As the battle to see who is going to get their hands on the coveted Sam Maguire, will we see someone new coming from the pack to claim this year’s prize?
In the last few years the dominance of a few teams has left the championship a bit predictable. Kerry, Cork and Dublin will start the championship as the favourites with the likes of Kildare, Tyrone, Mayo and hopefully ourselves in the chasing pack with maybe another Anglo Celt our best hope.
Dublin will go into the championship with a lot of expectations after their success of last year. They have also been strengthened by the fact that they will have the luxury of already having won this year’s All Ireland U-21 title Another stream of talent is coming through, putting pressure on the senior players who know if they don’t play to the expected standard, Pat Gilroy and Co. will have no problem in replacing them with someone new.
Gilroy’s management style was very impressive last year and he was never afraid to make the big calls when it mattered, leaving every player in no doubt that if they weren’t interested in playing for the team they would not be part of his set-up. They trained hard, sometimes twice a day and players committed to his mantra. They set out their stall as being very defensive, with the idea of supplying quick ball into the likes of the Brogans, Connolly and Co. They had hard working half forwards and whoever played in midfield was mobile and could take a score if needed. But their biggest asset was goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton who was not only capable of picking out his man from kick-outs but his contribution from deadballs was invaluable and it was he who kicked the winning score in the All Ireland final against Kerry.
Whether they are capable of reaching the same highs this year is the big question. But if they do, they will be very hard to beat.
Then we have Kerry - the Manchester United of Gaelic games. They are always there or there abouts and if there is any team who have that inner belief that they can win Sam every year it is Kerry. They too have set themselves up very defensive but unlike most other sides, they like to kick the ball long, especially as they have forwards who are recognised ball winners. However, they have been unable to replace Darragh O Se in midfield and while Brian Sheehan has played well there at times, O Se, who was probably the best midfielder of his generation, is a hard act to follow. For all that, they will not be far away come September.
Their Munster rivals Cork, this year’s National League champions, have the players and the experience of winning the big prize a couple of years ago. But they are too open at the back and against the good teams they leak too many goals.
They have brilliant forwards in the likes of Paul Kerrigan, Paddy Kelly, Donacha O Connor and Colm O Neill but their defence is suspect and if Graham Canty gets injured they struggle.
Again if they can sort that side of their game, they can be hard to beat and are more than capable of taking Sam to Leeside.
Of the rest I believe that Kildare have the best squad of players to compete with the big three. They have kept faith with Kieran McGeeney and have improved year after year. Usually through the qualifiers they have been able to build up momentum but if they can land a Leinster title this year it will be considered a success.
Mayo, beaten finalists in the National League final a few weeks ago, are still short of a number of top forwards to threaten the big boys. They too have progressed well under James Horan and they should win their provincial title but I don’t think they will be able to improve on last year’s semi final appearance.
That leaves Ulster and next week, we will discuss the chances of Tyrone and whether we are capable of reaching the heights of last year.
Let the games begin.