Posted by Ewan MacKenna

Emlyn Mulligan is back to his best for Leitrim but Dublin and Kerry swap places while Louth freefall as the landscape changes in our latest Power Rankings

Emlyn Mulligan Leitrim

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. Dublin (+1)

Hard to know what to make of that opening-day win because it just told us so much of what we already knew. But while Kevin McManoman, Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan got a lot of the plaudits, we were most impressed with the continued evolution of Alan Brogan. With the scoring weight lifted off his shoulders by some serious players around him, he has developed his game and is now quite possibly the best link man in Gaelic football and he’s the most important too as he is key to Dublin’s fast-break style.

But other questions will need bigger tests before we get answers. We wait to see if the likes of Connolly and McManoman will defer to the Brogan brothers when under pressure, and if they do the Dublin attack becomes a crumble zone as defences can focus in on their best two attackers and Alan can’t focus on what we have just complimented him for. Connolly in particular needs 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 and Kerry or even Down and Kildare, 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.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on their intensity because, as Mickey Harte said, you can forget how hard it was to win a first All Ireland, and there isn’t that much new blood coursing through the system. Granted, it wasn’t lacking in their first win of the championship. Also, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the discipline issue. In Ger Brennan, Eoghan O’Gara and particularly Connolly, Pat Girloy 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 while Eamonn Fennell and Michael Dara McAuley need to work on their tackling as they frequently tend to go in too hard and too high. But enough negativity, the league has now been forgotten and they suddenly look like the champions again.

 

3. Kerry (-1)

It’s too easy to shake the head and shrug the shoulders and say that performance against Tipperary shows a side on the way down. We’ve gotten too used to saying this is their last shot at a title before a period of transition yet still they hang around. In truth, we should grimace because that Thurles outing was the perfect preparation for what could yet be a blood bath against Cork. They couldn’t get up for the starter, no surprises there, but you can be sure they’ll still be licking their lips as they await the main course. We are too.

However, 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 Tipperary have given them such a good game for so long if he were around? Worse still, would he have allowed them to lose to Down in 2010? Worst of all, 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 but there are plenty of question marks lingering. What sort of Declan O’Sullivan will we see 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? In the half-forward line, will we get the Paul Galvin of this league or the one that was carried in Thurles in the first round? And will being dropped wake Kieran Donaghy up and push him on as is needed, or will it leave him annoyed at the management?

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 who was exposed by Peter Acheson and will be across the rest of the summer too. 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, they have the best manager in football right now to guide them and they have that Tipperary performance fresh in their minds as well as all the criticism it will bring locally. (On a aide note, the loss of Bryan Sheehan has them up against it next weekend.)

 

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, and Seánie Johnston needs to start playing after all the talking. At six there is an issue too 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, even with Brian McGuigan now back. 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 despite Seán Cavanagh being a shadow of himself and entering the summer with seven points to his name across the league, his injury will just make this side shallower. 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 (-)

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 (-)

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 which is a pity because just a few weeks ago that was a distinct possibility. 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 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, Down certainly cannot. Because of all that, they’ll be glad to get over Fermanagh, even if their hosts were more than accommodating and even if they needed a few refereeing decisions to make it comfortable. But we’ve seen in 2010 and 2011 the contrast between what a good and bad start means to a confidence team. Aidan Brannigan and Kevin McKernan may not have such an easy day again in their careers, but they have one of the better midfields about - and the best in Ulster - while Conor Laverty looks to have stepped up in the inside-forward line which is crucial.

 

10. Meath (-)

Maybe the fact they are a top-10 team says more about the standard of mid-tier football than it does about this group. But you just wonder did that Wicklow win lift a huge weight off all their shoulders and will it allow them to build on the foundations laid down in that opening-day victory. They now have time as Carlow won’t trouble them and they look to have some of that old potential back as well. Joe Sheridan will only get sharper and better which is worrying for opponents as he wasn’t half-bad on day one when playmaking. Meanwhile Graham Reilly looks an All Star in this form and Kevin Reilly looks back to his best around the square. Brian Farrell does need to become more consistent though, Cian Ward needs form and Stephen Bray needs fitness while the jury is out on Brian Meade until he goes up against a bigger opponent and it’s also still out on a half-back line cruciall devoid of Seamus Kenny until they run into Kildare. But suddenly the colour is back in their faces and they no longer look to be at death’s door. We still can’t see them winning that Leinster semi-final but is says a lot that we are at least looking forward to it.

 

11. 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.

 

12. Wexford (-)

They are a side that shipped 13 goals though in their seven group games in the league, a record that was the worst outside Kilkenny. Indeed, even London only conceded seven and they played a game more. Little wonder Paul Barden managed to find so much space and time in their championship opener and while Wexford were naïve in going at a defensive set-up, there are concerns over the quality of that half-back line on the back foot, even in Adrian Flynn has already put in one of the performances of the season. But as for the rest of their season, it will hinge on the Longford replay and if they are to get through it, we expect better from Graeme Molloy - who is a fine full-back - and Rory Quinlivan - who at his fittest can play box-to-box from midfield. But there are signs of life. Ciarán Lyng can still light up a game, Red Barry looks to have had an upturn in form and Ben Brosnan is working hard to replicate his 2011. After that, PJ Banville, Eric Bradley and David Murphy need to bring more intensity and consistency.

 

13. Longford (+1)

After all they achieved, their season hinged on one game against Laois 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 after 11 games and 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 and adding a new dimension to a two-man inside line. Their defence are also hugely disciplined and intense, forcing Wexford to shoot repeatedly from bad positions in a hurried fashion. But if they are to make this possibly their greatest ever season via the replay, we need to see them play their best for more than 45 minutes.

 

14. Derry (-1)

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.

 

15. Laois (-)

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. 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.

 

17. Monaghan (+1)

Over recent months, almost all the good that came from Eamonn McEneaney’s side was based around Darren Hughes, Dick Clerkin and Paul Finlay. Which made their opening-day win all the more impressive and showed good character considering where they were on the scoreboard in the second half with only one of those three names on the field. Dessie Mone played well from six, Clerkin himself put in a big 60 minutes and Tommy Freeman showed more than a few flickers of his old self when coming off the bench. To top it all off McEneaney finally has a championship win as well. But before we get excited, there are still holes all over the place and it was only Antrim they were playing, and it was Antrim that should have beaten them. Given the draw, they find themselves in an Ulster semi-final and if Down stay injury-riddled who knows. Although if that happens, it’ll say more about their provincial championship than it does about them.

 

18. Westmeath  (-)

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. Louth (-3)

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 and that Dublin game was an embarrassment. Even though they didn’t match up in terms of personnel, their one-man forward line and their carrying the ball into the tackle was simply shocking . It’s amazing how they’ve disappeared off the face of the football in a couple of seasons and although the loss of Shane Lennon and Brian White have hurt, they are just carrying too many average players who don’t bring a whole lot. In that regard we feel a little sorry for the likes of Paddy Keenan and Darren Clarke who are battling against the dying of the light.

 

20. Roscommon (-)

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.

 

21. 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, particularly from James Loughrey. But how do they pick themselves up from going out of Ulster. They can look to the Owen Lennon stamp as a pivotal moment but even with just a yellow card waved there, give the form of Michael McCann in midfield and Michael McGill at full-forward who has good hands, a good positional sense, good awareness and good finishing, there’s no way they should have lost. Perhaps they got too excited and while their shot selection is an area they can improve on going into the qualifiers, it remains to be seen if they’ll have the will to do just that.

 

22. 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 in the league. But while praise is due, so is criticism. He talked of not having the physicality to match-up to Meath but left Brian Meade to dominate at wing-forward on a bigger man. As well as that he left Brian Farrell to kick score after score before Ciarán Hyland finally picked him up while there was no Plan B as James Stafford continued to go long when Seánie Furlong couldn’t win a ball inside. We’ve seen them thrill us in the qualifiers before but Leighton Glynn’s injury will be a massive blow. In saying all that, the most important victories of their season have long been achieved.

 

23. 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. Yet watching his county’s championship opener in America along with midfielder Brian Jones, they’ll have been stunned to see the spirit, fight and occasional quality their former teammates produced against Kerry. They went toe-to-toe and only lost on points while consistently avoiding a knockout blow. Peter Acheson in particular looked exciting while the midfield did really well. Out of all the teams so far in the qualifiers, they should be feeling the best.

 

24. Cavan (+1)

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. Fermanagh (-1)

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. They weren’t helped by Daryl Keenan’s sending off or some refereeing decisions but they still wouldn’t have beaten Down. However that game should always have been a secondary goal league promotion so already it’s been a good year although as Oisin McConville pointed out, the time spend man-managing this group is concernin

 

26. 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.

 

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. But while people talked about the possibility of an upset win for London, that was unfair given where Leitrim are at and they deserve credit for what is a big win for the county. On top of that it was great to see Emlyn Mulligan back to his best which improves the side hugely.

 

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 tey 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 you say that their championship opener was another one that got away, but that Connacht win is coming if they can keep improving and that’s new and exciting for football.