By Oisín Bradley
The Allianz National Football and Hurling Leagues are in full swing at the moment, with all sides from Malin to Mizen looking to make a dent on the League and make a move for silverware in the Spring months, but do their efforts at this time of year have any impact on their Championship prospects?
Ultimately, the answer to this is undoubtedly yes. Unless you are either Dublin or Kerry, or one of the teams at the bottom of Division 4 (such as Limerick or Wexford), chances are, you will be involved in either a relegation or promotion battle as the league approaches the tail end. Because of this, you are aiming to have that 4-month period of peak form between March and June, when you will likely be involved in the closing rounds of the League when your fate is sealed, League finals, the blood-and-thunder knockout clashes of the provincial games and the qualifiers.
Take, for example, Cavan. Cavan could conceivably be involved in a relegation battle to avoid the trapdoor into Division 3 and the second tier of Championship football this season, while the possibility of promotion to the top flight also looms for Mickey Graham’s charges. Immediately after that, it’s straight into a heated derby in Saint Tiernach’s Park against Monaghan.
Another team in this scenario is Cork. Cork will need to keep up the form they’ve showed in the early rounds of the League to make it into Division 2 and the hunt for the Sam Maguire, and will have no easy feat in Munster, with Kerry making their way to Pairc Uí Chaoimh and the slog of qualifier football likely looming.
Compare this with the likes of Dublin and Kerry, who are looking to peak from May to August, and you see how difficult it is for the other teams to break the deadlock. Neither county is in danger of relegation from the top flight, so are able to take a step back and not fully commit to the League.
Then comes the Leinster and Munster Championships. Dublin don’t have to perform until after they have won the Leinster Championship, swatting aside a smattering of Division 3 and 4 sides as well as Meath before peaking for the Super 8s, while the same can be said for the Kingdom in Munster.
Due to the nature in which the big 2 treat the League and their competition in the Championship, they are naturally geared to peak in mid-July for the Super 8s, when they face the likes of Donegal, Tyrone, Mayo and Galway, who have all been exhausted after playing competitive football since March, which begs the question; how are the chasing pack meant to keep up in the current format?