The provincial pre-season competitions can be what they want for counties. A chance to claim some silverware that will be more elusive later in the year or perhaps to condition senior players in preparation for the National Leagues, but here’s why counties should follow Jim Gavin’s more radical approach.
Let’s go back to late January and Dublin were O’Byrne Cup champions after a nine-point victory over Louth in Drogheda but perhaps their biggest test came at the semi-final stage in Newbridge against Kildare.
A late Dubs comeback brought extra time and Kildare folded in the closing stages as Dublin progressed.
What makes that O’Byrne Cup campaign impressive is that Jim Gavin’s side was without every single member of the 2016 All-Ireland winning squad, even Jim Gavin himself wasn’t part of the campaign as the Round Towers man gave coach Paul Clarke temporary control of the team for the campaign.
While the 2016 panel jetted off on the annual team holiday, a group of former underage stars and fringe players was assembled and given a chance to shine. A lifeline to grab hold of a Dublin jersey and make it their own, and that’s exactly what some of them did.
Conor McHugh was excellent, starring for the Dubs in parts of the National League campaign, Ciaran Reddin another, with Reddin even starting and scoring two points in Dublin’s defeat to Kerry in the league final but it was former u-21 star Niall Scully who stepped up.
Scully was a regular all year with Dublin and featured in every Championship game in 2017.
Kerry of all counties could dramatically benefit from this. Four minor All-Ireland titles in a row hasn’t yet made any major impact on the senior side, with the possible exception of David Clifford’s imminent arrival to the setup of course.
What harm could it do to give the senior players an extended break and provide a platform for a host of former minor stars to thrive?
As well as the potential new talent, this approach can help a county manage their season and peak at the right times.
Jim Gavin’s team began the league campaign slowly as their senior stars were a couple of weeks behind their counterparts but in the long run, it meant that come the latter parts of the Championship, they were fresher and playing their best football.
This has been a problem for several teams this year. Tyrone seemingly peaked in the Ulster Championship, Kerry played their best football in the league final to beat Dublin, which ultimately served as a kick-start to Dublin’s season.
Only Mayo could argue they were on similar levels of performance come late summer, Rochford’s side took the scenic route through the qualifiers and two replays on their way to the All-Ireland final.
Giving your senior players extra time off, like Gavin did, can only help the players in the long term. It can help find new talent and potentially manage when the county peaks in the latter part of the season.
Gavin has already confirmed he’ll take this approach in 2018 and so should other managers.
Gavin Quinn, Pundit Arena