OPINION Don't write off the Dubs, league form comes with a health warning
Diehard Armagh fans might disagree but I doubt if there was a GAA fan or pundit who forecast that after Game One in the league the Orchard County would be first and Dublin last in the Division 1 table.
There is a kind of poetic justice about it though.
Armagh produced their best performance under Kieran McGeeney to post their first victory over Dublin since 2008.
In contrast, Dublin’s performance was as poor as we have seen from the multiple All-Ireland winners since before their six-in-row exploits.
None of the other teams in the top-flight were either as good as Armagh or as bad as Dublin last weekend –Tyrone v Monaghan, Mayo v Donegal and Kildare v Kerry all finished level. So, based on performance the league table is spot on – for now.
Still, nobody expects that when round seven of the league is completed, by March 27, that Armagh will be first and Dublin last.
Teams and managers are on a learning curve this spring.
Remember this is year one of the full split season – there were versions of it in 2020 and 2021, but everything was out of kilter then due to Covid-19.
The league is significant for Division 1 teams, but the championship remains where it is at.
Traditionally, there was a leisurely build-up to the provincial series after the conclusion of the league.
But the compressed season means counties have to plan differently in terms of when they do their stamina training, for example.
All-Ireland champions Tyrone are due to meet Fermanagh in the preliminary round of the Ulster championship just two weeks after the league final.
So, it is doubtful if Messrs Logan and Dooher will lose much sleep if they fail to reach the league decider.
Dublin and Kerry have longer run-ins. The Kingdom meet Cork in the Munster semi-final in Páirc Uí Rinn on May 7, five weeks after the league final and six after round-robin element of the competition finishes.
For Dublin, there is a three-week gap between the league final and their Leinster quarter-final tie against either Offaly or Wexford.
So, essentially, every team in Division 1 is at a different stage of their preparation cycle, so all league results need to be treated with caution.
Furthermore, teams have players involved in the Higher Education competitions right now, so they are not fully focused yet on their county duties.
Despite all those caveats, league form does count – and if a team struggles during the spring, the chances of them turning around the season are marginal.
Momentum and confidence are intangible ingredients, which cannot be earned on the training ground. They have to be won on the field.
The most significant games this weekend are Saturday night’s Tralee showdown between Kerry and Dublin and the Armagh v Tyrone derby in the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.
When Kieran McGeeney and Brian Dooher were playing, their counties produced some of the most compelling matches ever seen.
For Armagh, though, there was a maddening pattern: Tyrone won the ones that really mattered: the 2003 All-Ireland final and the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final.
What’s often overlooked is that between 2002 and 2006 Armagh won three Ulster titles and one All-Ireland, whereas Tyrone won one Ulster and two All-Ireland titles. They added another in 2008 when Armagh were again Ulster champions.
A win for Armagh on Sunday would confirm their status as the team to watch in 2022. But if Tyrone rain on their parade yet again the feel-good factor generated by their Croke Park triumph will disappear in a puff of smoke.
All eyes though will be on Austin Stack Park. Paradoxically, the pressure is on Kerry for two reasons.
Since humiliating Dublin in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final they have a woeful record against the Dubs.
They have lost three All-Ireland finals (2011, 2015 and 2019 after a replay) to Dublin as well as the 2013 and 2016 semi-finals.
Their league record is only marginally better. Dublin have won seven of their 14 league encounters since 2010; Kerry have four wins and three of their ties, including their last two, have ended level.
On the credit side for the home side Dublin haven’t beaten them on home soil since 2013.
Kerry’s performance in the last quarter will be watched carefully. Repeatedly the Kingdom withdraw into a defensive shell at the business end of games, with fatal consequences.
It happened in the drawn 2019 All-Ireland final; it was evident again in last year’s semi-final lost to Tyrone and manifested itself in Jack O’Connor first game in charge in Newbridge, when they allowed Kildare to hit the last five points.
Unless they eradicate this fear factor from their performances, they will not bring Sam back to Tralee in the summer.
As for Dublin they could hardly be as anaemic again – a decent performance will allay the worst fears of the fans.
But remember every GAA result at this time of the season comes with a health warning.
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