With two rounds of the Allianz Football League completed as a two-week break kicks in, here are five takeaways from what we’ve seen so far.
Galway still struggling to close out games
All-Ireland finalists Galway currently find themselves in the Division One relegation zone having blown winning positions in both of their outings.
READ MORE: Dessie Farrell says Dublin 'looked like a Division Two team in the second half' of win over Limerick
A hasty clearance from Cathal Sweeney led to Ryan O’Donoghue pegging them back for a draw at the death against Mayo having been in front for most of the evening, while they conceded the last five points to lose at home to Roscommon by one.
In last year’s Championship, they were comfortably ahead against Mayo and Roscommon only to get dragged back into skirmishes that they could have done without, while a similar tendency very nearly cost them against Armagh, who they had on the ropes at least twice before relying on penalties to go through.
They never got themselves into such a commanding position in the All-Ireland final against Kerry but, still, they led by two points well into the second half and conceded the next four, and while they drew level with five minutes remaining, they then conceded the last four points.
A more ruthless streak is required if they are to kick on again this year.
Monaghan’s Division One residency could be drawing to a close
Monaghan started their ninth successive League campaign in Division One this year, their longevity in the top flight bettered only by Kerry.
But a home defeat to Armagh and battering from Kerry in Killarney at the weekend sees them propping up the table as the only pointless team after two rounds.
For years Monaghan have been a beacon for smaller counties having punched above their weight in League and Championship, managing to maintain a high level of consistency while phasing out several long-serving stalwarts. But have they finally run out of road?
Incidentally, when Seamus McEnaney ended his first spell as Monaghan manager in 2010 with the county sitting in Division One, they then suffered two successive relegations before Malachy O’Rourke brought them straight back up to the top flight.
It looks like Vincent Corey has it all to do to maintain their Division One status after succeeding McEnaney this time.
Last year, they recovered from a poor start after drawing two and losing two of their opening four games to beat Donegal in Ballybofey, no mean feat, to get themselves going.
With Donegal coming to Clones on Sunday week and Roscommon the week after, Monaghan need to start putting some points on the board.
O’Byrne Cup a cautionary tale for Longford
Longford appeared to put a lot into their O’Byrne Cup campaign as new manager Paddy Christie erred on the side of experience more than experimentation in the competition.
They romped to a victory over Louth in the final little more than two weeks ago but they have endured a disastrous start to the League, suffering heavy beatings against Fermanagh and Westmeath.
They are rock bottom of Division Three with the worst scoring difference in the entire competition and you wouldn’t bet on it improving with their next assignment away to table toppers Cavan on Sunday week.
Incidentally, Dublin won the O’Byrne Cup last year but, again, it didn’t prove to be a positive portent for their subsequent League campaign as they lost their first four games and ended up being relegated.
The other three winners of this year’s pre-season competitions, Derry, Mayo and Cork, have fared much better in this League campaign so far, however, with only one defeat between them.
Division Two not cut and dried
The oddity of having two reigning provincial champions in Division Two meant that Dublin and Derry were installed as favourites for promotion before a ball was kicked.
And both have ultimately lived up to that status so far with two wins from as many games.
However, Dublin struggled for long periods against Kildare, winning by just a point in the end, and while they were clinical in the first half against Limerick, their manager Dessie Farrell conceded that “we looked like a Division Two team in the second half” as they went scoreless for 17 minutes after half-time.
Derry, meanwhile, were never in danger against Limerick but only pulled away in the last quarter and they rode their luck to emerge from Louth with a win.
They are joined at the top of the table by Meath, who go to Derry in the next round of games. The Royals are very much in the hunt though their promotion credentials are still questionable having been heavily outpointed in both their outings, with a glut of goals helping to secure their victories. They all count, of course, but it’s likely that winning games in that fashion will not be sustainable.
Cork responded to losing to Meath by giving Kildare a drubbing in Newbridge and Dublin go to Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday week. A Cork win there would really blow the division wide open and leave Dublin needing results in Derry and Navan to keep their promotion prospects afloat.
Injuries and Sigerson overlap
Already Louth’s Ciaran Byrne and Conor Sweeney of Tipperary have seen their seasons ended by cruciate ligament ruptures and there are fears that key Galway forward Damien Comer has suffered a similar fate having been stretchered off in Sunday’s defeat to Roscommon, with confirmation on the seriousness of his injury expected later this week.
Cruciate injuries are always going to be season-enders, but the shortened inter-county season means that short to medium-term injuries can now have a huge impact too.
While Byrne, Sweeney and Comer have no college commitments, running third level competitions alongside the Leagues is reckless and ratchets up the potential for players straddling both to pick up injuries. Meath manager Colm O’Rourke was correct in calling it out after his side’s win over Clare.
Last year, Mayo’s Tommy Conroy suffered a cruciate injury while playing in Sigerson Cup two days after playing in his county’s League opener and O’Rourke noted how two of his players had hamstring problems after a similarly demanding schedule over the past week or so.
The suggestion that inter-county managers should hold players in reserve while third level competitions are at their peak may have some merit in hurling but not in football, where League performance is now linked to whether counties play in the All-Ireland series or not.
The Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups have great value but a different slot in the calendar must be found for them.
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