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Can an Easter resurrection deliver a glorious summer?

After last weekend’s Croke Park thriller to decide the Division 1 football title, there were many who went on social media afterwards to posit a view that the fare on offer only served to justify the continuation of league finals.

One post from a journalist on X, read: “Get rid of league finals.” – Died 6.20pm. March 31, 2024.

Such talk on dispensing with the divisonal deciders has only gained traction in recent years – since the GAA’s introduction of the split season and with it an April start to the championship. Prior to that we had league semi-finals in football and there wasn’t much crowing for such games to be scratched from the fixture list.

Instant, sometimes well-thought-out, sometimes not, reactions to last Sunday’s Dublin-Derry epic, were plentiful. It’s perhaps a tad self-righteous to say that the encounter has put an end to any talk that such finals will be no more. More revealing were those who applauded the performances from both counties, with the more eye-catching words stitched together in the sentences that summed up Derry’s contribution.

We got more than a glimpse of what Gaelic football could be: end-to-end fare where players are not afraid to take aim at the posts. In fact Dublin had 10 different scorers from play; a list that did not include Brian Fenton, Ciarán Kilkenny and Con O’Callaghan. For Derry, their live-wire centre-back Eoin McEvoy popped up with two goals in a player-of the-match display.

It’s whetted the appetite to what the championship could offer.

Before last Sunday’s thriller, Eamonn Sweeney, writing in The Sunday Independent, uttered a pesimistic note on what’s to come with the words: “The football championship will lumber into action like someone struggling into work on Monday morning after a strenuous weekend.”

He went on: “On the evidence of this year’s league campaign, there are only three realistic Sam Maguire contenders.

“There may even be just one. Dublin’s current form suggests the competitive imbalance of their six in a row era hibernated rather than died. But for two superb dead ball conversions, by Rob Hennelly in 2021 and Seán O’Shea in 2022, they might be seeking ten on the trot.”

A day later, after watching events unfold in the top-tier decider, Sweeney wrote: “Wouldn’t it be great if Gaelic football was like this all the time?

Conor Glass gets a shot away in the league final

“Played like Dublin and Derry played it yesterday, it is our very own Beautiful Game, a sport to warm the heart and satisfy the soul.

“Croke Park’s Easter Sunday had salvation, redemption and resurrection.”

Dessie Farrell and Mickey Harte have shown the way, with Harte liberating Derry even more. At full tilt, they are a joy to watch.

Against Kerry in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, the Oak Leafers gave us more than a few glimpses of what they were about. They spurned chances to put the Kingdom on the back foot. It was a loss that hurt.

In 1992 after losing narrowly to Donegal in an Ulster final, when favourites, the late Eamon Coleman spent months replaying the pain of that defeat in his head. A year later Derry lifted Sam Maguire for the first time. Lessons were learned, with Coleman overseeing a side that could deal with heightened expectations.

We’ll soon find out whether the present-day Derry outfit can deal with the expectancy that what’s left for them to do in 2024 is bring Sam back to the county for the second time.

James McCarthy and Stephen Cluxton celebrate winning a ninth All-Ireland medal last July

Dublin, of course, will be determined to retain their crown. Some key personnel, those that are chasing 10 Celtic Crosses, will be back on board as the summer progresses. They know that Derry, who called the tune for much of last Sunday’s epic, are now a genuine threat. Kerry, who lead the Dubs going down the stretch in last July’s finale but couldn’t seal the deal, will also be primed for another big effort.

So it’s that triumvirate, as things stand, who are best equipped to put the glorious in the summer. We may have to wait until July before any collisions but it should be worth the wait.

Others, namely Mayo, Galway, Tyrone, Armagh and Donegal are capable of adding a bit more gloss. Kevin McStay seemed happy that the Green and Red did not reach the league final this year, telling RTÉ Sport after the recent win over Monaghan that his side “are in a good place” heading into the championship.

McStay hoping then that the juice in the tank does not run on empty in June, as was the case for his troops in 2023.

(L-R) Jack Casey of Leitrim, Diarmuid O’Connor of Mayo, John Daly of Galway, Conor Hussey of Roscommon and Keelan Cawley of Sligo at the launch of the Connacht Championship

Neighbours Galway weren’t far away from winning the whole thing a year previous; a lack of squad depth ultimately leaving them just short. After a season plagued by injuries to date, getting key names like Damien Comer, Shane Walsh, Rob Finnerty, Matthew Tierney and Cillian McDaid back playing regularly is a must.

In 2021, Tyrone were beaten out the gate by Kerry in their final league game. A precursor to a championship where they went all the way. Three years on and another humbling, this time from Dublin as the spring campaign concluded, is the point where they again look to bounce back. A much harder task now given the greater number of hurdles that must be jumped.

Armagh will look to ditch the ‘nearly man’ tag. They are on the easier side of the draw in Ulster and McGeeney needs to deliver some silverware.

Jim McGuinness is back winning matches for Donegal and now relishing the chance to have a crack off Derry in a couple of weeks.

In Leinster, the prize to be the ‘best of the rest’ will be keenly contested. Louth and Westmeath lead the way, with Kildare, after a horrid league, most likely having to beat both if they are to avoid the Tailteann Cup.

As for the said competition, it did get buy-in from those who contested it last year. There’s no reason to suggest in won’t be competitive again.

And while Dublin and Derry will be thanked for giving us one of the best games of Gaelic football we’ve seen in a long time, the unwieldy championship structure that starts with a knockout phase, then has a league format in the middle before reverting back to knockout, delivers too many meaningless matches in that middle section.


Two-tier championship structure ‘completely unbalanced’


And of course there is the old chestnut of the provincial system. Not dwelling on it too long here, other than Ulster should again give us some compelling fare and traditional rivals look set to meet in the Connacht final.

Then we have the condensed season and with it the short gap between league and championship. That’s not ideal.

Players and managers, however, must prepare around the schedule that is. Let’s hope we have more than a few games to savour before, based on what we saw on Easter Sunday, a highly likely glorious conclusion.

Follow a live blog on Kilkenny v Clare in the Allianz Hurling League final on Saturday from 7.15pm on rte.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app and listen to live updates on Saturday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1

Follow a live blog on New York v Mayo in the Connacht Football Championship on Sunday from 8pm on rte.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app


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