John McEntee: Kerry still look the most likely to end Dublin's dominance
WITH five games played by every county bar Antrim and Leitrim, the Allianz Football League has a predictable feel about it.
Dublin are showing their strength in depth with an enthralling level of consistency exhibited by almost 30 different players across the five games.
They have by far the highest scoring average, scoring 20 points per game, and the second best defensive record.
This consistency is not simply as a result of having access to a high calibre of player. As we all know, good players don’t necessarily make good teams.
Rather, it is a commitment by every player to a system of play which espouses a team ethos as opposed to the development of a system around one or two excellent individuals.
For example, when the supremely talented Con O’Callaghan, Bernard Brogan or Diarmuid Connolly are not selected to play, there is barely a mention of their omission and the team will rack up their 20 points regardless. There is no other team that can replicate this pattern. Does this mean that Dublin are invincible? Well, time will tell.
Last year, Jim Gavin needed to freshen up his team and to recoil his loyalty to his more seasoned campaigners. This was a difficult call for Gavin, yet he did it.
In the film Moneyball, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt’s character) was tasked with reinventing his baseball team. To do this he kept a distance from his players so that he could make the tough calls when he needed to. He parked his emotions.
Gavin needed to do this last year and, for that, he deserves a grade A*. Dublin were duly rewarded with their third Sam Maguire on the spin.
Some might suggest that this year is easier for Dublin. I’m not so sure. Those great players have been pushed aside by their undergraduates. They are in a different mental space now.
They are also less likely to reach their former heights, which may mean that the previously very high standards of training have waned somewhat.
The impact of this change will not be evident until Dublin are beaten once. That is when their shine dims and other teams will begin to play the Dubs with a renewed confidence.
Who are the genuine contenders to the throne?
Galway have been very impressive in the League thus far. Physically imposing, defensively very solid and blessed with an abundance of raw pace in their forward line, they are certainly worth watching. There is one thing about them, though – the stats show they are set up to win a low scoring game; a 13-12 scoreline.
Teams who are hard to beat don’t always win. The current Tyrone team is a case in point. On the big pitches – Croke Park or McHale Park – it takes 17 points to win Championship games.
Galway have some work to do before they can be considered genuine contenders.
I would suggest it is easier to remedy defensive frailties than it is to foster forward play.
Aside from Louth, who have been abysmal, Kerry and Donegal boast some of the worst defensive records across all four divisions. As a Division One team, they are pitted against the best teams in the land so it is perhaps unsurprising that they’ve conceded so heavily and are fighting relegation.
Yet their respective managers will note that their scoring averages are around 16/17 points per match. As the ground firms up they will become more potent. The key task will be to shore up their defence. Often the return of one or two players addresses this weakness. Other times it may require radical reprogramming of the defensive system.
The good news is there is time – two more League matches followed by six weeks of focused training in preparation for Championship season.
Kerry perhaps have more talent at their disposal to enter the fray than Donegal have.
Therefore I am of the view that the Kingdom remains the one team who have the arsenal and the defensive knowhow to defeat the Dubs. Another observation I note from the League tables is that the provincial Championships of Leinster and Munster will be a damp squib again this year. Dublin simply have no opposition. In Munster, there will be stiff competition between Tipperary, Cork and Clare for a crack at Kerry, but a combination of all three teams would have no chance of winning.
Connacht and Ulster are sure to throw up some high profile casualties and to predict a winner at this stage is foolhardy. Will a provincial winner appear from outside Division One? Only Cavan have the quality to upset the odds.
Mattie McGleenan (inset) experienced a difficult baptism as an inter-county manager, but to his credit he has put his head down and worked hard at developing a decent brand of football.
His team are favourites to gain promotion to Division One.
The whole of Ulster will be watching their remaining two League games against Roscommon and Tipperary to see just how much they’ve progressed from last year.
Talk of potential in this Cavan team holds no water. They must produce the goods when it matters most and, in doing so, they will give themselves a much-needed injection of self belief.