When All-Star defender Jack McCaffrey came off the bench for Dublin against Tyrone late last month, he became the 30th player to feature for new manager Dessie Farrell in the Allianz League.
Eoin O’Brien also made his full debut for Dublin that stormy night, in line with Farrell’s admission after the Round 4 win over Donegal that he would be using the remaining games to assess all his options.
As it turns out, McCaffrey’s personal plea this week, in his capacity as a medical doctor, for people to play a full part in helping to stop the spread of coronavirus will probably be what he’s remembered most for this spring.
It’s likely that Farrell won’t get another opportunity to look at McCaffrey in the campaign, or any more players for that matter, with the Covid-19 crisis looking set to prevent training and games for several more weeks.
If the Division 1 table does freeze in its current position, then Galway will go down as the team that experimented most.
New boss Padraic Joyce used 31 players in the five games they played with Gareth Bradshaw and Corofin duo Martin Farragher and Darragh Silke the most recent to feature in their last outing against Meath.
They won that match in Navan to sit atop the division which, allied to the fact they experimented more than any other county, suggests a deep panel that will stand to Joyce come summer.
Next up in the league of experimentation come Dublin and Mayo with 30 players used by both Farrell and James Horan so far.
That level of experimentation has come at a price for Mayo who are currently in the bottom two and if the league was parked right now, and the remainder of the games written off, they’d be a Division 2 team for the first time since 1997.
That would naturally be a psychological blow but Horan may figure that it was worth it to get a good look at players like centre-forward Ryan O’Donoghue, Paul Towey, and man marker Oisin Mullin in competitive action.
“If we go down, it’s not the biggest disaster of all time,” said Mayo’s former Footballer of the Year Andy Moran. “At the same time, there’s a few reasons why it’s important to stay up if possible.
“You saw Oisin Mullin marking David Clifford, for instance, the best forward in the country. All of a sudden, Oisin knows what that’s like, the movement, how it feels to mark a player of that quality. He’s as good a forward as there is at the minute.
“To be playing against that level, for these young fellas coming through, I think that’s important. And then obviously there is the financial side of it too which is quite important.”
For Dublin, the emergence of the two O’Brien’s, Eoin and Dan, along with the opportunity to assess Aaron Byrne, prodigal son Craig Dias and the continued development of Sean Bugler means Farrell can term the league a success, if it really is over now.
With Stephen Cluxton, Michael Darragh Macauley, Cian O’Sullivan, Con O’Callaghan, and Diarmuid Connolly still to return, they retain the strongest panel in the country.
Whilst Peter Keane’s experimentation in Kerry appears conservative with only 27 players used in the campaign, just two players — Paul Murphy and Clifford — have started all of their games. In fact, all 27 of those players have started at least one of the matches, David Shaw the most recent against Meath.
With Kerry sitting second in the table, it points to a strong panel and genuine competition for places with ex-All-Ireland minor winner Liam Kearney perhaps the breakthrough player of the campaign.
He has featured in all five of Kerry’s games, starting against Galway, Tyrone, and Meath while Dr Crokes’ mercurial Tony Brosnan is also back in attack, starting in their Round 5 win over Mayo.
“I think he’s going to be a weapon for Kerry this year at certain times,” said former Kerry star Kieran Donaghy of Brosnan who made his one and only Championship appearance in the 2016 All-Ireland quarter-finals.
As ever, Monaghan have used the least amount of players in Division 1, the fourth time in five seasons this has happened. Seamus McEnaney has used only 23 players with 14 of those starting all five of their games.
In his first season back in the Farney hotseat, ‘Banty’ has clearly been keen to put out his strongest team straight away and generate momentum.
Take out David Kirk, Colin Walshe, and Andrew Woods, who have only four substitute appearances between them this term, and that’s just 20 players that McEnaney has effectively chosen from.
Ex-minor star Aaron Mulligan is among that group with Monaghan perhaps privately hoping the league table is frozen to allow them remain in Division 1 for a seventh consecutive season.
- 31: Galway
- 27: Kerry
- 28: Tyrone
- 30: Dublin
- 25: Donegal
- 23: Monaghan
- 30: Mayo
- 29: Meath