If you were to listen to the naysayers, increasing education, dedication and professionalism has been the scourge of football.
Fitter, stronger players with a proper idea of conditioning and dieting, are being kept in county panels against their will.
Managers are using tactics, the scoundrels, deciding not to risk giving away possession and trying to make it difficult for the opposition. The minnows are refusing to lie down for the traditional superpowers. So football is dying.
Except of course it isn’t. Yes, Kerry and Dublin are favourites for September glory but it has been ever thus. Yet Armagh, Tyrone, Cork and Donegal have come through to spoil the party since the turn of the century.
Below the very top tier, it is arguable that there is a greater competitiveness than ever before. Division 2 of the Allianz Football League mirrored most of the groups in that it was all to play for at either end on the final day.
Laois survived the dogfight as Kildare and Westmeath were relegated but such was the nature of the competition that with two games left, they had an eye on a Croke Park final and promotion.
“It was a very competitive league,” agrees manager, Tomás Ó Flatharta. “The first two games we had, we probably left one of them behind us anyway, but then we turned it around and there were some very good performances in the middle. I thought we showed a lot of fight and character in those games.
“There were times that we were looking up the table but that wasn’t the case in the end.
“What we were looking for in the league were solid displays but we tried to blood a few players and we also wanted to advance our game as well and I’m pleased enough that we did that.
“We needed to get some new players. Some of the lads that have been on the fringes last year, they have developed a good bit both physically and on their football side as well. That was good.
“But we tried to work on advancing our game all the time. Maybe a lot of the time last year you could say we were very attack focused and we had to balance that and look at our defensive side as well.”
This is the reality for any mentor worth his salt. Scoring highly and conceding highly is grand for principles and entertaining the neutral but is useless if you are losing.
The league is a high-wire act in that sense, as you try to strengthen your panel while also attempting to dig out a few positive results.
“You’d like to get most of your players a chance but sometimes results dictate what you can actually do. You want to develop all the time but you have to keep an eye on the table and we had to do that.
“We’re playing Division 2 football again next year and if you look at the calibre of teams that have gone down, two teams that were in Division 1 in the past couple of years, that puts things into perspective.”
As well as the young guns such as Evan O’ Carroll, Damian O’Connor, Graham Brody, Gearoid Hanrahan and Paul Kingston that have developed, you have Brendan Quigley back in the fold. He and John O’Loughlin form an excellent midfield partnership. Both are high-fielders but more importantly, are all-round footballers.
“If you look at the game about 10 years ago, so many things have changed even in terms of what you do off the field. A lot of the lads now are well-versed on nutrition whereas 10 years you ago you weren’t. You have strength and conditioning coaches now. So the changes are not just happening on the field. You need to have athletes. You need to have fellas able to run up and down the field.”
Like other managers, Ó Flatharta will only talk about the next game. Supporters are already planning for the prospect of meeting old rivals Kildare in the Leinster quarter-final but the Kerry Gaeltacht man isn’t paying tomorrow’s opponents, Carlow any such disrespect.
“It’s a derby. When it’s a local derby, you want to get the better of your neighbour all the time. Carlow will be very pleased to have a home venue. They’ve had some good results in the league and they would have got confidence from that. But we just have to focus on the way we want to play ourselves. Even when you start in December, and when the championship comes around, everybody is optimistic and you always have dreams of going further. But you have to place those to the side and take it one step at the time. I’m not into speculating what’s going to happen down the line. Obviously we always want to be going further all the time but you have to do your job properly.”
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