Cracking start to the season

by Senan O'Connell , 01 February 2013

Silverware may already be resting in Tyrone, Leitrim, Kerry and Kildare but to most of the fans, the players and the managers, the GAA season throws in properly this weekend and it’s not a bad start either!

That’s not to say that Kildare, or Leitrim’s win for that matter, won’t have mattered to those teams and fans – it will certainly help build momentum and for a county like Leitrim who last held a trophy aloft in 1994, it will be savoured.

Croke Park hosts a cracking double header of Allianz League action as Kildare welcome Donegal to their home from home at 5pm and Dublin welcome Cork to their actual home at 7pm! Both games will be live and exclusive on Setanta Ireland.

This issue is one that I think will define this year’s Division One winners and losers. All teams apart from Dublin have a four versus three split in home and away games. With Kildare playing two of their games in Croke Park instead of Newbridge, it is the Dubs that benefit most with an unbelievable five games in HQ.

Home advantage is worth points to every team. It’s the little things like familiarity with your surroundings, the different nuances of a pitch and how it plays, the fans behind you. It all adds up. To only have two away games is a significant advantage for Dublin. To have two home games played away from your home ground as Kildare will have, is a disadvantage.

However come the Summer, the advantage may be more obvious with the Kildare lads well used to Croke Park by then and who knows what advantage that might bring their way.

For Kieran McGeeney, it is vital they hit the ground running. In other years, Kildare have laboured through the early rounds but I think this year we saw him field strong line ups in the O’Byrne Cup with good reason.

The previous three All-Ireland champions in their first three outings is some welcome back to Division One football! The one thing that they do have up their sleeve is Jason Ryan. I am very impressed by his appointment. Let’s not forget his Wexford side more than any other in Leinster over the last few years, pushed Dublin to the pin of their collar time and time again.

This weekend against Donegal is a good opportunity to get off to that good start. Donegal have also been slow starters over the last few years and last year it was impressive home wins over the likes of Cork that steadied the ship. With an All-Ireland hangover still in the mix, it presents a great opportunity for the Lilywhites. Albeit playing at a neutral venue!

Dublin under Jim Gavin are a work in progress but I like what I have seen so far. They are more offensively minded and have opted for a more straight forward man-to-man marking system than the previous zonal system employed to such good effect under Pat Gilroy.

The big thing for Jim is the pressure. Previous Dublin managers have been set targets certainly but they have revolved around winning a Leinster title or reaching an All-Ireland final. With the win in 2011, the bar is set even higher now and it’s about All-Ireland wins again for Dublin.

Knowing Jim like I do, he will deal with the pressure and the attention in a cool and calm manner and little fuss. He knows these players well from their U-21 days and I am looking forward to what lies ahead.

Cork are chasing an unbelievable fifth league title in a row taking their Division Two title into account. I believe that this record affords Conor Counihan the chance to experiment a little more this year and I think that he has to. His all conquering half back line have serious miles on the clock now and while the additions of Cadogan and Cahillane will boost his hand considerably, 2013 promises to be a very interesting year for Cork football.

The final fixture of note this weekend is the all-Ulster clash of Tyrone and Down and I am delighted to see Sean Cavanagh back at the top of his game. He has been hampered by injury after injury lately but Mickey Harte will be delighted to have him back. If the likes of Peter Harte can replicate his 2012 form and if Stephen O’Neill can stay injury free, Tyrone could be a force again this year.

Finally it would be hard to sign off without a note about the late Páidí Ó Sé and Kevin Heffernan. Their recent passing has affected all within the GAA family as they were giants within and without their respective counties. For Kerry the memory of Páidí will not be far away with Marc and Tomás still in that dressing room and who knows what extra motivation his untimely death might provide to that panel of players.

Either way, the 2013 GAA season will be a poorer place without their presence.

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