearly focusing straight away on just trying to survive. If you have only two home games, you’re immediately scrambling. Jeez, you’re looking over your shoulder like Big Sam Allardyce over in Sunderland, except without the flashy car and the bag of cash.

Eight-team Divisions 1 and 2 would give everyone else that bit more flexibility, two up two down, maybe even three up three down. Forget about the early season competitions and start the league earlier. You could reconcile the two extra games by removing the quarter and semi-finals and just having a league final. You could space out the games more too – especially when lads are doing nothing only training half the summer – because young lads are being murdered at this time of the year.

On Tuesday evening, I was talking to a few fellas who had been at the LIT-UCC and UL-NUIG Fitzgibbon Cup matches earlier that day. The vox pops ranged from every end of the spectrum but what struck me most was the negative feedback on some of the top players. ‘God, that fella was cat’. ‘Your man is at nothing at the moment’.

Tomorrow evening, those fellas could be calling the same players heroes.

It is impossible for some of those young players to sustain any kind of decent form now, especially guys who are U21. The demands are just crazy. Look at Cian Lynch. He played for Mary I on Tuesday. He’s out against Wexford tonight. Round 2 of the Limerick U21 championship is on Monday night. The Fitzgibbon quarter-finals are down for Tuesday. Round 2 of the League is next weekend. The Fitzgibbon semi-finals and final are the following weekend. All do-or-die matches. You wouldn’t put a greyhound through that schedule.

The only positive about UCC’s defeat on Tuesday is the spin-off for a host of counties. I counted 11 senior inter-county players on their starting team. Some of their big names reportedly didn’t do much. They probably hadn’t the energy, or else had one eye on this weekend. In that context, the Fitzgibbon – and the Sigerson – needs to be played before Christmas. I know that deprives lads of a break but I’m sure they’d take it as opposed to being flogged like slaves now. Half the county squads are training like animals anyway from November.

The league has become so pressurised that everyone has to attack it, to make sure they don’t get relegated. The year the Dubs spent in Division 1B in 2013 was pure misery. You’d often hear lads say that this crowd or that crowd don’t need to win the league. Jeez, in my time with Clare and Dublin, we were never able to just say we were going to hit a cruising speed and do enough. It was always in our interest to be doing well in the league. The years we didn’t, especially 2012, we struggled in the championship.

At least when I was with Clare you had seven games back then to get it right. Now everyone is trying to strike that balance in just five, while also trying to keep fresh.

Tonight and tomorrow though, everyone will come with all guns blazing to get that crucial first two points in the bag. Thurles this evening will be a big test for the Dubs without Liam Rushe and Shane Durkin but it’s time now for new leaders to emerge. Eamonn Dillon had a brilliant Walsh Cup. Mark Schutte had a super club campaign with Cuala.

Those two fellas need to grab this game by the scruff of the neck tonight. If they do, the Dubs could take two huge points from Tipp , who we know very little about because they didn’t even bother entering the Munster League.

I also think Waterford will beat Kilkenny. Waterford played three 30-minute sessions against Limerick last week, then went for food and a swim in the Radisson to top off a great weekend’s, and winter’s, work. More than anything, Derek McGrath will want a win to maintain the momentum from last season.

The one team that needs a victory more than anyone else though, is Galway. The players are reportedly very happy with Micheal Donoghue (they would say that though).

They are well behind Cork in terms of preparation but Cork are such a Jekyll and Hyde team that who knows whether Jekyll or Hyde will show up. Galway will also be able to deal with the treacherous windy conditions Salthill always throws up.

Now, anyone have Keval Nakeshree’s number by any chance? In the meantime, I’m off to put that €5 on Dagenham and Redbridge being a Premier League team within four years!

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