Posted by Ewan MacKenna

 2012 Mayo 520x280

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 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 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 (-)

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 (-)

Little to be taken from their opening-championship win but what we can take from their last two victories is this is a side that can match Cork for physicality, match Dublin and Cork for options off the bench and match Donegal for ability to defend with intensity and break with pace. In fact outside the top two teams, there may not be no more complete side in football as their full-back line of McGrillen, Foley and Kelly contains two All Stars and an All Star nominee while in Ollie Lyons and Emmet Bolton they’ve found two wing-backs that can not just defend, but link play, break with pace and score. Plus they’ve one of the better attacks around, regardless of what’s been said about them.

In their last 21 championship games before Offaly, stretching back to the beginning of the 2009 campaign, they scored 23 goals. Across 2009 and 2010 they averaged 1.2 goals and 15 points per game, or 18.6 per championship outing which made them the highest scoring team in the nation. Last year wasn’t so good, but they were still averaging 16.6 points per game. Then there’s this league where their 9-105 made them the highest scoring team across all four divisions bar Wexford, excluding Kilkenny results naturally. Little wonder with John Doyle relieved from midfield duty, Eoin O’Flaherty doing well from frees, Mikey Conway and James Kavanagh, Alan Smith and possibly Seánie Johnston before long feeding over the great hands, great pace and great vision of Tomás O’Connor inside.

There is one big question though over their mental resolve and while they’ve been unlucky and consistent, they’ve still yet to beat a really top team in championship. They should have beaten Down, Donegal and Dublin at least once but none of that happened. That question will remain until a side that has so much going for them can provide us all with a much-awaited answer.


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 senior final until this time around.

They are by a distance the most impressive team in Connacht. We saw that against Leitrim where their physicality bullied a smaller team into submission with Lee Keegan, Kevin McLaughlin and Alan Freeman standing tall alongside more tried and trusted names. 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 we’ve seen more endurance from their players than from any other side in the land thus far. In particular it’s been  Frank McGlynn and Leo McLoone continually popping up at both ends of the field and showing hugely varying skill sets. They are more direct too, giving improving forwards extra time and space to run up a tally of 1-16 on day one (their highest in their last 10 league and championship outings) and 2-13 on day two. They’ve done that without Michael Murphy as well while their style has left even Colm McFadden - so one-footed - time and space to get onto his better side and do damage.

But Cavan did pop up with 1-10 and 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 before Derry and if they continue to do that, where do they get the scores themselves? They are a better side than a year ago and we know how close they were to winning it all then. Two questions do remain though. Will they revert to what they know and sit deeper and break slower against better teams and will they be able to maintain their energy against more physical teams when they have to defend as well as attack. Tyrone will tell a lot and it’s a game we cannot wait for.


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. 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.


8. 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. Indeed it was that exact style which Monaghan tried to implement and which took them apart for 35 minutes of the Ulster semi-final. In short, they simply cannot compete with controlled aggression, huge intensity, and a team breaking in numbers. For that reason they’ll hope it’s Tyrone and not Donegal that they play in the Ulster final. But at least they are in that final, and that took some real guts and serious self-belief as they rose from the dead not once but twice.

But to prove that 2011 was the exception and 2010 was the rule, they do need to find more consistency. Word has it Dan Gordon is close to a return and they need him because Brendan McArdle looks so much better in the corner and not on the edge of the square. Kalum King can’t afford to go missing against better teams, leaving Ambrose Rogers to carry so much weight. Meanwhile the half-forward line need to drop deeper and work harder, rather than coming good when there’s momentum behind them. But if all that happens, it makes them formidable, particularly with Kevin McKernan showing well at six and the return of Benny Coulter to play alongside Conor Laverty, who is one good game away from an All Star nomination. Those two could do damage but as we said before, they need a system of their own to combat that Cork-style system.


9. Armagh (-)

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, even if Roscommon isn’t the easiest person to meet at the back door.


10. Galway (-)

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 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 (-)

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 part one was they didn’t lose and got a second day to shake off the memories of relegation and all that unpleasantness surrounding Banty. How far can they go now? We know Kevin Reilly, Graeme Reilly and Joe Sheridan are as consistent as they are good but what’s needed is more consistency from Cian Ward, Brian Farrell, Brian Meade and Shane McAnarney while their wide players need to bring it to another level if they are to compete with Kildare.


12. Sligo (-)

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 (-)

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. Also, they are becoming renowned for their slow starts. Do that against Dublin and they’ll be dead and buried before they’ve had a chance to come to life.


14. Longford (-)

They shouldn’t have a problem picking it up again in the qualifiers, particularly since they are better than Derry yet it would still be seen as a decent scalp. 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 a great season and Michael Quinn will be an All Star nominee. It’s already been a remarkable year, it’s just a question now of 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. Monaghan (+1)

That’s the best we’ve seen from them in a long time, even if they didn’t get the result and a place in an Ulster final. Sure, they capitulated, but that wasn’t purely mental as some suggest. They employed a Cork-style game throughout the first half and just didn’t have the stamina to keep it up. But look on the bright side. We got passion, commitment, intensity and hunger, all traits lacking in their back-to-back relegations under Eamon McEneaney. The half-back line was superb for 35 minutes, Owen Lennon and Dick Clerkin looked more than solid, the ball into the forwards was of the style of Armagh in 2002 and Conor McManus rose to the occasion. There’s a lot there to work with but they need to get a qualifier win out of summer, build their fitness and not let it all go to waste.


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. Derry (-)

John Brennan was right in everything that he said during a rant post-Donegal. He can’t scream in players’ ears during a game and tell them to do the basics and he can’t have his players afford to kick ball straight to opposition players repeatedly. But we saw the same problems with Derry during the league and nothing has been done about it. Potentially, if both Bradleys are present and correct, they have the best inside-forward line in Ulster but they don’t have a way of firstly getting the ball and secondly getting it close to the opposition goal in a manner that doesn’t involve kicking it high and aimlessly. Paddy Bradley has had to drop deep to get possession but he’s too far out then and while Mark Friel is a good defensive midfielder, they’ve no one to drive forward with ball in hand. They had limited fitness in their opening defeat, they’ve no playmaker now that life goes on without Enda Muldoon and even though it’s Longford in the qualifiers, right now they’ve little hope.


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 have been a bad thing and now the smoke has cleared, they’ve a chance to put that Louth result right in the qualifiers.


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, even if London offers the chance of a slightly extended summer.


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 although Waterford in the qualifiers may mean there are more to come.


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 and they would love to get one over on near neighbours Offaly and there’s no reason they shouldn’t.


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 and Seamus Quigley is gone even if he was hugely limited. They weren’t helped by Daryl Keenan’s sending off or some refereeing decisions but they still wouldn’t have beaten Down and while Cavan offers a shot at redemption, Canavan will have a job keeping players on the straight and narrow in the lead up to that qualifier.


26. 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 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 (-)

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. Little wonder that when they were held to six points by Kildare. But forget that Leinster defeat, it’s only a symptom of the disease. 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. They need to look at building bigger, better and more confident footballers in a structure that won’t change every time the wind changes.


28. Limerick (-)

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 for 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 (-)

While they didn’t win, that draw against Meath was arguably a bigger result that beating Louth 12 months ago. We thought that their season might as well be thrown away after the replay loss but for the first time in memory, they are putting together meaningful results and being competitive and now they have Laois to look forward to in the qualifiers, they’ve something huge to aim for as a result there would be the biggest in a generation. Like so much of what they do well, any qualifier win will be based on their midfield where Brendan Murphy has dragged his county from the gutter and the fast-maturing Darragh Foley is playing well.


30. 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.


31. 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 got their win over London and the fact that represents a good season says an awful lot about where they can go from here. In the past pride and passion got teams like them close to giants, now though in an era where money and numbers matters so much, they just can’t compete and their 15 minutes of fame against Mayo were as much as they could logically hope for.


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 against Leitrim 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.