Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

1 May 2008 Edition

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Matt Treacy

THE four football league titles were decided at the weekend. The victories of Derry and Westmeath were probably unexpected, there was never going to be much between Wexford and Fermanagh, and Offaly were strong favourites to overcome Tipperary in the Division Four final.
Unusually, Kerry surrendered a comfortable lead and a comfortable-looking position to lose to Derry in Parnell Park. Being beaten won’t particularly concern them but the manner of the defeat creates an impression of vulnerability that will perhaps embolden challengers. But it’s only the end of spring and Kerry will not have to be at anywhere near their best for at least another two months.
The pleasing thing from Derry’s point of view is that they appear to have solved the problem of over-reliance on Paddy Bradley. On Sunday, Bradley ‘only’ scored six points which last year would almost certainly have meant that Derry were beaten. Seven other players managed to make the scoreboard in Parnell Park and that augurs well for Derry’s summer. They have a tough opening game against Donegal and meet the winners of Monaghan and Fermanagh so they’ll get nothing easy but could well still be around come August.
Dublin, of course, wear vulnerability like a badge and turned in another frustrating below-par performance against Westmeath who look in good shape to perhaps upset a few teams in Leinster. Their first test is against Longford in two weeks. The winner of that plays Offaly with the prize there being a potential semi-final against Dublin. None of the teams on that side of the draw will fear Dublin even though one assumes they will be better come June. But you know what they say about assume and making asses of people.
Much was made of the fact that Dublin were short so many players due to suspensions but the stark truth of the matter is that of those missing only Ciaran Whelan, Dermot Connolly, the two Brogans and Ross McConnell are odds-on to be first team choices for the championship. At least nine of the team on Saturday could be reasonably confident of either making the summer team or being regular impact subs.
On the one hand, manager ‘Pillar’ Caffrey certainly has a stronger panel than two years ago, when injured players were brought on as subs. But on the other, the same failings and vulnerabilities seem to be there, not as individual attributes of the players themselves but part of the psyche of the team. If you get beaten by Westmeath in April then you are planting the seeds of doubt about June and July. And getting beaten is never good for morale, no matter who the opposition or whatever the circumstances.

A PERENNIAL argument among Gaelic football supporters is about who are the greatest teams. The obvious answer to that is to point to the number of All-Ireland senior titles won, with Kerry well ahead on 35, Dublin next on 22, then Galway on 9, Meath 7 and 15 other counties sharing 47.
Such a measure, of course, dates back over a century and modernists would claim does not accurately reflect more recent trends. So in that spirit I compiled a table charting the fortunes of counties over the last 50 years. Scores are based on weighted points awarded for winning the All-Ireland, final appearances, semi-final appearances, winning a provincial title or appearing in a final, and winning or appearing in a League Division One final. The results were as listed in the box: –
The top six are the same and in almost the same order as All-Irelands won, but of the next six, only Mayo and Offaly are in both groups. Counties like Kildare, Tipperary and Wexford -–whose glory years were in the first two decades of the 20th Century – are much further down the modern pecking order, their places having been usurped by the more recent arrivistes from Ulster with four of the teams that won their first All-Irelands in the 1990s or ‘Noughties’ grouped tightly together.
The bottom half is comprised of counties whose best days are gone or who have been occasionally competitive without making the major breakthrough. The only teams not to be ranked at all are Kilkenny, Wicklow, Carlow and Waterford, none of whom have ever won an All-Ireland, and the faded aristocrats of Louth who won three, the last being in 1957. That was also the year they won their eighth Leinster title but, amazingly, they have not even reached a final since then. It would be nice to see them do so but not this year, thanks very much, seen as they play Dublin in the quarter-final.
The other thing that is striking about the top half of the table is that all of them, except for Mayo and Roscommon, have won an All-Ireland in the past 30 years. Indeed, Mayo’s last was in 1951 since which time they’ve been beaten in five finals. Roscommon won in 1943 and 1944 and have been beaten finalists on three occasions since.
How likely is it that 2008 will see one of the counties outside the first half of the table triumph? Not very, you would have to say. Kerry have set the standard and at most there are maybe four or five others capable of beating them on a really good day. And it would have to be a really good day.

An Phoblacht
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