Championship Preview: A look forward to this year's Championship

The Irish Examiner's sports editor, Tony Leen, convenes a roundtable on what to expect from this year's senior football championship.

Championship Preview: A look forward to this year's Championship

Tony Leen: “Will we begin with the words every football conversation of late kicks off with. The Dubs?”

Dara Ó Cinnéide: “They’re going to have the same problems this year as they did last year in terms of coming out of Leinster unprepared.”

Leen: “And when we chatted a year ago there was some sage comments to the effect that there was the capacity for them to get caught. So using the league as the criteroin, what have they and we learned about them?”

Ó Cinnéide: “Through the latter stages of the league, when they had all their big guns back, they did look like they had something learned. The positioning of Cian O’Sullivan really is key. He’s the one player that can play that holding role. Midfield or centre-back. Nicky Devereux has serious pace and Ger Brennan is the classic holding and holding only role. But Sullivan gives them a bit more there. I think he can track back as well. He can be the firefighter as well as the holding midfield role.

"If you watch opposition forwards taking a shot, Cian O’Sullivan — a bit like Seamus Moynihan in our day — is usually the last fellow diving on the leg. He has that pace and the football sense to do it. Towards the end of the league there were signs that what they were doing was way different to last year. But the league is still the league. And we won’t know coming out of Leinster probably.”

Kieran Shannon: “Leinster, you’d have to say, isn’t going to test them. You can argue that a lot of the provinces won’t test the top teams, though it could be slightly different this year in some. I do think there’s greater adaptability to them. If you look at what they did under Gilroy. They went toe-to-toe against Tyrone and blew them out. And then they came across a Donegal and, okay, the game-plan imposed on them was Donegal’s, but they found a way. And against Kerry there was that bit of adaptability. But Gavin came in and just said ‘we’re just taking you all on.’ Shoot-outs. And obviously they learned the hard way last year. And I think it really hurt them.

"But what hurts you, instructs you and I think that adaptability is there. We’re not going to know til August, but I think everything will be geared for Dublin. The games they have in training, the personnel they have in training, they will be having a view towards August. As much as they like to talk about taking it game-by-game, what they’re doing in training won’t be to beat the winner of Offaly-Longford.”

Leen: “So last year’s semi-final saw the last vestige of romance disappear from inter-county football, to be replaced by pragmatism in every county?”

Ó Cinnéide: “That went three or four years ago. You’ll still get (some) entertaining games. Two or three years ago, one of the shining lights was Derry and Down. People probably don’t even remember it, but it was a great game of football.”

Shannon: “Did we ever have romance? I don’t know if there’s another team like Dublin that have, as someone else put it, such a cruising speed. They’re a great team to watch. We will still see romantic football as such, but not 100% of the time. If you want to win it, you can’t have romantic football all the time.”

Leen: “In that context, did Eamonn Fitzmaurice reach the perfect halfway house in 2014 — especially the final?”

Conor McCarthy: “The best credit you can give Fitzmaurice, like Jim McGuinness, is that he looked at his resources and he adapted a gameplan to fit those resources perfectly. People would say Kerry’s weakest might be their back unit. But then against Cork they went 25 minutes without giving the ball away, 30 against Galway.

"The best way to defend is to have possession and the backs weren’t under threat for significant periods of those games. Having said that, I thought they led a charmed existence up to the All-Ireland final last year insofar as they didn’t come up against a blanket defence. James O’Donoghue would never have racked up the scores he did, if they had. In ways, it’s credit to them they were able to deal with what Donegal put up to them. They found a way to win.”

Leen: “Talking to a couple of guys lately about the role of wing forward. People say the likes of Brian Dooher and Paul Galvin were the first of their kind. But has it evolved even further? Are 10 and 12 now glorified defenders?”

McCarthy: “It depends on which team you’re talking about. It’s very unreasonable to expect the wing forward to get back into defence and then transition when you win the ball back and get up into attack. I think that was the key thing in Jim McGuinness’s gameplan. If you worked your socks off to get back the pitch, it was the other backs that then broke.”

Leen: “So are there any conventional 10’s and 12’s any more? Outlet players, staying beyond the halfway line?”

Ó Cinnéide: “No, I suppose Donnchadh Walsh has brought it to another level with Kerry. You don’t notice him that much when he’s there, but you notice when Kerry are without him.”

Shannon: Paul Flynn?

Ó Cinnéide: He’s Cluxton’s main option for kickouts.

Leen: “Fair point. Are Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly the last of the conventional wing forwards? You won’t see Diarmuid Connolly tracking back.

Shannon: “But the tackling (by Dublin) is ferocious. And they press up. Mayo were similar, though they seem to be tracking back a bit more now. What you have to be is a ferocious tackler, wherever on the field. It’s not enough to be a ball-player.”

McCarthy: “Having players back into defence isn’t the same as a defensive strategy. Cork are guilty of that a bit. Even Monaghan have evolved it now. When they’re back there, they press back out and get a tackle in.”

Ó Cinnéide: “Dessie Mone was their actual number 10 for the league but he very rarely played there.”

SOMETHING DIFFERENT FOR 2015

Leen: “Before we zone in on the people we are likely to be talking about in August and September, what I always yearn for is a team or a county that’s going to bring something fresh to the summer. Not just in terms of style, but in terms of actually knocking down some big skittles. Can anyone come up with one of those?”

Shannon: “This could be the first in a few years we’ve had it. Things do evolve. The Division 1 format has led to a stalemate. The Division 2 teams aren’t getting exposed to the Kerrys, Dublins, Mayos. To the extent that it’s reflected in the superiority of those teams.”

Ó Cinnéide: “But in a month’s time, you could have a team that finished the year in Division 3, Galway, take down Mayo.”

Shannon: “Yes, I do think it could change this year. It mightn’t be easy on the eye, but it wouldn’t surprise you if Cavan beat Monaghan. And you would say that Galway and Roscommon are possibilities, if John Evans or Kevin Walsh are going to do anything in their province, this is a great opportunity to do it.”

McCarthy: “You could conceivably see Galway take a big scalp in Mayo and then Roscommon beat them in the final.”

Shannon: “Sligo might not win Connacht but they could stop Roscommon winning Connacht. It goes back to what John Evans was saying about the age-profile of teams. Mayo, Donegal, those teams are vulnerable.”

Ó Cinnéide: “Look at how Clare ran Kerry very close in Munster last year. Given Cork’s form in the league final and how they came out of the league, you could see Clare giving them a serious rattle in Páirc Uí Rinn if Clare take care of Limerick.”

McCarthy: “Cork will be glad that game is in Páirc Uí Rinn.”

Leen: “I was thinking it’s this year or no for Mick Dowd’s Meath.”

Ó Cinnéide: “We always give Meath a chance because of tradition, but they are too naive at the back, which is strange to say when you’re talking about Meath. Everyone with aspirations needs a year’s exposure to Division 1. Look at Galway, who always have plenty of underage talent coming through, but they can’t get to Division 1 to expose them. So when it comes to quarter-final stage, it’s all new to them again. Once a year isn’t enough.”

Shannon: “Meath need another way to define their season apart from playing Dublin. They got to the last 12 two years ago, lost to Tyrone. Last year, another last 12 exit. They would be a team that should be looking to reach an All-Ireland quarter-final.”

McCarthy: “Does it bring us back to the inequity of the provincial system? Donegal have to play Tyrone, Armagh, Derry, Monaghan maybe…”

Ó Cinnéide: “It’s pointless even talking about it because it’s not up for discussion, it seems. Any committee that looks at improving structures, it seems the provincial system is sacrosanct.”

Shannon: “I’m amazed Ulster itself doesn’t do more for its Ulster champions. If you reach a Leinster semi-final, you’re guaranteed a bye through the first round (the next year). How many times have we seen a team that wins Ulster or the All-Ireland routed through the preliminary round? I would really fancy Donegal, except they have seven ‘peak’ dates. The fact they have to go through this route...”

CULTURE CLUB

Leen: “What about Cork. Everything was going swimmingly. How much of a bother will the league final be in the players’ heads and the management’s heads?”

McCarthy: “It’s not a cop-out, but we won’t know until later in the summer. In Cork it’s always that old debate between strategy and culture. The culture that Kerry football has and the Kilkenny hurlers have. Cork football has never had that culture, compared to the hurlers.

"In terms of strategy, I don’t think it was too bad at times. They didn’t go zonal with Cluxton’s kickouts in the league final, which was a big mistake. And the other mistake, when they get their bodies back into the defence, they don’t push back out. It’s pointless to have bodies back there unless you’re actually contributing. But that’ll take time to develop. I think the strategy overall is sound, but I think some cracks can appear in the implementation.”

Shannon: “What do you mean by the lack of culture?”

McCarthy: “Mike Quirke made the point in the Examiner about his twins and getting Kerry jerseys the day after they’re born. From the moment his kids are born, they’ll be kicking a ball against a wall and dreaming of playing for Kerry.”

Ó Cinnéide: “I hate all that old grá mo chroi stuff with Kerry.”

McCarthy: “But in Cork kids will be doing lots of other things. If you’re in a hurling area, you’ll be pucking a ball against a wall. The culture will pervade everything you do until you’re an adult.”

Shannon: “But you can’t doubt the commitment of those guys when they’re in a Cork jersey.”

McCarthy: “I don’t doubt it. Or their talent. I’ve not saying individually they are deficient, but collectively, their synchronicity isn’t what the Kerry guys have.”

Ó Cinnéide: “This notion you are born into it in Kerry; if Kerry were so good, why are they employing Games Development Administrators like Mike Quirke, that before would have been done by different people, like teachers? Kerry have the exact same challenges as anyone else.”

Shannon: “But just take Con Keating Park in Cahirciveen. O’Connell and O’Dwyer used to practice together, Jacko was the ball boy. Maurice Fitz was his ball boy, Bryan Sheehan was Maurice’s ballboy. That lineage, that culture.”

Ó Cinnéide: “I’m sure you can go to 20 clubs in Cork who have that, on a lesser-known scale. In fact, in Cork they seem to revere their club players more than in Kerry. Maybe that’s an issue.”

Shannon: “That culture that Cooper has. We talk about him being gifted but it didn’t happen by accident.”

Ó Cinnéide: “That’s a Crokes thing, not a Kerry thing.”

McCarthy: “To extend it into the inter-county game, in the league semi-final, I noticed some of the Donegal backs didn’t push up on the Cork back six in possession when they got the ball 35 yards out, because they just knew they weren’t going to put it over the bar. But if you take Kerry, a lot of them could take a score if they were asked to, but you can’t say the same about a lot of counties.”

Shannon: “Left and right. At U14 in Kerry and Kilkenny, the definition of success isn’t can we win the county championship, it’s can they use both sides.”

Ó Cinnéide: “I think it’s a little bit romantic. Fitzmaurice was told he had nothing to work with. These are lads that were beaten at U21, up along. I remember coming on the scene with Kerry and for three years we were laughed at because Cork were the superior force. It didn’t just happen that Páidí Ó Sé came in. I won nothing underage.”

McCarthy: “But you had certain skills. We’re not trying to simplify it, but you had the value system.”

Ó Cinnéide: “What Kerry have over most counties is they’re hyper-critical of performances. You can get an awful lot of drop-outs because expectation is too high. But the other side of that scale, you can get exceptional footballers who are used to putting up with any kind of criticism. That’s the conditioning that’s there.”

Leen: “One of the depressing things I’ve noticed in Cork is there’s a far poorer focus on kicking the football than there is in Kerry, for example.”

Ó Cinnéide: “It’s expectancy again. Listen to the terrace at Austin Stack Park or in Killarney and they’re still —despite the way the game has gone — roaring at their best players to kick the bloody thing in. They have a notion of the ideal footballer, the Maurice Fitzgerald or the Colm Cooper.”

Leen: “What represents success for Cork and Brian Cuthbert this year?”

McCarthy: “Every year, every player in there wants to win the All-Ireland. Some people will say that’s naive.”

Shannon: “An All-Ireland semi-final would be progress. They have to believe they are going to win an All-Ireland but it doesn’t happen in one year. And from where they are coming from last year, they could position themselves for a real assault last year. That’s how it works. But you have to wonder how the 2010 legacy has been handled?”

Ó Cinnéide: “And they’ve won nearly every Munster U21 since.”

Shannon: “Are the best 30 players in Cork playing at the moment? I don’t know. You have to say Cuthbert is doing a good job, fire-fighting. But I wonder did he start off some of the fires.

"You look at the 2012, 2013 teams and they were ageing. But you look at how Fitzmaurice staggered the transition. Some guys went but he got another year out of Declan, Aidan O’Mahony, rather than all going.”

McCarthy: “Great point.”

Shannon: “Cork were one of the toughest teams to play. You take that league final in 2012. You had real men around the middle of the field. To win a breaking ball with Noelie O’Leary, Kissane, Canty, Pearse O’Neill, Alan O’Connor. They were men. It was different in the following years. That spine, that sheer physicality wasn’t there.

"What happened in Croke Park a few weeks ago wouldn’t have been allowed on those guys’ beat. I think Cuthbert just needed to hang onto a couple more. When I saw Alan O’Connor come back, I thought he’s back not just to play but to win an All-Ireland, but I think they need a couple more.”

Ó Cinnéide: “Progress for Cork this year? Come July 5, it will be 20 years since they beat Kerry in Killarney. That would buy Cuthbert a bit of credit. Stop talking about All-Irelands. I don’t think they have the midfield to win it. But beat Kerry in Killarney. Kerry would be a bit pissed off if it happened, but it wouldn’t be huge. But it would be huge for Cork and I think that would buy him another year.”

Shannon: “That’s how it works. Donegal needed a 2011 to win it in 2012.”

McCarthy: “Kerry always respect Cork, but there are isolated occasions when the Kerry players get a small bit complacent if Cork have had a bad run of form. I think it happened in 2006 where Cork made seven changes going to down to Killarney and Cork should have won.

"I get this feeling, and it might be wishful thinking, that this is one of the years where Kerry say they rate Cork and have respect for them, but deep down the Kerry players might be a small bit complacent.”

Ó Cinnéide: “It will be hard to immunise yourself from Cork’s performance in the league final this year. I actually thought they were having a laugh. It was so forewarned that Dublin were going to push up on Ken O’Halloran’s kick-outs. You thought this was rope-a-dope and that they had some decoy, but by half time you realised they were just stinking the place out. Now they can’t be that bad. You know them not to be that bad.”

Shannon: “Conor, is there any chance Cork were holding back against Dublin because they did not want to show their full hand, whereby they said to themselves we are not going to go zonal against the Dublin kick-out?”

McCarthy: “They did try that against Derry in the last league game and the management have to be commended for that. They knew how defensive Derry were going to be so they said they would push up on them. And they got opened up big time. There was a sense of that in the league final where they went man-to-man on the kick-out, but if you’re an arm away from your man against Dublin, Cluxton will find him. It was commendable against Derry, naive against Dublin.”

Ó Cinnéide: “The levels of concentration it takes to crack Cluxton, it is a once-in-a-season thing. Kerry did it two years ago.”

Shannon: “In the 2013 final, Robbie Hennelly’s kick-outs were finding a Mayo man, but the problem was that they were still facing the Mayo goal. Cluxton’s kick-outs were finding a Dublin man half-turned for the Mayo goal. They were able to do it whereby they were getting possession and still bearing down on the opposition goal.”

McCarthy: “In the Monaghan league semi-final, when you strip out the short kick-outs, they won the kick-out battle 24 to 8. They scored 0-10 to Monaghan’s 0-4 off those balls. Half of all attacks, generally speaking, come from kick-outs, so it is an amazing weapon. Is there a better weapon out there than Cluxton’s kick-out?”

HAS MAYO’S GRADUAL DESCENT BEGUN?

Leen: “Was 2014 the moment that Mayo’s graph peaked and the gradual descent begun?”

Shannon: “I wouldn’t say their motivation has dipped. These guys are programmed to improve and win All-Irelands. It is a transition. Somethings would encourage me, somethings would worry me. Brolly put it very well on the Sunday Game when he said there is that chemistry issue. I believe they had a camp in Portugal and it went well. It needed to go well. It could go their way.

"It hasn’t been a seamless transition like Gavin replacing Gilroy, even though he brought in his own people, that high-performance standard nature and culture of how we do things, he brought it to even another level. It seems as if they are listening and finding a balance. Certain things encouraged me during the league. That means there could be one shot.

"They do need a statement. This notion that they don’t need to win Connacht... — this management needs to win Connacht. You take when they went to Salthill two years ago, they went there with injuries and Galway were coming in off the back of an U21 win. They made a statement that day. They need a similar statement on June 14.”

Ó Cinnéide: “Do they really?”

Shannon: “I do think they need a statement for them to really believe in the set-up. I think those players believe in what they can do. It helped that they weren’t in a league semi-final. They needed that time.”

McCarthy: “When you think back to when Cork were knocking on the door, they needed the injection of Ciarán Sheehan and Aidan Walsh to get them over the line. Mayo, you get the impression, it is the same guys for them again. They are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. They are pushing them around the place, trying to fill a gap here and trying to fill a gap there.”

Ó Cinnéide: “They have a kick in them, but maybe in a once-off situation. I think if they came up against Kerry… they would owe them one, certainly, given what happened last year in the Gaelic Grounds where their best man, Cillian O’Connor, was sent off out of pure frustration. That would sting them into something. I don’t think they need to show their hand in Connacht that much. I think they need a few scraps and I think those scraps might come through the back door rather than in Connacht.”

Shannon: “Where Galway and Roscommon are at, there will be scraps. This notion that Mayo have had it easy in Connacht, I totally disagree with that. You look at where they were in 2011 and the battle they got off London. They got it tough again in 2012 from Sligo. In was in 2013 when they needed to blow teams away. Last year they had it tough from Roscommon. They have to win Connacht a different way this year.

"I do feel the league game in Castlebar, where they were hammered by Dublin, was their startled earwigs moment, like Gilroy against Kerry in 2009. There is certain teams you do not do toe-to-toe with. They were too honest under Horan to have a startled earwigs moment. They never rolled over, but maybe they needed to roll over to say we cannot go toe-to-toe with every team all the time. They have to try that in Connacht.”

Ó Cinnéide: “The one thing I always noticed when Mayo were dominant in Connacht is that Galway media commentators were in denial. If Cork did four-in-row in Munster, Kerry people would be up in arms. In Galway, there was this attitude of ‘ah sure its Mayo, they won’t win the All-Ireland’, this disdainful arrogance.

“I think Galway need to deliver now and take down Mayo in the middle of June. Mayo won’t be as vulnerable at any other stage. It would mean more to Galway. I don’t think it ever registered with Galway over the past four years that this was our traditional rival laughing down at everyone else in Connacht. I think it is only starting to register now that Mayo could do the five-in-a-row.”

Leen: “John Evans seems to be very good at talking up Roscommon. How likely are they still to be around come the August Bank Holiday weekend?”

McCarthy: “There is going to be a bit of a bounce from the U21 success. How much of that is attributable to a good production line, how much of that is attributable to getting your house in order at senior level is the question”

Shannon: “It seems to be both.”

Ó Cinnéide: “As was the case in Cork back in the 80s where their senior successes came off the back of a number of U21 wins.”

McCarthy: “Is it a case that Evans has spotted a hatching egg.”

Ó Cinnéide: “Evans would have taken a lot of credit for the Tipperary minor win back in 2011 even though his influence was minimal at the time.”

Leen: “Though in fairness to the man, even within Kerry, wherever he has gone, he has done something.”

Ó Cinnéide: “He came to a weak Laune Rangers team over 10-years ago and brought them to a replayed county final. You look at the best players in the Sigerson this year, a good few of them were from Roscommon. Even though Tyrone were the team that went on to win the U21, I think Roscommon needed to be ones holding that cup. Talking with Darragh Ó Sé lately, he expected Roscommon to win the U21 Championship outright.

These players might get tempted, because of reaching Sigerson finals and U21 semi-finals and final, to spend a summer in Chicago and their reasoning would be that it wouldn’t do them a bit of harm. That is corrosive. For a developing team, like when Cavan’s Killian Clarke went to the States last summer, it had a corroding effect. I think the same thing could happen with Roscommon this year. Evans needs to keep these lads at home. He needs to start the young and inexperienced lads ahead of the older guys to show he has faith in them.”

Leen: “Is it too early though for Tyrone to expect any substantive bounce off winning the U21? People diss the grade but Mick O’Dwyer always said it was the most reliable indicator of the short term.”

Shannon: “Tyrone played Mayo in the 2008 All-Ireland minor decider and you look at the players that came through from both sides, very few. It goes back to the finished product and thinking ‘you are the man’, swanning around Queens with your All-Ireland medal.”

KERRY, GALVIN, GOOCH

Leen: “Kerry won a surprise All-Ireland last year, in my view. What do they have to do differently in 2015?”

Ó Cinnéide: “I don’t think the competition has strengthened a whole lot. Dublin are the bookies’ favourite and that is certainly going to be a motivating factor. You give the All-Ireland champions respect by installing them as favourites. If Kerry and Dublin were to go head-to-head, I’d fancy Kerry.

"Kerry will have to again cover up deficiencies at the back by holding lads back. I don’t care how good Marc Ó Sé or Aidan O’Mahony are, and I am not being ageist here, but they have serious mileage on the clock. They are still setting the bar in training, working the hardest and creating that culture in training. Declan O’Sullivan is a loss in that regard. People don’t realise how big his influence was in the dressing room.”

Leen: “They still don’t have a fit-for-purpose full-back.”

McCarthy: “Aidan O’Mahony and Marc Ó Sé may still be the fittest men in training, but you can still get burnt in that five or 10 yard box. Could Galvin go back there? I don’t think he is the answer given his lack of match sharpness.”

Ó Cinnéide: “If Galvin and Walsh come, it is a bonus in Fitzmaurice’s view. If they don’t, nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Leen: “Tommy’s hamstring injury was a serious, serious injury. He is playing well with the club, but I saw him come on against Monaghan and a few other games, it is just not happening for him. The split-second decision he was able to make seven years ago isn’t there and the only way he is going to be exposed to that is A versus B football inside in training. The camp in Portugal next month should bring him and a few others on a good bit. That six days in Amendoeira will give Fitzmaurice a true bit of formlines to be thinking of. But I do expect changes to the starting 15.”

McCarthy: “People are saying that Kerry will be stronger than ever when Gooch returns — is that guaranteed? I thought the 10 minutes he spent on the field against Tyrone were over-estimated.”

Ó Cinnéide: “Oh God, no. I thought it was exactly what was needed in terms of holding the ball, coming out of a tackle and giving the handy ball. I was watching Kieran Donaghy throughout the league and if I was in his shoes I would be totally frustrated. He is not at the stage where he can make 10 different runs to get the ball. He will make two or three runs and that’s it. At some point, somebody out the field is going to say well maybe Donaghy isn’t my best option today.”

Leen: “Where do you see a role for Paul Galvin, Kieran?

Shannon: “He has nothing to lose. I have great respect for Paul Galvin. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I see it as a win-win. You go back to the Declan O’Sullivan deficit and while he might be a bit tentative given he was out for a year, he brings that winning, that leadership in terms of how he preps. There is still a lot of young lads within this camp.”

Ó Cinnéide: “I think he was hearing how good the set-up was. We don’t know how good it was because they have been very good at closing the doors and drip feeding you what they want to drip feed you. With Kerry and Fitzmaurice, in particular, you are not going to get anything out of him. He was watching the likes of James O’Donoghue lighting it up last year and he wouldn’t be human if he didn’t miss it. Most of us when we go are not in the physical condition to come back, he had that added advantage that he was.”

Leen: “They may need to peak only two or three times over the course of the year.”

Ó Cinnéide: “They need to stay egoless, reflect Fitzmaurice. His on-field persona would be Donnchadh Walsh, a person who doesn’t care who gets the credit, a person who doesn’t care if he is told to scrub the floors every day of the week. They need more of that kind of a player. We talked about chemistry with Mayo. The chemistry needs to be very carefully balanced with Galvin. Someone is going to become number 31 because of his return and that can have a knock-on domino effect. The challenge for Fitzmaurice is to keep them egoless.”

Shannon: “That is why back-to-back is so hard. Pat O’Shea did it because it was a totally different landscape and a totally different approach. They became egotistical again in 2008. You could see the night of the All-Ireland last September that the process of thinking for back-to-back titles had already begun.”

McCarthy: “There is no ego with Fitzmaurice.”

Ó Cinnéide: “There is a lot of humility on the sidelines, even Mikey Sheehy and Diarmuid Murphy. You talk about Galvin bringing guidance to the younger lads, most of the young lads have All-Irelands. What else does Galvin have to give them? Apart from hitting them hard in training, recognising when the intensity levels have dropped. I think the week that Kerry will put in in Portugal will be important.

"We’ll know a lot at the end of this month. It’s huge for them. There’s a lot of harmony in the county at the moment. The clubs are happy because they are getting games. Everyone’s on board. There’s no dissenting voices in the background. But it can change very quickly with a bad week in Portugal or a good week. These weeks have become very important.”

Leen: “You’ve been on these warm weather camps Kieran with Mayo. Is it as simple as getting 15 sessions in the space of five days and the benefits that brings. Or is it more of a familial thing that we’re all together.”

Shannon: “It’s everything. The work I did with Mayo, it really kicked in that week in Portugal. Even in terms of the workshops you could do with them. To get time to do that. And just hang out. The banter. It was huge for the development of that team. It’s not something you have to do every year. With Mayo, Horan felt they had to go in 2012, to create that aspiration. You’re worth this. The following year, we were in Ballina for three days. At certain stages at the lifecycle of a team, it’s vital.”

McCarthy: “When I was with Cork, we went four times. One of the massive benefits, everyone is together. You meet in the morning in the team room. Then you’re out on the grass practising it. Then you talk about it later. You can integrate things a lot better. The other major benefit, people understand each other a bit more and accept each other more.”

YOUR WISHES?

Leen: “In terms of things you would like to see, as football people, what would want to happen for you to say it was a really good championship?”

McCarthy: “The standards improving. And I think they are improving. Whatever about the spectacle, I think the preparation and standards of excellence are improving. When you look at what Paul Flynn is able to do, up and down the pitch , it amazes me. I find it gratifying and it interests me.”

Shannon: “You’re looking for upsets. There hasn’t been enough of them. I remember that evening in 2010, when Sligo beat Mayo and Louth beat Kildare, it just lit the landscape up. Limerick could have won Munster, Roscommon won Connacht. We tend nowadays to fast forward to the August weekend, but we’ve to enjoy the journey. The last few years, you feel months like Mayo, June, July, the ground is hard, but it’s fast-forward.

"You have to feel there are games there. Cavan beat Monaghan, Clare rattle Cork, whatever. We need four or five games. I don’t know if we’re going to get it. Typically, you’ll get a cracking game in hurling, then you watch Dublin beat someone by 12 points and you’ll have the boys on the Sunday Game bemoaning the state of the game. Among the top four or five, I believe the game is as good as it has ever been, but we don’t get those types of games. We need that bit of romance, creating that reverberation. We haven’t had enough of it.”

Ó Cinnéide: “Tying in with that, I’d just like to see a bit of joy brought back into it. Remember John Brennan, a couple of years ago, managing Derry and he brought his players in a huddle and started roaring laughing. I want to see that again. I want to see a captain laughing when he’s lifting the cup. I want to see sportsmanship, all idealistic stuff and all unrealistic stuff, because players want to win.

"But I think the win-at-all-costs thing has just gone too far. It’s 10 years since I was in the bubble. We all wanted to win. You’d like to think you wouldn’t do everything to win. During the 70 minutes, you’d like to see a bit of craic, make it appear to the kids that are watching that it’s actually fun. And stop having this huge disconnect between the elite county athlete and the fella he’s just after playing with the week before with his club.”

Leen: “Do we need more or less heroes?”

Ó Cinnéide: “You know them, I know them, they’re lovely lads, they’re great craic. But they’re not projecting that at all. They’re afraid to give any hostage to fortune. We were all a bit more guarded dealing with the media when we were playing than we are now, but playing the team game has gone too far. They’re even been instructed how to play the game on Twitter. You see them arriving with their Beats on and you think, ‘come on lads, it has to be more fun than that’. Embrace the crowd, embrace the whole thing, and still play well. James O’Donoghue has a bit of it. A bit of colour there. You’re looking for a maverick streak.”

McCarthy: “Michael Darragh McCauley is a bit of a free spirit.”

Shannon: “I still think there’s personalities. O’Donoghue, Robbie Hennelly, Aidan O’Shea, Paul Flynn, Ger Brennan. I do think we can romanticise the past a bit, though I don’t know if we’re going to get a Johnny Pilkington with the fag again.”

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