I had a thought at some stage during League Sunday last night. I can't remember the exact moment it happened: it could have followed Roscommon's latest outburst of total futbol, any of the five flashes of audacious genius from Joe Canning, any of the scores taken by Seamus Harnedy or Lester Ryan Saturday night, Aidan O'Shea's glorious point while being wrestled to the ground like King Kong in Castlebar or the Galway footballer's last-gasp goal and latest Lazarus job in Armagh.
We discussed this on our daily sports podcast, The Racket:
The thought was this: I don't want the League to end.
The League has long been the Championship's unkempt, socially awkward stepbrother. Purists love it, bandwagoners pretend it doesn't exist. The weather doesn't help, but whether its experimenting with rules changes or divisional structures, the GAA has done its part in assuring the League feels completely perfunctory.
2016 feels different; the standard feels raised. Spring was in the air this weekend, and harder grounds mean better hurling and football. But this has been one of the most enjoyable Leagues in recent memory, in both codes. In football, Dublin have become the Invincibles, the Roscommon coaching axis of McStay-McHale-Cruyff have brought sexy football to Shannonside, Tyrone have been indomitable in Division 2, Cavan and Seanie Johnston have been electric, the likes of Conor McManus and Paddy Andrews have been in mid-August form.
Even the Kerry-Donegal fight was better than the scraps you'd find in recent Championships. There was no diving or play-acting. It was a vintage scrap.
In hurling, Kilkenny seemed unmoveable but between Dublin, Waterford, Limerick and Clare, there is the feeling of a new tide coming in.
But here's the shite thing: in a few weeks, this will all be over. Say goodbye to the best counties playing each other every weekend. The Championship will crank into gear like a rusty 1948 Vauxhall. Ulster football will get nasty again. We'll endure two months of utterly pointless provincial matches, a pitiful run of qualifiers, a (hopefully) uplifting round of quarterfinals, and then three games that truly matter.
The same goes for hurling. The likes of TJ Reid, Richie Hogan et al should play more than four games in a Championship before claiming an All-Ireland: they'd tell you as much themselves. An open draw would mean more games and better games.
Now, of course, the lack of anything at stake means that matches can be played without the dreaded cynicism that has marred the Championship in recent seasons. But regardless, I remember an Eamonn Sweeney column at the beginning of the Championship discussing a general sense of dread at the prospect of this year's GAA season. It was a sentiment I shared, but have shrugged off in recent weeks. What I dread now is the Championship, or at least the long wait until August when the games finally matter again.
Credit to the intercounty players and coaches for giving the League the respect it deserves. These brilliant matches are the best two fingers to the GAA powers-that-be who continue to stall on provincial reform. This is what we could have.
Enjoy the League while you can, folks. It might be as good as the GAA season gets.