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The Dubs are beatable and 4 more things we learned from the football league campaign

The Dubs are beatable, their rivals are growing in confidence and Leinster counties are on the rise.

1. Dublin are not infallible

DUBLIN WON THE All-Ireland title last year without so much as a glove being laid on them, but they’re set for an altogether sterner test this summer. 

Jonny Cooper with Padraig Hennessy Dublin failed to reach the league decider for the first time since 2012. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

While they remain the outright favourites to claim Sam in 2019 and complete a historic five-in-a-row, three league defeats indicate some chinks are beginning to appear in their armour.

Kerry and Tyrone both defeated Jim Gavin’s side with well-thought-out game-plans which saw both counties target Dublin’s full-back line with aerial ball. 

Gavin insists the panel remains open and his coaching team will be closely monitoring the club championship over the coming weeks for potential additions to the squad. The two obvious candidates for call-ups, should they be interested, are Kilamcud Crokes defender Rory O’Carroll and St Vincent’s star Diarmuid Connolly.

The addition of either or both men could restore some of Dublin’s aura, but there’s no doubting their performance levels have dipped from recent seasons. There’s also a good chance Dublin have little physical work done so far in an attempt to keep fresh for the ‘drive for five’. Time will tell. 

Kevin McLoughlin and Conor Diskin celebrate Kevin McLoughlin and Conor Diskin celebrate with the Division 1 trophy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

2. All-Ireland contenders improving

2018 was a rare off-year for both Kerry and Mayo, with both sides enduring early exits in the championship. Mayo’s season ended in round 3 of the qualifiers while Kerry were dumped out in the Super 8s. 

Both regrouped under new management and have freshened up their squads with the introduction of several talented youngsters from successful underage sides. The confidence Mayo will take from lifting national silverware in Croke Park yesterday cannot be underestimated.

Having reached the All-Ireland final last September, Tyrone have stepped things up a couple of notches too. They’ve added debutants Ben McDonnell, Michael Cassidy and Brian Kennedy as genuine contenders to break into the starting 15 and brought in a more varied style that’s heavy on kick-passing. 

Just like Tommy Walsh in Kerry, Cathal McShane’s presence at full-forward appears to be a ploy designed specifically with the Dubs in mind. 

Then you have Galway, who finished two points off a league final despite playing virtually the entire league without Damien Comer, Ian Burke and the Corofin contingent. 

Dublin’s competition is growing stronger. 

Andy McEntee Andy McEntee has led the Royals back to the top flight for the first time since 2006. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

3. Leinster counties on the rise while Munster fall

The much-maligned Leinster championship may be making a comeback – of sorts. Next year, five counties from the province will occupy the top two divisions of the league: Dublin, Meath, Kildare, Laois and Westmeath.

That’s not to say Dublin’s dominance of the Delaney Cup is not going to end anytime soon. But it is heartening to see the Royals, with their enormous population base, begin to play near their potential.

Laois have achieved back-to-back promotions and are constantly improving under John Sugrue, while Westmeath look the move too under new boss Jack Cooney.

In contrast, there’s cause for concern in Munster after Tipperary and Cork both suffered the drop to Division 3. Clare are the only side outside of Kerry who’ll feature in the top two tiers in 2020 – and they just about avoided relegation themselves.

Ruairi Lavelle Galway stopper Ruairi Lavelle. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

4. Goalkeepers taking more responsibility

For the first time this year we witnessed a goalkeeper scoring from open play in a competitive game. Niall Morgan managed that feat twice for Tyrone in their Division 1 campaign and it’s a sign of the times. 

Inter-county goalkeepers are becoming more confident in bringing the ball way outfield, with Galway’s Ruairi Lavelle and Monaghan’s Rory Beggan no strangers to forays beyond the 45m line. 

Many will argue that goalkeepers wandering too far away from their goals puts their team at unnecessary risk, as showcased when Lavelle was caught out on a couple of occasions against Tyrone a fortnight ago. 

The majority of netminders are happy to go short with a kick-out and receive the ball back immediately, a move pulled off a number of times by Kerry’s Shane Ryan in yesterday’s Division 1 decider. 

Banning the back-pass to the goalkeeper has been mooted as a potential rule change down the line, but for the moment shot-stoppers are more than happy to become an extra outfield when their teams have possession.

Dean McGovern dejected at the full time whistle Dean McGovern after Leitrim's Division 4 final loss to Derry on Saturday. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

5. League still matters

It didn’t matter to the Leitrim support that their first appearance at Croke Park in 13 years came in a league match, it was still a big occasion for the county. Supporters travelled home from all over the world for the game, including a significant number from New York.

Despite their defeat to Derry, promotion to the third tier is a major boost for football in the county. 

It showed that for many counties, the league still holds enormous importance. The lengthy period of time Mayo spent on the Croke Park turf with the Division 1 title displayed that winning a national title is something worth celebrating. 

Laois and Westmeath will do battle for the Division 3 crown next weekend and it may well turn out to be the highlight of the season for the victors. Or contrast that with Carlow’s dismay at their immediate return to the basement tier. For many sides, the league remains their most important competition.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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