So what have we learned after first four league games of 2015?

Mayo's Aidan O'Shea

* No team outside Division 1 is going to win the All-Ireland.
* Are Mayo still team with most to win by winning?
* Should we be concerned about attendances?
* It doesn’t matter until the flies come out

No team outside Division 1 is going to win the All-Ireland 

It was Mickey Harte who suggested a number of years ago after his Tyrone team spent a while slumming it in Division 2, that it was virtually impossible to mount an All-Ireland challenge from anywhere outside the mainstream.

The hope that such an achievement was even possible seems naive now. The gap between the haves and the have nots just grew wider and though Armagh made a decent fist of it after being relegated to Division 3 last season, it is just impossible to develop a style to counteract the ultra defensive game when teams outside Division 1 either aren’t employing it or don’t have it refined enough to be effective.

Are Mayo still team with most to win by winning?

Should Mayo win their match with Dublin in Castlebar this evening, they will have won every way imaginable this spring.

Away to vulnerable All-Ireland champions, Kerry, in a niggly game. Home to an indisciplined Monaghan side two weeks back and gritty resistance last weekend in Celtic Park where they had to survive an onslaught from Derry.

These are the type of games that teams take something out of for the long-term. Even the game they lost against Tyrone in round 2 gave them laboratory conditions for what they may face later this year.

They will have to beat Galway and then Roscommon to get the five-in-a row in Connacht and you would have to imagine either one or both teams will have noticed the bother they got when restricted to 1-3 from play at home against the Red Hands.

They are still the best supported team outside Dublin and if their fans can survive another summer on the rollercoaster, they may well yet get their reward.

Ultra-defensive football has lost its dubious appeal for even hardened realists

Though always a minority it was once easy to find a contrarian willing to extol the chess like virtues of ultra-conservative game.

When the blanket defence was first unfurled it was briefly fashionable to describe ugly and tedious games as ‘intriguing’ and ‘fascinating’. As the purists prayed for the end of 15-men-behind-the ball football’s 15 minutes of fame, we were lectured by the realists about winning systems and tactical innovation.

After last year’s All-Ireland final, they grew a little quieter and they’ve grown quieter still since the start of a league that has already treated us to a few vintage snore-fests. Waxing lyrical about football-as-chess is no longer in vogue.

Now the collective ‘howl’ of the football fraternity has grown almost Ginsbergian in its anguish: ‘I’ve seen the best footballers of my generation destroyed by madness...’ Make it stop.

No such thing as the perfect scenario for defending All-Ireland champions

Remember those articles and debates about how poor Eamonn Fitzmaurice would struggle to squeeze into a starting fifteen all those young starlets, grizzled geniuses and returning prodigal sons? You should, it was only two weeks ago.

Then Kerry collapsed against Cork and although the Kerry management still have some enviable problems, they are now experiencing some more mundane headaches.

Young players who excelled last year are struggling and displaying some early signs of second-season syndrome, hope for some other emerging talents is fading and cover in defence looks a little bare.

There is no need to panic yet (see it doesn’t matter ‘until the flies come out’ below), but Kerry supporters are learning, as Dublin did last year, that there is no such thing as the perfect scenario for defending All-Ireland champions.

Referees are being consistent with their interpretation of the black card

Remember all the talk of a bedding-in period last year? Yet the opening rounds of the league in 2014 momentarily removed all scepticism that these things would actually work.

When Eddie Kinsella eschewed sentiment and went for the black card early in the club final on St Patrick’s Day, we lived in hope that our rules might reward skill, punish cynicism and that football might break out in games all over the country.

What subsequently followed in championship showed us just how ill-fitted the disciplinary frameworks were to cope with predators and with a loss of nerve on the part of referees.

It wasn’t meant to be like this but perhaps Eddie Kinsella’s appointment as All-Ireland final referee last year wasn’t so much a nod to the fact that he is the best referee in the country right now, but to his fearlessness in implementing black cards for what are very clearly defined transgressions.

Jim Gavin might not agree, but the refereeing performance of the league to date came in Killarney a fortnight ago. Now, will it carry forward into championship?

Should we be concerned about attendances?

Cork vice-chairman, Tracey Kennedy expressed ‘serious levels of puzzlement’ last weekend as to why more people don’t avail of €5 Allianz League discount.

In tweeting that it ‘seems like a no-brainer to me’ Kennedy perhaps was highlighting the fact that patrons are delaying their ticket purchase until the day of the game, thus incurring the extra €5 charge.

But maybe we should be more concerned with the amount of people who aren’t purchasing any ticket at all?

When addressing the contentious Sky deal at the recent GAA Congress, Ard Stiúrthóir Páraic Duffy questioned whether the association should continue to make so many of its matches available for live broadcast.

Viewed by many as a decoy tactic to downplay the significance of the Sky deal, Duffy’s comments had more than a solid basis in fact. People aren’t going to the games for a myriad of reasons but the handpassing disease is perhaps the most obvious.

It doesn’t matter until the flies come out

Raidio na Gaeltachta’s An Saol ó Dheas programme spent a very enjoyable few hours during the week in Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations.

Cork manager, Brian Cuthbert, a past pupil, was interviewed as part of the show and when grilled about Cork’s 11 point win over Kerry a few days earlier, the Bishopstown man paraphrased Urhan and Cork great, Con Paddy O’Sullivan, who was buzzing about the school all morning.

Cork beating Kerry in a game of football, according to Con Paddy, ‘is no good until the flies comes out’ later on this year. July might tell us if he was right.


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