Colm Cavanagh: League has started with a bang but we must be careful to draw too many conclusions
Are Dublin finished? Are Armagh favourites for the All-Ireland? Are Kerry back? Were Tyrone a one-season wonder? Do the early stages of the League hold the answer to any of these questions?
Who knows, but the results so far are certainly a lot different to what many had anticipated. It is early yet, but with the Championship following straight after the League this year, there isn’t the same time for teams to chop and change much more before the “real football” starts.
Dublin are definitely not as bad as their results have suggested but I feel that they need to drop the ego that they’ve played with over the last number of years and realise that opposing teams know their style inside out at this stage.
They need to change it up. At the weekend they went man-to-man against one of the best teams in the country with undoubtably one of the best forwards in the modern game in the worst conditions I’ve seen in a long time - how was that game ever going to make sense?
Opposing teams don’t fear them like they used to, everyone knows now that they are beatable - no longer the invincibles of football.
Dublin will have to sit down and realise that yes, they are firmly in the top four teams in the country, but they are no longer guaranteed the top spot just on reputation.
Their footballers haven’t lost their skills overnight, the talent is still there, and those men would make any starting team in the country but the bench isn’t what it used to be.
There were many years when the pool of talent was so vast in Dublin that the sub bench would have made the backbone of many counties' starting panel. That isn’t the case anymore, so their player management is crucial this year.
Keeping their star players fit and injury free will be vital if they are to have a genuine chance of turning their season around (as ridiculous as it sounds saying that at the beginning of February.)
Armagh have been working away on themselves in the background over the last number of years. Kieran McGeeney is a master tactician and has thrown out any predecessors' plans and started from scratch, building a team to play to his plan, and so far, they have proven that they are a force to be reckoned with.
Have they got the strength of character to stand up and prove themselves in the heat of Championship on the big stage? If the McGeeney, as well as Kieran Donaghy and Ciaran McKeever, have taught them anything it will be the importance of mental strength and resilience. I just hope they haven’t been working too hard too early and could peak too soon in the year as a result.
Maintaining that momentum and sustaining that level of intensity will be very difficult over the next few months but we will all be enjoying the journey with them however long it lasts.
The weekend wasn’t good for Tyrone but I wouldn’t write them off just yet. They lost in the League by a lot more than two goals last year and reflecting back, it was the turning point of the season for them.
They have enjoyed their celebrations and made the most of the winter break but be under no illusion that when things get serious, Logan and Dooher will be tightening the reins and the lads will not want to be dropping down to Division Two on the back of an All-Ireland win.
There is still serious talent on the team, and as much as we enjoyed the freedom they played with last year, they need a structure and a plan to play to. I still believe it is there and as long as the players can focus and keep discipline they will be there or thereabouts at the end of July.
For me, Kerry look like the team to beat so far. They have started with purpose and are already building momentum. They have individuals with ridiculous skills and they have a team who play like a team.
To have had a scoring performance like they had at the weekend in those conditions has to be commended. Again, keeping David Clifford injury free will be pivotal to how their season plays out but with him on form, I think it will take something special to beat them on their day.
The football has a break this weekend and I would imagine there will be a few team meetings and video work sessions to reflect on the first rounds of the League and break performances down, regroup and go again.
There are two very short weeks between the League rounds ending and the Ulster Championship kicking off this year.
The foundations of the Championship teams and gameplans will be laid over the coming weeks. We all know that there are no major trophies handed out in February and what we are seeing now isn’t what we will be seeing in July. Teams will settle and develop, some will come together, and the wheels will fall off others.
The League has started with a bang and more than a few talking points, capacity crowds, rivalries renewed, some sublime scores, ridiculous weather, handbags at dawn, and it is still only the beginning of February…