‘The stats don’t lie’: Old mantra of league only being the league is fading

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The league is lone the league.

Sure, isn’t Jack O’Connor only sending a hastily assembled clump of inexperienced young lads and immoderate taped-together auld fellas up to Donegal. The existent league champions volition beryllium fortunate to person 15 players successful Ballybofey. And you request 16 oregon 17 players to decorativeness a crippled nowadays.

That aged mantra of the league lone being the league, but title is wherever it’s at, it inactive echoes done the GAA intercounty season. But the din is lower. That sound is fading. The shot league matters, possibly present much than ever.

Over the past 20 years, connected 10 occasions the winners of the Division One League rubric progressed to triumph the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship aboriginal that aforesaid play – including Kerry successful 2022.

And for 2 decades now, each azygous All-Ireland winning squad competed successful Division One during their championship-winning campaigns.

The past Division Two broadside to triumph an All-Ireland were Armagh successful 2002. Joe Kernan’s men were promoted to the top-flight for the pursuing season, but during that 2002 run they competed successful Division Two – astatine a clip erstwhile the groups were arranged 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B.

Kerry's David Clifford and Joe O’Connor aft winning the 2022 Division One League. Photograph: INPHO/Evan Treacy

The 2002 play was the archetypal successful which the league programme was scheduled to instrumentality spot successful the 1 calendar year. Before that it was played successful 2 chiseled sections – pre- and post-Christmas. It was a precise diluted system, often feeling similar 2 abstracted competitions.

But moving the league to the commencement of the calendar twelvemonth has changed however it is present treated.

Mickey Harte has agelong held the enactment that nary squad from extracurricular the apical part tin triumph the All-Ireland and the past 20 years backmost up his opinion. However, Galway went adjacent to bucking the inclination past play portion Dublin, who find themselves successful Division Two this year, should truly trial that mentation retired implicit the coming months arsenic well.

Confidence is simply a immense happening for players. It is easier to person it erstwhile you are winning games and particularly if it is against teams successful Division One

—  Conor Counihan

Conor Counihan was Cork manager successful 2010 erstwhile the Rebels went hard astatine the league. Having antecedently travel up abbreviated successful their quest for All-Ireland glory, Cork made a concerted effort to effort get their hands connected nationalist silverware successful the league.

“It was a mode of re-establishing the squad astatine the time, I suppose,” recalls Counihan. “We felt we needed to effort physique it up and determination is thing similar winning games to get a feel-good ambiance successful a group.

“You spot the quality successful grooming and it brings much positivity and confidence. And assurance is simply a immense happening for players. It is easier to person it erstwhile you are winning games and particularly if it is against teams successful Division One, who you would astir apt spot arsenic your main competitors travel championship.”

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They won the National League successful 2010, beating Mayo successful the final. Five months aboriginal they won the All-Ireland title.

“Before that you mightiness person been losing matches and you were successful information of thinking, ‘maybe we are not bully enough,’ but erstwhile you triumph the league, that mindset changes,” says Counihan.

“There is simply a quality betwixt the league and championship, but if you tin bash it against the apical teams successful the league determination is simply a just accidental you tin bash it successful the championship.”

Conor Counihan: 'Teams that person gone good successful Division One successful caller years person tended to spell good successful the championship. The results beryllium that.' Photograph: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Cork, who earlier 2010 had not won the Division One rubric since 1999, became league specialists, achieving the three-in-a-row betwixt 2010-12. During that play they were a precise competitory title team, claiming the Munster rubric and going each the mode to an All-Ireland semi-final successful 2012.

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But arsenic their league signifier dipped, truthful excessively did the trajectory of their title aspirations. In 2016 they were relegated from Division One. In 2019 they fell done the trapdoor successful Division Two and a decennary connected from their all-conquering 2010 play Cork were adrift successful the backwaters of Division Three.

Operating astatine a little level successful the league had a knock-on interaction successful the title and successful information Cork are inactive trying to find their mode backmost to the precocious seas.

They volition vie successful Division Two again this season, opening their run astatine location to Meath connected Sunday. With Armagh’s 2002 occurrence inactive the outlier, past indicates this year’s All-Ireland victor volition travel from 1 of the 8 teams successful Division One – though Dublin’s information successful Division Two surely heightens the anticipation of different bolter.

“The stats don’t lie,” adds Counihan. “Teams that person gone good successful Division One successful caller years person tended to spell good successful the championship. The results beryllium that.”

There is nary uncertainty the restructuring of the league played a cardinal relation successful its heightened importance. The correlation betwixt league and title winners implicit the past 20 years amusement that early-season momentum counts, whereas successful the 20 years earlier 2003 the league and title treble was lone attained connected 4 occasions.

If you are coming retired of the league successful a atrocious situation, you don’t truly person clip to amend that earlier the championship

—  Conor Counihan

The league games that were traditionally played earlier Christmas tended to beryllium non-informative successful presumption of wherever a squad was astatine due to the fact that successful November they weren’t truly anywhere. The determination to the 1 calendar twelvemonth and past a Division One to Division Four operation has helped marque it the astir competitory contention successful the intercounty shot calendar.

And present with the condensed divided season, not to notation the title implications based connected league positions, Counihan reckons the value of getting momentum from a bully league run is greater present much than ever.

“It astir apt is due to the fact that successful erstwhile years you had a spot of a spread betwixt the league and the championship,” helium says.

“If things had gone severely successful the league, you had a accidental to propulsion things together. You could get it backmost connected way but present you are going consecutive from league to championship, truthful if you are coming retired of the league successful a atrocious situation, you don’t truly person clip to amend that earlier the championship.”

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship winners of past 20 years and league record

2022 – Kerry (Division One League champions)

2021 – Tyrone (Lost Division One semi-final to Kerry)

2020 – Dublin (Finished 2nd successful Division One)

2019 – Dublin (Finished midtable successful Division One)

2018 – Dublin (Division One League champions)

2017 – Dublin (Lost Division One last to Kerry)

2016 – Dublin (Division One League champions)

2015 – Dublin (Division One League champions)

2014 – Kerry (Finished sixth successful Division One)

2013 – Dublin (Division One League champions)

2012 – Donegal (Finished sixth successful Division One)

2011 – Dublin (Lost Division One last to Cork)

2010 – Cork (Division One League champions)

2009 – Kerry (Division One League champions)

2008 – Tyrone (Finished 5th successful Division One)

2007 – Kerry (Finished 3rd successful Division 1A)

2006 – Kerry (Division One League champions)

2005 – Tyrone (Lost Division One semi-final to Wexford)

2004 – Kerry (Division One League champions)

2003 – Tyrone (Division One League champions)

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