Danny Hughes: Stopping Kerry and Clifford may be this year's toughest puzzle to solve

Mayo's decision to put Padraig O'Hora on Kerry's David Clifford in the League final appeared to backfire Picture: Philip Walsh.

It is only League football. Means nothing when it comes to the Championship.

How many times have we heard this particular quip.

Kerry’s latest demolition job against Mayo will have clearly marked them out as the number one team to beat this season.

However it would be unfair to be too hard on the Westerners as they had a number of players missing last weekend due to injury, including Paddy Durkan, Oisin Mullan and Diarmuid O’Connor.

You also have to factor in the David Clifford effect.

Clifford was simply brilliant yet he was ably assisted by Mayo’s tactical approach.

For James Horan to ignore the realities of curbing such a threat, you have to think that he is either stubborn or naïve.

I like Horan, always have and as well as being an incredibly popular changing room figure, he was a fantastic servant as a player.

There is a point at which the practicalities of big game management, though, has to trump anything you want aesthetically.

Personally, I would have assigned Lee Keegan to man-mark Clifford.

Keegan could put Clifford on the back foot and send him the other way.

He also has the pace and strength to manage Clifford, insofar as you can I might add.

Padraig O’Hora had a nightmare and Clifford knew he had the beating of him, which, as a forward, is half the battle.

A sweeper was needed, to be solely assigned to those five or 10 metres in front of the boy king Clifford.

You have to cut off the oxygen supply.

I understand that O’Hora attempted to talk his way into Clifford’s head but even that failed miserably.

Perversely O’Hara even congratulated David on his goal, one that effectively killed the game as a contest.

That summed it up for me.

This is the thing that epitomises Mayo – they appear to be a lovely set of lads, lads you would be proud to call your son.

But nice guys win nothing in battle.

Personally, the last thing I would have contemplated was congratulating my opponent on a job well done during those 70 plus minutes of the game.

Given how Mayo have found themselves in the last four of the Championship going on a decade now, it would have been a useful exercise to focus on curbing Clifford and this dangerous forward line of Kerry’s, with a view to meeting them down the line.

But James Horan refuses to be practical like that – instead focusing on his own strengths rather than the oppositions.

Bigger tests lie down the line for Kerry, however, I’m certain this won’t come from Cork.

The Rebel county secured that tag many years ago and it’s just as well, as there has been little in the form of a real kick-back streak, except for that inspired smash-and-grab effort against Kerry in 2020 Championship. You would have to say that this was a fluke result if any were and the fact they went on to lose the Munster final to Tipperary backs that up.

Cork have been in Division Three in recent years and just about survived relegation a few weeks ago.

Kerry may be given a game by Clare but otherwise Munster is there for the taking.

That will be Jack O’Connor’s biggest challenge – how to keep The Kingdom sharp and on the edge when they lack so much provincial competition.

From an Ulster perspective, Cavan were the only participant involved in the League finals last weekend and they certainly made sure they provided fans with value for money.

To win a Division Four title will have been a relief to Mickey Graham and his team.

You want to go up as champions and lowest tier or not, winning in Croke Park is important to any player, no matter what the level of competition.

Cavan were helped by Tipperary management when midfielder Mark Russell was called ashore with four points to his name and 15 minutes left to play.

There was no obvious reason, with the Tipp management insisting that Russell only had 55 minutes in him but I would counteract that argument with a general observation that I have yet to see any player carried off a Gaelic field through exhaustion.

Another example of management having pre-planned substitutions and the inflexibility to adapt to real game performances.

Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin’s journey in the league ended satisfactorily on league final Saturday when our ‘wee’ neighbour Louth secured the Division Three title.

More importantly Louth are in the hat for the main Championship and there is an argument here that this will be the closest Leinster championship in years.

While I don’t see Louth winning either the provincial or All-Ireland titles, success should always be measured relatively and boy have they done a great job.

The club leagues will be starting to commence over the next few weeks – a welcome time for local supporters.

From my own experiences, with the inter-county Championships normally starting in May, as a county player you were always guaranteed a number of the opening league games with your club.

Two weeks prior to the Championship the ‘starring’ system kicked in and this prevented some inter-county players from playing club league football.

It was a sensible enough system that helped prevent or negate (to a large extent) the advantage some of the bigger clubs got by accessing their county stars.

Some fringe players on inter-county squads were always released to ensure competitive action at all times, again another sensible approach.

With the adaptation of a split season, it now appears that all inter-county footballers will be solely focussed on their respective county teams and the outlet of club football will no longer be facilitated.

So no ‘half-way house’.

It is likely that clubs will still have inter-county players for the club championship (which we always had anyway), but now, it is foreseeable that the county footballer will see very little club league football, if any now, going forward.

It is conceivable that fringe inter-county footballers will also play very little League or Championship football and then find themselves playing no club league either.

You begin to wonder then if the levels of commitment expected with county teams will cause many to opt off the panel in favour of getting some game-time.

Of course you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

However the ‘starring system’ 10 days prior to a Championship game was always a sensible approach and ensured inter-county players played league games for their respective club.

It looks like the split season has now catapulted players into elitism for part of the year – an unfortunate consequence for many other club players and fans throughout the country.

We are the lesser for it.



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