At some point in the future, I would like to write a book on the history of GAA kits, charting the colours worn by each county.

The title is already to hand – Pride in The Jersey – and the only fears are that advancements in modern technology, and the rapid rate of new releases, will make it difficult to keep track of everything.

Then you factor in things like the Cork hurling and football teams wearing their black and red training kits in recent home matches against Waterford and Kildare respectively. There was no clash of colours requiring a change, this was simply shop-window stuff and hopefully, not the start of a slippery slope whereby history and tradition are eroded.

It’s a contrast to ladies’ football, where the last couple of years have seen teams move away from traditional white shorts for practical reasons.

Function over form

While some of the decisions – like Mayo going for red shorts or Kerry opting for navy – are questionable, they are rooted in the idea of function over form and player welfare, which can never be a bad thing.

While it’s always somewhat risky to read too much into league results, the top of the Lidl NFL Division 1 table shows that things may be changing in terms of the top stratum of counties.

The Rebels

After four rounds of fixtures, Armagh are the only side with a 100 percent record, followed by Kerry and Meath. Dublin, winners of five of the last seven All-Irelands, have lost half of their matches while Cork – who have played a game more than most – are in danger of relegation.

The Rebels were of course at the forefront of the sport for so long under Eamonn Ryan, but any dynastic team must reset at some point. With such numbers, Cork are never likely to be out of contention for too long and it would be very premature to even think about writing an obituary for Dublin but to have some fresh challengers – notwithstanding Meath’s All-Irelands of 2021 and 2022 – can only bode well for the sport as a whole.

With International Women’s Day upon us, it’s worth noting just how much the sport has developed. Twenty-five years ago, only the All-Ireland final was televised live before the LGFA chief executive Helen O’Rourke pushed Tim O’Connor of RTÉ Sport to show the semi-finals too.

TG4 then came on board and raised the profile further. In 2001, there were around 650 clubs in Ireland whereas now that figure isn’t far off 1,500. Progress can seem slow at times, especially for those undertaking the thankless tasks involved in keeping the show going at grassroots level, but the big picture is a positive one.

Women's National Team

Given the timing, therefore, one would think that the marketing for the beginning of the Women’s League of Ireland season would fall into the FAI’s lap. A few weeks ago, prior to the start of the SSE Airtricity League season, I noted that the website for the women’s league had been dormant since November.

I’ll be honest, I felt a bit harsh to be drawing attention to it, expecting things to have been righted by the time the new season started.

Well, the big kick-off is pretty much upon us – Shelbourne take on Sligo Rovers at 2pm on Saturday, the first of five top-flight games taking place that day. Despite that, at the beginning of this week, the most recent item on the site was the news that Peamount United had won the 2023 league title.

The women’s national team is on the crest of a wave and so there is the potential to harness some trickle-down effect for the domestic game. It is the absolute definition of the proverbial ‘time to strike while the iron is hot’.

Those in charge could look at ladies’ football for pointers or note how the profile of the Women’s Super League in England has been raised exponentially.

In England last week, the Arsenal women’s team played their Tottenham Hotspur counterparts in front of a sold-out Emirates Stadium crowd. It was the fifth time they have played there this season and only one of those games has drawn less than 50,000.

Now, without sounding cynical, we doubt that there would have been that many clamouring for the games to be played there if they weren’t – but because they were, interest grew.

Obviously, the figures involved are much smaller here, for men’s or women’s soccer, but the principle remains the same – if you don’t promote it, it won’t grow.

Hoping for a Twickenham treat

Any championship win involves a sticky moment or two along the way – and often that comes prior to the big do-or-die occasion, when everybody is keyed in.

Jonathan Sexton celebrates with his Ireland teammates after the 2018 win over France. A similarly tough encounter could be in store against England. \Sportsfile

While Ireland’s 2009 clincher against Wales was an arm-wrestle, the penultimate game, a 22-15 win over Scotland in Murrayfield was a real gut-check where victory had to be earned. Equally, it’s easy to forget the 2018 grand slam nearly didn’t get out of the garage – the magical last-minute drop-goal from Jonathan Sexton in the opener against France followed a serious piece of teamwork and composure.

It’s hard not to feel that Saturday evening’s clash with England in Twickenham will involve something similar. While there is little debate that Ireland are the better team right now, the better team doesn’t always win on a given day.

We’ve been on the other side of the fence in the past – think 2001 and the big win over the English at Lansdowne Road to deny them the slam – and this is a scenario for management and players to deal with.

Something that should ensure focus is the fact that a win would guarantee Ireland victory in the championship and then clear the stage for trying to clinch the grand slam at home to Scotland.

It’s all within the capabilities of the team but it certainly won’t be easy.

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