Posted by Ewan MacKenna

There's little change at the top but the Ulster sides trade places in the chasing peloton

 

2012 Galway Mulholland

 

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 don’t play near the edge, they play over it. It’s a trait they may have learned from their nearest of neighbours and greatest of rivals over recent years but it is working for them as they can beat you so many ways. They won the league playing ugly, they won against Kerry by steering clear of that for the most part and they footballed their way out of a corner in the second half of their Munster opener.

What that win did was reiterate what we thought was coming for a while. Much like when they beat Kerry in 1987, they are now the dominant force in Munster and are at their peak while Jack O’Connor’s side go into transition. On top of all that 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 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 has quantity and quality. What cost them most of all last summer was injuries to forwards but right now they have eight top-class players to fit into six attacking positions with Aidan Walsh, Donnacha O’Connor, Daniel Goulding, Colm O’Neill, Ciarán Sheehan, Paddy Kelly, Paul Kerrigan and Fintan Goold all looking for a role. There’s some serious scoring in that group and so many ways to get scores, be it O’Connor’s frees, O’Neill’s accurate shooting from play, Kerrigan’s pace or Kelly’s play-making. We were proven right in thinking they’d be too strong for Kerry. We also think they’ll be too strong for everyone else this summer.

 

2. Dublin (-)

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 Gilroy 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 (-)

Say what you like about 2009 and their resurrection through the qualifiers that ultimately led to an All Ireland, but back then they had the presence of Darragh, Tommy Walsh, Tadhg Kennelly and Tom O’Sullivan as well as the form of Paul Galvin, Declan O’Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy to carry them to glory. Right now they’ve none of that and while James O’Donougue was the latest youngster to look like he could be big news in the future, it’s too soon for him and others to pick up where the last generation left off.

Of course these things are all relative and in speaking about a decline in Kerry, it’s worth noting they are still number three on this list. But gone are talk of All Irelands and all of a sudden, the likes of Kildare, Mayo and Tyrone would not fear them and would fancy beating them. We think they know their own limitations too as Jack O’Connor’s tactics were robbing Peter to pay Paul. Because of an ageing spine in defence from Seamus Scanlon to Eoin Brosnan to Aidan O’Mahony, he was forced to drop his half-back line deep and Donaghy spent as much time on the back foot as he did on the front.

On their day, 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 more structure in their attack, they need Donaghy beside Colm Cooper to win and lay off ball and they desperately need to leave Declan O’Sullivan at 11 and hope he gets back to his best so he can orchestrate all around him. But even if all that goes right, it may not be enough to see them go all the way and get over a better Cork team. Tough times are ahead.

 

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. Tyrone (+1)

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. But getting over Armagh deserves credit and some of the football they played was sublime. Indeed, while there may be questions about Justin McMahon at full-back and his complete lack of pace, his brother looked good when moving into the position, Colm Cavanagh had a great game from midfield, Mark Donnelly was busy and Martin Penrose was effective. We still need to see more from Owen Mulligan though as he needs to go from a two-points-per-game player to a four-points-per-game player while Peter Harte needs a more central role, possibly back at six. If all goes well though they’ll win Ulster and build from there.

 

7. Donegal (-1)

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.

 

8. 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 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 recovering from injury, 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.

 

9. Armagh (+2)

A complete enigma. 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. This is a side that couldn’t beat Derry last Ulster championship. This is a side that somehow, very nearly found a way to beat Tyrone. They certainly have talent as Finian Moriarty, Aidan Forker and Kevin Dyas are good and getting better while Jamie Clarke, if he works on his shot selection, could become the best corner-forward in Ulster in the very near future. However, Stevie McDonnell is irreplaceable and they could do with another heavy-scoring inside forward and what they may not have is the right manager as Paddy O’Rourke again baffled us with his tactics in losing their first game of summer. Dropping Ciáran McKeever so deep and opting to use John Kingham as a target man late on was odd and didn’t work but if they can learn from their mistakes, crucially maintain intensity and find consistency they could be playing ball in August and take a scalp along the way.

 

10. Galway (-2)

We warned that it would be just as hard to fend off the hype as it was beating Roscommon and would be every bit as important too. We also warned that they needed to develop a Plan B because so much that went right for them in winning went wrong against them when losing and it’s easy to target and nullify their positives and expose their negatives and that is exactly what Sligo did. Take Finian Hanley at full-back who can be roasted by a powerful full-forward. Take Joe Bergin who isn’t an alpha midfielder and is part of an area that sturdy teams will take over in. Take Paul Conroy who showed he can win ball, distribute well and score, but who doesn’t have flair and scoring players around him to share the burden if he’s stuck with a sweeper in front of him. They do have a shrewd manager in Alan Mulholland (pictured) and a fine batch of youngsters coming through from last year’s under-21 success story but that’s a medium-term project to cling to while the short-term excitement dissipates.

 

11. Meath (-1)

Maybe the fact they are a top-12 team says more about the standard of mid-tier football than it does about this group. Yet we are reluctant to write them off despite so many warning signs. We thought they’d gain momentum and take confidence from a fine performance against Wicklow yet the only positive after Carlow is they didn’t lose. But with pluses few and far between, we’ll try and highlight the few scattered about. They do have Joe Sheridan and Graham Reilly who can get scores, they do have Stephen Bray to come back and they do have Kevin Reilly who looks in great shape. But Brian Farrell and Cian Ward don’t offer enough consistency, Brian Meade hasn’t convinced us and the half-back line is inexperienced without Seamus Kenny.

 

12. Sligo (+4)

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. Job done but that win over Galway brings its own expectations because for the first time in a couple of years they again look a complete team that could find themselves in an All Ireland quarter-final giving it a go. Kevin Walsh obviously decided he’d give it one more go and saw something in these players and Charlie Harrison said that he’d never been part of a better prepared team. They were words that brought expectation but he and his team delivered. Adrian Marren is like a new Dessie Sloyne, David Kelly is the best corner-forward in Connacht, and Alan Costello is capable of play-making and kicking points from 50 yards. That’s a serious forward triangle and while we don’t think they’ll win Connacht, the fact they’ve given themselves a chance is one of the stories of the season and means this group are back playing to their potential.

 

13. Wexford (-1)

We got guts and some big performances from key forwards like Redmond Barry but we wonder did they really win it or did Longford lose it. 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. It’s a serious problem as they are struggling for a centre-half back and Graeme Molloy is struggling for cover in front of him and for form. Along with Ben Brosnan and Ciarán Lyng, they will get scores but PJ Banville, Eric Bradley and David Murphy need to bring more intensity and Rory Quinlivan needs to play like he did for spells in 2011.

 

14. Longford (-1)

They shouldn’t have a problem picking it up again in the qualifiers and while they threw the Leinster quarter-final replay away at the end, it was because of a flaw we’ve seen so often from them. They just cannot maintain their intensity for 70 minutes as their defensive system drains energy from key players. If they can get that right, they are capable of beating a big team in the back door though because Brian Kavanagh and Seán McCormack are a dangerous inside-forward line, Paul Barden is having another great season and Michael Quinn will be an All Star nominee. It’s already been a remarkable year, it’s just a question now I’ve getting a few more wins and making the most of what they’ve got because for a county like Longford, a team like this is a rarity.

 

15. 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.

 

16. 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.

 

17. Monaghan (-)

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 (-)

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 (-)

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 (-)

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.

 

26. Clare (+1)

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 there was only one way to wipe that game from the system and it was to reach a Munster final. That’s no mean achievement. They are still over reliant on David Tubridy as 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. But at least he will now have a chance to play for silverware, even if he doesn’t have a chance of actually winning it. Already a landmark year though.

 

27. Offaly (+1)

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.

 

28. Limerick (-2)

Not getting out of the basement was a huge indictment of the decline of Limerick football, and now there’s not even a Munster final to 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. But while Ian Ryan was unmarkable against Clare, he and Ger Collins rarely hit form together and that needs to change. As for the bigger picture, youngsters like Seamus O’Carroll, Eoghan O’Connor and John Riordan need to push on.

 

29. Carlow (+1)

While they didn’t win, that draw against Meath was arguably a bigger result that beating Louth 12 months ago. But for the first time in memory, they are putting together meaningful results and being competitive. It’s based on their midfield where Brendan Murphy has dragged his county from the gutter and the fast-maturing Darragh Foley is playing well. The defence is shaky at times and they may not win the replay in Leinster but even with all that, it’s been another good season already.

 

30. Waterford (-1)

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.

 

31. Leitrim (-1)

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 against London, that was unfair given where they 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.

 

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, that Connacht win is coming if they can keep improving and that’s new and exciting for football.