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EXCLUSIVE Will we see all-attacking, open football for this year's championship? ... I don’t think so

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Ciarán Kilkenny of Dublin is tackled by Kieran Molloy of Galway. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ciarán Kilkenny of Dublin is tackled by Kieran Molloy of Galway. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Cormac Costello of Dublin in action against Jack Glynn of Galway during the Allianz League match in Tuam. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Cormac Costello of Dublin in action against Jack Glynn of Galway during the Allianz League match in Tuam. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

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Ciarán Kilkenny of Dublin is tackled by Kieran Molloy of Galway. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Beware false dawns and, perhaps, false prophets, too!

The Allianz Football Leagues have provided great and welcome entertainment – particularly in Covid times. We have witnessed some uplifting stories, like David Tubridy’s displays for Clare which have seen him, at the age of 34, become the league’s all-time top scorer. A terrific achievement for him personally and the county.

Likewise, Offaly’s evergreen Niall McNamee has revelled in the impact/supersub role for the Faithful County as John Maughan looks to continue the upward trajectory of the county.

McNamee has shown that age is just a number when you have the footballing brain and skill level that the 35-year-old Rhode man possesses.

In the top divisions there have been some high-scoring duels, and some atypical Ulster versus Ulster clashes in Division 1 North.

There is a refreshing sense of positivity around Gaelic football at this moment in time. However, while not wanting to put a sharp pin in this bubble of optimism, I feel it has been an illusion, specifically in Division 1.

I don’t think this renaissance of the game, something of an era of enlightenment, will continue into this summer’s championship. Sorry, but I think it’s somewhat naive to believe otherwise.

In the all-Ulster Division 1 North, I think the counties’ main goal was to avoid relegation while at the same time getting game time into their players. One thing the managers in this section didn’t want to do is reveal their hand too early in the season.

That’s why I think, come championship, we will see a return to more defensive play.

Not, thankfully, as defensive as back in the Jim McGuinness days – but certainly significantly more defensive than what we have been witness to in this year’s league, and teams will certainly aim to balance approach to defence and attack.

The managers in this section – Declan Bonner, Feargal Logan/Brian Dooher, Kieran McGeeney, and Séamus ‘Banty’ McEneaney have given their teams a freedom, a licence to express themselves, knowing that, simultaneously, it may show up shortcomings in their squads.

Then they will attempt to address these shortcomings before, and during, the championship.

It is wishful thinking that teams are going to go away from the strong defensive emphasis that some of them have shown in recent seasons?

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Ultimately, it’s a results-based industry and while we’d love to see open, attractive football at all times, some counties will just become a hostage to fortune if they employ such a game plan.

With the new rules in regards to cynical play for goalscoring situations, I think teams will also make adjustments. In midfield, you will see teams employ tactics to slow down the opposition, and create time for their defence to reset, as we move into championship mode.

Switch to the other top-flight section – Division 1 South – and in Galway you see the perfect example of a county that are trying to return to their traditional attacking style of play, but are finding that transition very tricky.

While Galway manager Pádraic Joyce vented his feelings with regard to Monaghan enjoying home advantage for their upcoming relegation play-off, maybe they were also the words of a man who is stung and very frustrated with how he is finding life as a senior inter-county boss.

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Cormac Costello of Dublin in action against Jack Glynn of Galway during the Allianz League match in Tuam. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Cormac Costello of Dublin in action against Jack Glynn of Galway during the Allianz League match in Tuam. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Cormac Costello of Dublin in action against Jack Glynn of Galway during the Allianz League match in Tuam. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

An outstanding forward himself during his playing days, his arrival as the county’s manager was heralded by trumpets blast following their tenure under Kevin Walsh.

Walsh’s defence-first approach was clearly based on outcomes and giving his team the best opportunity to achieve results, but traditionalists were making plenty of noises calling for changes to their style of play.

Last year, Galway started the league impressively – they beat Monaghan, lost to Kerry away by a point, hammered Tyrone by 19 points and beat Meath – then came lockdown and cold reality has bit hard since.

They lost to Mayo, by 15 points, when last year’s league recommenced, and then to Dublin in last year’s concluding league game.

Their Connacht Championship would have only piled on the frustration – their scheduled clash with Sligo did not proceed owing to Covid cases in the Yeats County squad, so they progressed to a provincial final with no games under their belt.

There they lost to Mayo, by a point, despite a strong late rally – and their championship ambitions were over.

Now Joyce’s men find themselves in a relegation play-off, their massive 22-point loss to Kerry in their opening game in this year’s league putting them immediately on the back foot.

So will Galway continue to try to play the way they have been, leaving defenders at times one-on-one with some of the best marksmen in the game?

I don’t think so, I think the Galway management are going to have to strike a greater balance between the style implemented by previous manager Walsh and the aspirations of the current management team.

Last weekend against Dublin, you could spot adjustments in their approach as they didn’t contest Michael Shiel’s short-range kick-outs with any real intensity in the first half, and they dropped bodies into the pockets to protect their full-back line.

For me, the top flight of the league could conclude in something of a farcical fashion – with Dublin, Donegal, Tyrone and Kerry already turning their focus to the championship.

There will be more sweat and toil poured into the relegations and promotion battles down the divisions – as they will have implications for the counties down the road in relation to the new format for the championship.

But do I think this league has provided us with a window into the future, one of open, attacking ‘at all cost’ football? I simply don’t think so.

The real business for the top teams is only beginning.

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