Whelan believes advanced mark will be a decisive factor
By John Harrington
In a 2020 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship that could be decided by fine margins, former Dublin star Ciaran Whelan believes the teams who are best able to exploit the advanced mark rule will gain an edge.
Scoring opportunities from play will be more difficult in adverse weather conditions, so if you can consistently engineer opportunities for your best shooters to have a free pot at the posts then it’s easy to see how big an impact that could have on results.
“I do think teams are probably privately working on how they can create four or five scoring opportunities in the scoring zone, getting the right guy in that arc,” says Whelan.
“It was more prevalent in some of the club championship games we saw, probably early in the league teams didn’t have much field time to prepare on movement in that forward line.
“We know how detailed teams are in terms of their statistical analysis, and one of their aims will probably be to achieve three or four marks per game in the zone.
“We’re going to be playing championship in winter and managers might use it as an opportunity to try and slow the game down because on softer surfaces the ball mightn’t be moving as fast in the forward line.”
Dublin are favourites to win incredible sixth All-Ireland title on the trot, but Whelan believes the unique circumstances of the 2020 All-Ireland SFC will level the playing field.
"I do think the nature of this year's championship makes it very interesting in that it's a much more level playing field,” says Whelan.
“Obviously, it's imbalanced against the Ulster teams and you could argue that Dublin have an advantage in that they can prepare a bit better for the championship. You would expect that they'll come out of Leinster, you don't know whether Kildare or Meath have progressed enough to put in a challenge and I don't think anyone else will be at their level.
"They'll come into an All-Ireland semi-final either fresh or cold and that's something that's going to be very interesting if they do come through Leinster. The other dynamic of that is the Ulster teams, which are going to be very battle-hardened.
"You're going to have to have significant depth in your panel, you're going to have Covid in the environment, so it's very hard to say how it's going to impact on various teams but whoever comes out of Ulster is certainly going to have momentum, and if they were to meet Dublin, it would be an interesting clash.
"I think it's probably a wider open championship than what we've seen in a good few years. Galway have significant momentum, Mayo are probably waiting in the long grass in that they've a lot of players back from injury and they'll be happy with the profile Galway are getting.
“Donegal have also been on an upward curve, Tyrone might fancy playing with a defensive system that was successful for them in the league against Dublin.
"If we get poor conditions, they're capable of beating anyone on any given day. Dublin to me, while they're certainly still strong and obviously contenders, and possibly favourites, this Kerry team is definitely going to improve over the next couple of years."
Dublin have made a solid start to life under new manager, Dessie Farrell, with just one defeat from six matches in Division 1 of the Allianz Football League.
But Whelan believes it might be difficult for Dublin to reach the same high levels in the Championship they have for the past five years because the new management team are still getting to grips with the challenge and a number of key players have retired this year.
“From a Dublin perspective, very interesting and very unstable for them in terms that Dessie hasn't had a lot of time to work with the team,” says Whelan.
"He's lost a couple of key players, has recently made changes to the backroom team, not a whole lot of time to prepare on the field.
“But I think that levels the playing field a bit because they obviously had a set routine where they kept their condition very high. They came back in February, they had a routine going over the last few years, and that has been broken.
"You throw into the equation, the change in management and it probably opens up opportunities for somebody to come left field this year and challenge them so I think it's a more open championship than it would have been on a normal basis."
“There's definitely challenges for Dublin and the baton will change at some point.
"As I alluded to, they've probably lost that little bit of momentum. And I think any change of management team can have a critical factor. Dessie Farrell touched on it a couple of times.
"They were a bit patchy in the league I suppose. They went 10 points down against Monaghan, they were behind against Donegal. They showed that character to dig those results out but Dessie Farrell touched on something in the League that he didn't say a whole lot to them and I think there's probably a player-led environment there and I think he has to manage it and get the balance right coming into the squad this year.
"Will he change a whole lot? Will he get a chance to stamp his own philosophy on it or does he let the leaders move forward and challenge for this All-Ireland?
“There's no doubt that you lose key players, there's a couple more coming in again. We don't know what affect the break will have on them so I do think that Dublin have done the five-in-a-row, they probably got the breaks in some All-Ireland finals, they have great characters but definitely Kerry are a team that's progressing.”