Posted by Ewan MacKenna
Tuesday 22 May 2012
After the opening week of the Championship, it's Longford and Galway who have climbed the ladder in our Power Rankings
1. Cork (- from last week’s rankings)
In interviews right back at the start of the season, Cork players made it very clear they would do whatever it took to win back the All Ireland. At the time it seemed a bland line that could be attributed to any county but across the games that have been played out since, it’s been put into perspective as they have become one of the most cynical teams in football. They don’t play near the edge, they play over it but as long as they are allowed get away with that approach by both opposition players and referees, they will continue.
But they aren’t here to win pretty - that’s never been the way of this team despite their obvious talent. They are here solely to win and they have the confidence of 2010, the hurt of 2011 and the most complete line-up in Gaelic football. They are very much a side of two parts as they comprise firstly, and most importantly given their gameplan, of the meanest defence in the top three divisions this league and it’s little wonder. Starting with Pearse O’Neill and Alan O’Connor in the middle followed by the likes of Noel O’Leary and Eoin Cadogan - who we think should play six as the game speeds up across the summer - they are an immovable object. The opposition simply cannot afford to run at them repeatedly or they’ll lose the ball, probably energy and possibly the will to live. With Graham Canty and Michael Shields in particular, the alternative of the high ball in isn’t an attractive proposition either while Paudie Kissane doesn’t get the credit he deserves as an attacking force.
Then there’s the other half, an attack that should be more productive but right now isn’t given their physicality-first approach. What cost them most of all last summer was injuries to forwards but right now they have seven top-class players to fit into six attacking positions with Aidan Walsh, Donnacha O’Connor, Daniel Goulding, Colm O’Neill, Ciarán Sheehan, Paddy Kelly and Paul Kerrigan all looking for a role. Yet this league they averaged 1-12 a game and that won’t be enough. However, we expect that forward productivity to increase, Colm O’Neill to play a big part in that on the way to Footballer of the Year and Cork to do whatever it takes before getting back the All Ireland. They won’t be loved because of the way they will go about it over the coming months, but they won’t care either.
2. Kerry (-)
We’ve gotten used to saying this is their last shot at a title before a period of transition yet still they hang around. However, there is one area they haven’t proven us wrong and, while it may seem an obvious and tiresome statement at this point in time, they just haven’t been the team that so many feared throughout the 2000s since Darragh Ó Sé retired. Would he have allowed them to lose to Down in 2010? Or worse still, would last year’s final have somehow squirmed away from them in the closing stages if both his physical and mental presence were present and correct?
They are of course still formidable and the Sheehan-Maher partnership at centrefield is more than adequate, but there are plenty of question marks lingering about the place. What sort of Declan O’Sullivan will we see this championship because, as the best link man in football at the top of his game, he is the grease that stops the forward unit from creaking and cracking? Beside him in the half-forward line, will we get the Paul Galvin of 2010 or 2011? And while Gooch has talked about being rejuvenated after a break, this is a big summer for Kieran Donaghy, not solely because of the new square-ball rule, but because for long periods in recent seasons he hasn’t been maximising his quality which is so much more than just being a big lump close to goal. If all that goes right, Kerry are the most capable attacking team in the game, particularly with Darran O’Sullivan’s pace adding another string to their bow, but they need all that to go right too because of what’s at the other end.
Marc and Tomás Ó Sé will forever be their brilliant selves but we worry for Eoin Brosnan and Aidan O’Mahony and feel they could be exposed as being off the pace. It may only be the team above Kerry in this list that can show them up but such a flaw would still deny them a title for the third season in a row, something that hasn’t happened in nine years. There are capable youngsters at the back but they haven’t yet turned into what we’ve become used to with Kerry and they now lack depth, something Cork don’t. On the plus side however, last year will hurt and they have the best manager in football right now to guide them.
3. Dublin (-)
We can only presume that their two biggest worries across a wildly inconsistent league will dissipate as momentum builds across the Leinster Championship. Indeed the first of those two, the overconfidence and possibly arrogance developed during the fallout from their All Ireland win, may already have gone away and the temperature may have returned to normal thanks to losses to Cork, Kerry, Mayo and Down in recent months. As for the discipline issue, that will trouble Pat Gilroy. In Ger Brennan, Eoghan O’Gara and particularly Diarmuid Connolly, he has three players that could go off at any minute. Dublin are capable of getting by most teams with 14 men but not the top teams.
If those three need some sports psychology, others need some basic training when it comes to a more fundamental area. The lack of tackle laws are coming under more scrutiny than ever before because of the physicality of that area of the game, but take Eamonn Fennell and Michael Dara McAuley who frequently tend to go in too hard and too high and are regularly booked. All this has to stop before Dublin get caught out.
But enough negativity. With Alan and Bernard Brogan back, this is a completely different team to that which meandered aimlessly through the league. Those two accounted for seven points a game on average last championship, or to put that into an even more significant context, 43 per cent of their team’s scores on the way to an All Ireland. They were never going to be the same team this league without them but now they are back, Connolly does need to become more consistent while Paul Flynn needs to match his 2011 if they are to go all the way again. After that, their defence is a system rather than individuals and while their midfield isn’t up to that of Cork or Kerry, no one has yet found a way to focus in on and stop the quick Stephen Cluxton kickout that gains them so much easy and pressure-free possession.
4. Kildare (-)
It’s impossible to say if this could finally be their year until defining what “their year” means? Can they win an All Ireland title before they win a Leinster title and would a Leinster title mean an All Ireland title might be for another year? There isn’t a more interesting story in football if only because there are so many variables. Are they the side that beat Tyrone this league final or the side that got lucky against Galway the previous day out? Are they the side that showed so much mental resolve to fight back against Dublin last year, or the side that collapsed against Donegal in spectacular fashion? Only time will tell, but at least there aren’t the injuries this season and there is a depth in the squad that only Dublin and Cork can match.
Shane Connolly is a superb goalkeeper, the potential of a full-back line of Hugh McGrillen, Mick Foley and Peter Kelly is daunting; Dermot Earley, Hugh Lynch and Daryl Flynn staying fit around the middle will free up John Doyle; Eoghan O’Flaherty is having an All Star year thus far; Eamonn Callaghan is playing the football in recent seasons he’ll be remembered by; and Tomás O’Connor provides a sublime alternative route to goal. All that meant they were the second-highest scoring team in the top three Divisions this league. However, to get back to being the highest-scoring attack in the nation just like 2010, more consistency is needed from James Kavanagh and Alan Smith, the Seánie Johnston situation needs resolution and quick, while six is an issue with possibly the unorthodox physicality of Pádraig O’Neill offering an option there.
5. Mayo (-)
Let’s not get lazy here. After the league decider got well away from them, the usual rubbish about a Croke Park curse and more final misery was heaped upon a group of players that haven’t been around the senior ranks for very long. This is a different team to those who never got the deserved recognition for reaching finals and it’s no harm that this new generation of players experience what it’s like to be so close but so far, just like they experienced against Cork in the league final. You need to lose one to win one they say, and the likes of Ger Cafferkey and Cillian O’Connor haven’t lost that final until now.
They are by a distance the most impressive team in Connacht, and certainly their physicality should bully anyone they come across in the west but if they are to go further, there are obstacles to overcome. Aidan O’Shea is every bit the genuine star footballer as he is injury prone and the side will not hit dizzying heights without him. After beating Cork last year, some in the opposition camp said they’d never seen intensity like it, but can Mayo reproduce it and will it have the same impact when it’s expected. And where will the scores come from? Four goals in nine league games showed a lack of penetration while the 0-11 in the league final will irk them as Conor Mortimer needs to offer more on the big day, while Andy Moran and Alan Dillon need another huge season.
6. Donegal (-)
They are evolving even if they still pack hunt at the back and put huge pressure on any opposition player who is unlucky enough to get the ball in their half. But what they have added is the quick break, which takes phenomenal energy and on day one it was Frank McGlynn from corner-back and Leo McLoone from wing-back who were continually popping up at both ends of the field and showing huge endurance and varying skill sets. They were more direct too, giving limited forwards extra time and space to run up a tally of 1-16, their highest in their last 10 league and championship outings.
But Cavan did pop up with 1-10 and that’s a worry. This league they conceded 1.1 goals and 10.6 points per game. Last championship that stood at 0.33 goals and 7.8 points. Okay, the opposition was better for some of those games but in short they’ve gone from conceding 8.79 to 13.9 and if they continue to do that, where do they get the scores themselves? Only Offaly, Antrim and Kilkenny raised fewer white flags this league and against more physically developed teams than Cavan they may again be forced to go lateral while in close games we wonder will they revert to what they know, namely slow and tedious possession play. Derry will tell a lot. Tyrone will tell a lot more.
7. Tyrone (-)
There are a lot of statistics that jump out. That 12-game unbeaten run across the McKenna Cup and league, the second best defence in the top three flights of the league, the 11 goals that meant no one got more this league, the best points differential in the league which stood at a staggering 56 points across their seven group games. But while all that makes you realise they’ll go close to Ulster, it’s not enough to convince us about an All Ireland. In fact, not by quite a distance and certainly not for a couple of seasons.
Division Two this year was poor and next year will give a better reflection of where they stand amongst the elite. And while key positions have been filled in - Peter Harte could win an All Star at centre-back if his summer is as good as his spring - the losses of Ronan O’Neill and Kyle Coney cannot be underestimated. With their absence, it’s left Tyrone relying on the same old faces and while Stephen O’Neill and Owen Mulligan have shown signs of class in recent months we worry about Conor Gormley’s diminishing pace, and Seán Cavanagh who has been a shadow of himself and enters the summer with seven points to his name across the league. On top of that, they used to get away with an average midfield because of their ability to swarm the opposition player when he came down with possession. Now though, Colm Cavanagh is a step down from Enda McGinley while they don’t have wing-backs or a half-forward line to hustle like before.
8. Galway (+1)
It may be just as hard to fend off the hype as it was beating Roscommon and it’ll be every bit as important too. What we saw from Galway in their opening game was a side that now have the style and the system to fend off lesser teams but that doesn’t mean they could beat anyone above them on this list and it is vital the county puts perspective on events. To the pluses first, which saw Finian Hanley again look a class act at three, Gareth Bradshaw look every bit the All Star wing-back we’ve thought he was destined to be for quite a while, Joe Bergin tough it out in the middle, Paul Conroy show positional awareness, great hands, two good feet, vision and finishing we never saw from him when he played further out the field and then there was Michael Meehan and Pádraic Joyce having some fun.
But what those two did, however pleasing on the eye, was in garbage time against a group that had long given up. And the fact Bergin, a player we don’t think is an alpha midfielder, dominated in such a fashion says a lot about the opposition. Galway are on the up but we need to see a Plan B, C, D and E when they meet a physical team in the centre like Mayo, a side whose half-forward line will attack and not just defend like Kerry, a county who have a full-back that can go high like Cork or an opposition that will play sweeper like Kildare or Tyrone, to believe they are any more than provincial contenders and last-eight material. But at least they are that right now which is a huge improvement.
9. Down (-1)
In terms of both shape and style they simply aren’t suited to Cork so to judge them on their exit from this year’s league and last year’s championship is unfair. But what is fair is to write off their chance of reaching a second All Ireland semi-final in three years, probably an All Ireland quarter-final and possibly an Ulster title which is a pity because just a few weeks ago all were distinct possibilities. After all, this was a side more than capable of holding their own in the top flight and who have beaten three of the teams above them in this list over recent months. But now there’s no Paul McComiskey in the squad, Benny Coulter’s gone for the season, and Danny Hughes, Declan Rooney, Dan Gordon and Damien Rafferty are all struggling with knocks of varying degrees. There’s a serious loss of leadership between that lot. And if better teams couldn’t cope with that, Down certainly cannot. They’ll be wary of an ambush against Fermanagh because last year showed every bit as much as 2010 how they are a confidence team and need a good start and momentum but they still have a fine midfield if Ambrose Rodgers can make up for Kalum King’s lack of mobility.
10. Armagh (-)
Yet again they’ve been failed by Crossmaglen’s success and while some counties would crave a winning mentality being brought to the top table by club players, you can be sure Paddy O’Rourke is no longer thinking that way. Think about it. This is a side that drew with Cork, beat Kerry and Down and gave Donegal a better go away from home than most, all the while consisting of a limited panel without players from the best club in Ireland. The problem now is making it all work and quick. Too often in this post-Joe era, they’ve been hit and miss. It’s a push to think they’ll beat Tyrone and while ambushes have happened at the Athletic Grounds, scoring against a disciplined team will be a struggle. Stevie McDonnell is irreplaceable, Jamie Clarke doesn’t have the support, Michael Stevenson is good from frees but more limited in open play and this is a group that averaged a miserly five white flags from play throughout the league.
11. Wexford (-)
The highest scoring team in the league’s top three divisions. A side that shipped 13 goals though in their seven group games, a record that was the worst in the league outside Kilkenny. Indeed, even London only conceded seven and they played a game more. At least it’ll be entertaining but it won’t be like 2008 when they were in a Division Three final and showed everyone that day they would be a force before reaching an All Ireland semi-final. Graeme Molloy is a fine full-back, Rory Quinlavan at his fittest can play box-to-box from midfield and Ciarán Lyng can still light up a game. But then what? Red Barry needs a big year, Ben Brosnan has that difficult post-All Star season to negotiate where both his frees and his playmaking are crucial, and PJ Banville, Eric Bradley and David Murphy need to bring more intensity and consistency.
12. Derry (-)
Potentially they’ve the most lethal full-forward line in all of Ulster now that the Bradleys are back together but the question is how to get Paddy and Eoin enough ball to make an impact. Last season their long-ball gameplan was flawed and predictable but this year there’s the added worry of trying to get their hands on an adequate amount of primary possession. Mark Friel is a good defensive midfielder but they’ve no one to drive forward with ball in hand. And if they are limited to that long-ball game and do happen to get possession, they’ll feel the loss of Enda Muldoon as they don’t have a link player in the side right now, capable of play-making with a 50-yard pass into the inside two.
13. Meath (-)
It says far more about the mid-tier of football that they are here at 13 than it does about the team itself yet you just wonder can a group of players that were producing not so long ago turn it on amidst adversity. That would be a throwback to the old Meath and maybe there’s a sentimentality there but if you used the Louth match and relegation from a mediocre division as evidence for the prosecution, then the defence should be allowed have their say too. Their league could have changed in the dying moments of the Kildare game, they could have even beaten Kildare last year too and Joe Sheridan is back. But there are too many misfiring forwards, midfield is a huge issue and Shane O’Rourke is needed as is Kevin Reilly discovering a twin. They could lose to Wicklow, they could beat Kildare, it all depends whether the turmoil and the manager destroys them completely or makes them stronger.
14. Longford (+1)
After all they achieved, their season hinged on one game and all that good work in the league over two winning seasons could have dissipated in 70 minutes. It didn’t though and while limited in the first half, they added courage, bravery and soul to the growing list of traits associated with them. In that sense they remind us a lot of their manager. Now they remain the only unbeaten side in the nation in 2012, Michael Quinn has shown in championship what we suspected all along in that he has a physical presence but is also classy on the ball. Meanwhile Paul Barden is finally getting the credit he deserves for years of service - he has been playing for as long and as well as Pádraic Joyce but when have you heard his name - Brian Kavanagh continues to climb the mountain he fell off a couple of seasons back while Seán McCormack is solid over a dead ball. They can beat Wexford, they can have their greatest season since the 1960s, but they do need to play for 70 minutes and work on a tactic to help their midfield without moving Quinn from six.
14. Laois (-1)
We wondered what they’d take from the league as it could have gone one of two ways. Either they could have learned from sides they were physically outmatched by, particularly at the back where the best teams in the country ran through them and around them and caught ball over them. Or they could look at the results rather than the opposition and lose confidence from the entire experience. We got our answer in the second half in Pearse Park as they froze, saw the gap disappear and eventually saw a familiar result before them. We can now stop harping on about what Colm Begley, Brendan Quigley, John O’Loughlin and MJ Tierney might become and how far they could take the side. But we can also question the manager as once the Pádraic Clancy route was taken out of the equation after the break there was no other option. That is poor planning. In terms of statistics, their defence will concede and they don’t have the scoring power to match up, as five times this league they failed to raise more than 10 white flags in a game. That’s a familiar pattern as last championship between games against Longford, Dublin and Kildare, they hit a combined 0-31.
16. Louth (-)
After beating Meath, a result that meant staying in Division Two, and so much more, an emotional Peter Fitzpatrick said 2010 is now behind them and they can move forward. After getting oh so lucky against Westmeath, the manager brought up that game once more. It’s symbolic because while he doesn’t know where he stands, neither do his team. They aren’t nearly as good as 2010, no team outside of Kilkenny have been more porous at the back this year and to put that into perspective, if that keeps up, they’ll need to kick 18 points a game to win by the minimum. Even with a rejuvenated Darren Clarke and Paddy Keenan - one of the finest attacking midfielders in the game now - that’s still a big ask. Yet still they are in Leinster although give us any handicap on Dublin under 15 points and we’ll take it.
17. Sligo (+1)
At the start of the year their players suggested staying put in Division Three and reaching a Connacht final would make it a big year and stop the rot. They’ve done the easy part, including winning their last three before their trip to New York, including, tellingly, a win over Roscommon. Adrian Marren has been like a new Dessie Sloyne, pitching in heavily on the scoring side, but if they are to win a provincial semi-final they need Stephen Coen to continue his rise and David Kelly to get back fit. The problem lies around the six-eight-nine axis though. Midfield isn’t what it was when Tony Taylor and Stephen Gilmartin looked so good in winning a Division Three title in 2010 and Mark Quinn doesn’t convince at centre-back. And remember the run of summer form. Before the Bronx, their last four championship games have involved losing to a young Roscommon, being embarrassed by Down, and then being picked off by Leitrim and Wicklow. It’s quite a rot to stop.
18. Westmeath (+1)
We are still trying to get our heads around just how they are still in Division Two, the same way we are trying to understand how they beat Galway and Derry in particular but also Monaghan. On top of that, they’ve added a mystery about how they are out of the Leinster Championship because they were the better team against Louth and that showed on the scoreboard right up to the end. It may not be obvious now, but there are many positives for Westmeath to take. They had been scoring well and scoring widely this league, indeed since March they’ve been averaging seven scorers a game with Kieran Martin, Dennis Glennon, David Glennon and Ger Egan all having their moments. Against Louth they had a massive nine names on the scoresheet while John Heslin got the better of the midfield, some achievement considering Paddy Keenan was in there too. Not playing Dublin may not be a bad thing and when the smoke clears, they can take more encouragement from it all than the side that beat them.
19. Roscommon (-2)
There was one big question mark looming over the team and we said all along the first day of the championship would make or break them for the year. On paper, they’ve a spine to match anyone in Connacht from Niall Carty and Peter Domican through to Michael Finneran and Karol Mannion and on to Cathal Cregg, Donie Shine and Senan Kilbride. They are names that have struggled in previous leagues but Fergal O’Donnell always got the best out of them in the provincial championship but Des Newton couldn’t. The blame needs to be shared here though and there is plenty to go around. When Finneran went off early, they fell apart. Donie Shine allowed his head to drop and never lifted it again. They showed a lack of passion and fight, not to mention ability which we know they have and that’s down to players. But Paul Conroy was never double teamed, a sweeper was never employed and while playing zone defence is all well and good, that zone has to push beyond 30 yards or you’ll be hammered by long-range points. That’s down to the manager.
20. Monaghan (-)
Under Eamonn McEneaney, they’ve yet to win a championship game and worse still, in competitive games they’ve won just four of 16 outings during his tenure. The players have said they like his approach and style but any benefit from that is negated by what surely is a loss of confidence and belief at this stage. Their two wins this league were, not surprisingly, on days when Paul Finley looked unstoppable but they are limited in terms of scoring forwards and no team conceded more in the league outside of Kilkenny. Yet still, given the draw, they will find themselves in an Ulster semi-final and if Down stay injury-riddled and Finlay has one of those days they could find themselves a step further. If that happens, it’ll say more about their provincial championship than them.
21. Wicklow (-)
Harry Murphy had an impossible job as he should have been the hangover after a serious night out, yet he’s achieved something more important than Micko ever did in gaining promotion. That’s quite a first few months in charge. A win over Meath should lead to a Leinster semi-final and the most successful year in the county’s history and they have the midfield to do it, particularly James Stafford, although Rory Finn is a solid partner. They have the option of giving it to Leighton Glynn short and a Plan B of going direct to Seánie Furlong and hoping Tony Hannon has a good dead-ball day as well although the half-back line and Andrew McLoughlin at three have yet to convince us.
22. Antrim (-)
No team scored more goals in the top three division of the league and they still have some of that pace which made them both exciting and relatively formidable in 2009. But there’s no spark to go with the speed and that opportunity passed them by and seems to belong to a different era. In fairness to Baker Bradley, he rolled the dice one last time by appointing Andy Ward and Gearóid Adams to the back-room team but they still looked limited and flat during the league and we’ve a feeling their new boss will be returning home to Derry for 2013. He may already to marking the days off on the calendar.
23. Fermanagh (-)
Peter Canavan couldn’t lose given where the county were when he took over, but that didn’t mean he was guaranteed to win. However the McKenna Cup was positive and promotion was pivotal. The problem now is stepping it up against better teams which will be hard as their defence is open when run at, Marty McGrath doesn’t look the player he was not so long ago meaning midfield is weak in the skies and Seamus Quigley may be big but he’s not a good enough footballer to base an entire attack around.
24. Cavan (-)
We keep hearing about transition but 72 debutants in 12 championships is pushing it and they need to now settle with a young team backboned by the under-21 success stories and particularly Gearóid McKiernan who is a star in the making in midfield. David Givney beside him has a big future too and Eugene Keating showed he has accuracy in the Ulster Championship defeat when taking an All Star full-back for five points. But it’ll be McKiernan who will be the natural leader of this team in a couple of seasons however for now they lack that leadership, demonstrated by the fact they led by at least four points in every league game bar the Antrim encounter and still only won twice. They struggle for goals and concede too many but Anthony Forde in the backroom team is a key appointment and they are improving. Indeed against Donegal, they kicked some fine scores and weren’t embarrassed, not a bad day’s work against a team that swatted them around physically from start to finish.
25. Limerick (-)
Not getting out of the basement was a huge indictment of the decline of Limerick football, although a Munster final might yet paper over the cracks. Of course there is the excuse of John Galvin’s absence, a player who can define their season and has done so often. On top of that Stephen Kelly is struggling and there’s no settled midfield with Jim O’Donovan through injury and Tom Lee through travel both missing the league. Ger Collins really needs to find form as Ian Ryan was left to carry so much weight in the forward line during their win over Waterford. As for the bigger picture, youngsters like Seamus O’Carroll, Eoghan O’Connor and John Riordan need to push on from last year.
26. Tipperary (-)
The last time Barry Grogan didn’t top score for his county in a championship match was in May 2009. This league, in the six games he played, he accounted for 49 per cent of his county’s scores. But now that he’s headed for the States, along with midfielder Brian Jones, it’s a blow they won’t recover from because even before that announcement they were on the ropes. There was the draw that left them squeezed into the bottom half of Munster with the top two teams on this list, but if that was outside their control, their treatment of John Evans wasn’t. He raised expectations, showed what could be achieved and was then driven away. It’s a sad story because two years ago they battled Kildare hard to stay in Division Two and their underage system has shown serious potential in the meantime. But that’s for the future. As for the present, it’s bleak.
27. Clare (-)
The pessimist will talk of the year it might have been had they not conceded a goal in Aughrim on the last day of the league and let promotion wriggle away. But the Munster draw allows them to look forward because, as of now, they look capable of reaching a provincial final and that’s a place they haven’t been since 2000. Their last championship game against Down should show them they can at last compete, their league was better than it has been for a while, but they are still over reliant on David Tubridy. He kicked 44 per cent of their points this league, excluding the farce against Kilkenny, and while it shows his talent, it also shows a predictable attack too because even for a free-taker that number is way too high.
28. Offaly (-)
Five times this league they failed to raise nine white flags in a game, not once in all seven games did they reach the teens in terms of points and by the time they were relegated they averaged less than a goal and just eight points per game. With their defence, that output needs to at least double before they are anything more than a Division Four outfit. But changing manager is just another veneer job as Tom Coffey makes it nine different managers in the last 10 years - granted we’ve counted him twice in that list - but this is a county that hasn’t won a Leinster minor title since 1989, a Leinster under-21 title since 1995 and a Leinster Championship game since 2007. That last statistic won’t be changing this time either as no medium- or long-term plan is in place to catch up with the rest and they can no longer keep papering over the cracks.
29. Waterford (-)
They’ve never built on that 2010 promotion and this league was the first serious sign of regression under John Owens. There were plenty more signs during their Munster defeat but you feel sorry for the manager too as he was without Gary Hurney and fielded a team that had played club championship six days previous. That says a lot about the county board’s aspirations for a group that have struggled their way up the first few steps in recent seasons. But they’ve now won just seven of 23 games since that promotion. It’s still a long way from the bad old days but if they are ever to truly move forward, recent times rather than bygone days need to be the yardstick and they need to get their own administrators somehow on side.
30. Leitrim (-)
There’s a brilliant clip on YouTube by Seamus O’Rourke all about 1994 and what it meant to the county and to his father as they headed for Croke Park for the most unlikely of All Ireland semi-finals. It shows just what football means to people in lesser counties and it makes you realise what the championship is all about. Sadly though, it’ll be one of the few contributions Leitrim will make to this particular championship. They need to make sure there is no complacency on board a flight to London for their opener because the league has shown they don’t kick enough points and are hugely reliant on Emlyn Mulligan and James Glancy. They’ve yet to win a qualifier, have won just four of 22 games against teams that aren’t New York in the back door era and haven’t beaten an Irish county outside of Sligo since 2000. It doesn’t bode well, even if the reasons are completely outside of their control. As O’Rourke says in the aforementioned clip, that day 18 years ago Leitrim took it’s place among the other 31. This year they won’t.
31. Carlow (-)
Right now there’s a lack of faith within the panel when it comes to the ability of Luke Dempsey. He’s said they only lost a bunch of league games by a handful of points but they still went three and five in the bottom division and showed no togetherness and belief to get themselves over the line in a tight game, as they did against Louth last year. They do have a fine midfield of Brendan Murphy and the fast-maturing Darragh Foley while the industry of Derek Hayden in the forward line is a plus. But the full-back line is a catastrophe waiting to happen and will be what brings them down.
32. London (-)
Their league placing can be misleading and it’s unfair to say they’ve lost all the momentum they gained when drawing with Mayo and beating Fermanagh last championship. Since the end of March, they’ve run Clare and Leitrim to five points, were respectable against a good Wicklow team, drew with Waterford and thumped Kilkenny. Lloyd Colfer looks relatively assured in front of goal and crucially they face another team in the 30s in their championship opener and it’s in Ruislip. When you are London, one swallow does make a summer and there’s the potential for that to happen two years running in the English capital, even if being forced to run off a round of club championship games for eligibility issues won’t help.
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