Posted by Ewan MacKenna

2012 Meath Laois 520x280

1. Cork (- from last week’s rankings)

There is a little to concern them because having finally found themselves looking down on Kerry, mentally and physically, a Kildare team finding form was the last draw they'd have wanted to ease themselves back into the season. On top of that there is the wait because by the time they line out for that quarter-final it’ll have been eight weeks since they played a competitive game of football. We include Clare in that because it was that comfortable in the Munster final - we learned nothing, Cork merely got a light run-out and now they need to be wary and find intensity from throw-in. A versus B games are all well and good, but remember all of Dublin’s chatter about in-house games before the Wexford match this summer and don’t forget Kerry-Down in 2010.

At least they are finding different ways to win clutch games. They won the league playing ugly, they won against Kerry by steering clear of that for the most part as they footballed their way out of a corner in the second half, and against Clare they killed off passion with goals. But during the coming weeks they need to retain the confidence of 2010, the hurt of 2011 and the most complete line-up in Gaelic football, even if they are very much a side of two parts. 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 cannot afford to run at them or they’ll lose the ball and energy. With Graham Canty and Michael Shields, 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 were injuries to forwards but right now they have eight high-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 distance, Kerrigan’s pace, Walsh’s aerial prowess or Kelly’s and Goold’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 if they find away over a system’s failure in terms of fixtures and gain momentum this weekend.


2. Donegal (-)

There is so much to admire about their revolution in 2011 followed by their evolution in 2012. And while provincial titles may not mean a whole lot to the other true contenders, it’s a sign of how far they’ve come in a short space of time that capturing Ulster is still new and exciting for this group. But now for the hard part because with their performances comes a reputation and an expectation and it’s getting to the stage where they are many people’s favourites to win it all despite being landed with the most difficult of routes to glory. It’s still very possible but attacking levels need to be maintained and they need to tighten up at the back. At least Jimmy McGuinness knows that and it’s why he had a boot camp a day after their victory over Down to work on defensive frailties that existed in the first half of that game.

But they are no longer the ponderous, low-scoring, lateral team of a year ago and their attack is suddenly as admirable as their work rate. As of now Frank McGlynn is footballer of the year and in front of him Colm McFadden is having a remarkable few months covering for Michael Murphy who is clearly struggling. Ryan Bradley has evolved his game and if Patrick McBrearty and Mark McHugh continue their progress, taking pressure off those inside by kicking five points between them, then more silverware is very possible. As for now, victory over Kerry is certainly possible so long as they don't revert to the 2011 version when under pressure.


3. Dublin (-)

Winning Leinster was comfortable for the most part and the season starts here but they are at a standing start as many of the shoots that appeared a year ago and grew as the season progressed are not there. There have been no signs of advancement in league or championship and as champions you need to evolve to stay ahead. The draw has been so kind and given them a route to the final not seen since Kerry in 1997 and in one way they can be thankful for that, what with Bernard Brogan not reaching his peak, Diarmuid Connolly’s temperament still massively questionable and most importantly their defence not closing off alleys with numbers and hard work, making them more than the sum of their parts.

There are good news stories though and Denis Bastick has improved, Michael Dara MacAuley will form a decent midfield with him and James McCarthy is also playing well. But we saw what happens once Alan Brogan is removed. He is the best link man in football and the most important player on any contending team. He’s the glue that holds the forwards together and without his presence they look lost. Mickey Harte said earlier in the year it’s so hard to go back-to-back because players forget how hard it was to win the first All Ireland amidst all the hype and celebration. We don’t know if that’s the case with Dublin but right now they don’t look like a side that could go back-to-back, even if there's no one to stop them until September. There are question marks though and it won't do them any good winning games and being in the showpiece without finding answers before then.


4. 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 Ó Sé, Tommy Walsh, Tadhg Kennelly, Mike McCarthy and Tom O’Sullivan as well as the form of Paul Galvin, Declan O’Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy to carry them to glory. And say what you like about the wins over Tyrone and Clare but all they did was beat up on inferior teams and in the former they systematically fouled their way through the second half of that game. They did play majestic football at times in recent weeks but it’s not enough to convince us they are back and can now go through the rest of the summer winning like they have so many times before. That’s because they don’t have the players, particularly in defence.

It's all well and good saying that their forwards are playing like champions but that's to miss out on a key point. In order to cover for Eoin Brosnan, Aidan O’Mahony and the left side of that defence, the dynamics of the forwards have to change against better teams and they have to play deeper. Jack O’Connor has realised he needs numbers retreating and that is detracting from the attacking influence of the half-forward line and Kieran Donaghy. They are the best team to come through the qualifiers but they aren’t the team they were. It’s a relative decline and most counties could still only dream about a side this good, but Kerry expect All Irelands and this group won't do that.


5. Mayo (-)

At this time of year, winning is what matters most. But Mayo’s own performances this league and last quarter-final mean they now need to be judged by the standards of the best and if they are to be taken seriously as All Ireland contenders, the Connacht final wasn’t good enough for so many reasons. What they got away with out west will be used to punish them when they face better teams and there was a lot they got away with. Andy Moran was on a huge amount of ball, but his hands were poor. Alan Dillon received plenty of possession too but his kick-passing was wayward. Cillian O’Connor’s free-taking technique looked oddly off. Enda Varley needed lucky frees to make an impact. Kevin McLoughlin was lukewarm after being scorching against Leitrim. And with all that, there is some serious doubt surrounding their attacking ability.

There are positives though. They haven’t yet lost, now have time to work on those forward flaws and James Horan is a coach as much as a manager and will have spotted those problems. If he can get the above right, they will be in a semi-final challenging because Aidan O’Shea and Barry Moran will soon form one of the more formidable midfields about while in the backs we already knew about Donal Vaughan, Keith Higgins and Ger Cafferkey but on top of those Kevin Keane, Lee Keegan and Colm Boyle are developing. But while they can keep teams from scoring, we aren’t convinced they get can enough themselves as there’s huge reliance on Moran.


6. Kildare (-)

Here we go again. The let down in Leinster, the very good mixed with the average in the qualifiers and at the end of it all they are back in the quarter-finals against the big boys. That's five years in a row under Kieran McGeeney and only Kerry, Cork and Dublin have been that far in each of those seasons. But Kildare's problem is going further and beating the best as they are one for four at this stage thus far and the one was against Meath. At least the bad of the draw against Cork this time was offset by the good of the qualifier win against Sligo as confidence and form looked to seep back into so many crucial players and even more importantly, they brought back the intensity to a first-line of defence which started in their half-forward line. That had been missing for much of this championship.

The problem is they won't get those turnovers this weekend and they just don't look to have the quantity or quality of the opposition and if they are to advance, for starters, Cork will have to play below their best. In that sense it is out of their hands. But what is in their hands is the frequency of the ball into Tomás O’Connor, the playmaking of Mikey Conway, the workrate of John Doyle, the finishing of Alan Smith and James Kavanagh and the free-taking of Eoghan O’Flaherty. All those need to hit top form at once while Daryl Flynn is needed back at midfield, allowing Michael Foley to move to full-back. It’s quite a long snag list. Surely too long.


7. Tyrone (-)

We knew they weren’t contenders but for a side in transition, they just saw how far they’ve to go to get back to the top. That starts with a clear-out and while Mickey Harte’s loyalty to the greatest generation of players the county has ever produced is admirable, it’s time to give youth its chance. Ryan McMenamin, Justin McMahon, Owen Mulligan and Stephen O’Neill just don’t have enough to offer and with their underage structures, it’s time to modernise the senior team. Otherwise we will only get repeat performances of the Kerry and Dublin humiliations. Next year they’ll have Kyle Coney back, Conor Clarke had an immense summer and if they can find a more central role for Peter Harte, a more settled role for Joe McMahon and find more consistency in Colm Cavanagh and Mark Donnelly, they’ve the makings of a side that can compete better than they have in their last two championship eliminations.


8. Down (-)

We've written them off at this stage before and Kerry were a far better team in 2010 than Mayo are now. But in truth around here is their level and they can be thankful that Benny Coulter and Dan Gordon were back to full fitness or they wouldn't have reached this stage. Those two, along with Kevin McKernan, Ambrose Rogers, Mark Poland and Conor Laverty form a more-than-decent spine running down the centre of the team and that's all well and good up to this point. But there are too many flank players offering too little, and Donegal took full advantage of that and other elite teams will as well. They won't fear this weekend though, and to get through this weekend, all of the above need big games, and they need the corner-backs and wing-backs to stay sturdy. It's possible if unlikely.


9. Meath (-)

What a bizarre season. Relegated and embarrassed by Louth, decent against Wicklow, awful against Carlow, brilliant against Kildare, good against Dublin, horrific against Laois. There is no trend there and now that is has come to the end, so has Banty's time in charge. He may be glad because there is nothing worse than such a lack of consistency. He didn't know how good or bad the team was by the end and we aren't sure they did either. But if he does go, at least he's found a new generation of players for the next man in to mould into high-level footballers. Donnacha Tobin, Conor Gillespie and Damien Carroll have potential while Donal Keoghan has already excelled. That's a start but they need to get Cian Ward and Stephen Bray playing like they once did and find some sort of consistency in Brian Farrell and Joe Sheridan as those two were having really good seasons but then disappeared against Laois.


10. Laois (+2)

Whatever happens on Saturday - and we all know what will happen on Saturday - they deserve huge credit. When talking about stories of the season, it's fashionable to mention Longford and Tipperary, but Laois may not be as good as either of those yet they've ended up in the last eight. Given how the league and the Leinster first round went, that's a serious achievement. Their renaissance has in some part corresponded with their buying into Justin McNulty's defensive philosophy. It's afforded the full-back line more protection although Peter O'Leary and Kevin Meaney were superb against Meath in their own right, John O'Loughlin is finally living up to some of the billing he received many years ago, Brendan Quigley was one of the midfielders of the qualifiers as he not only won ball but attacked hard and fast while even Ross Munnelly was happy to put in the hard work and the hard tackles. They don't have anywhere near enough to go further, as only Munnelly and Colm Kelly look capable of running up a score, but whatever happens next, credit where it's due.


11. Armagh (-)

A complete enigma, to a large extent because of the bizarre managerial decision-making of Paddy O’Rourke. The county can be thankful he’s gone but not everyone was happy with Paul Grimley, what with Tony McEntee and Kieran McGeeney out there. Time will tell as they certainly have talent. 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. On top of that they’ve a natural on-field leader in Ciáran McKeever. All those names just go to show how pathetic being dumped out of the championship without a win was. Going forward they need to adopt the Crossmaglen style, work ethic and actually play a few more players from the best club in the land. As for a level to judge Grimley on, with some small semblance of luck they should be last-eight material.


12. Wexford (-)

Once, and you can feel sorry for them. Twice, and you can take pity on them. But three times blowing up with Dublin there for the taking is inexcusable and their mindset really needs to be questioned. The same goes for the qualifiers because last year we had sized them up for an All Ireland quarter-final against Kerry and they failed against Limerick. We were beginning to fancy them for a tilt at a top team outside of Dublin this year too and they failed against Tipperary having come back from way down and having had all the momentum entering the last quarter. Graeme Molloy — on form — is one of the best defenders about, Adrian Flynn is a fine wing-back, Ben Brosnan, Red Barry and Ciáran Lyng would worry any defence while Jason Ryan is one of the more competent, thoughtful managers about. Considering all that, they aren’t adding up to the sum of their parts and the reason is mental, not physical.


13. Sligo (-)

That exit was just as bad as Down 2010 after they narrowly lost a provincial final too. And this exit could set them back just as far as all the good they showed against Mayo and Galway was washed away in 70 embarrassing minutes. Midfield is a huge issue as they've been cleaned out in their last two games and with that going so badly wrong, they can't get enough ball into Alan Costello, David Kelly and Adrian Marren. On the other side, with so little possession, the defence comes under huge pressure and you can't expect them to play with the intensity and desperation of the Connacht final each and every game. They have some really good players, just not enough of them and while they've a good manager that may not be the case for long. Kevin Walsh was hugely dispirited after their exit and he didn't see a whole lot that would make him want to hang around.


14. Galway (-)

Remember all that hype a couple of months ago when they announced their arrival in the first game of the championship. That’s long forgotten but if talk of this being a serious team after the dismantling of Roscommon was knee-jerk, then so to is talk of where Alan Mulholland now stands. This is year one, he needs at least two more and then we can talk about his performance. In fact he needs as long as possible because part of the reason Galway are in this mess is their overreaction to the performance of senior managers when beneath them there are serious underage flaws. What Mulholland does have at his disposal is one of the great under-21 teams from 2011. Mark Hehir has already stepped up but we’d bring in the youth of Thomas Flynn and Fionntán Ó Curraoin to centrefield. Then we’d start dotting their under-21 teammates from a year ago around the senior side, amongst the likes of Michael Meehan, Paul Conroy, Gareth Bradshaw and Finian Hanley. They might as well learn the ropes now, when little else is stirring.


15. Longford (-)

Did they take their eye of the ball? Or did they run out of steam? We think the latter because this is a side that has played with huge intensity since the closing stages of the league in April and across the championship they haven’t been able to maintain their high-pressure defensive game for more than 50 minutes in any of their outings. It caught up with them against Limerick as their midfield - their obvious weakness in terms of personnel - struggled, Michael Quinn was overrun and Brian Kavanagh couldn’t buy a yard. But if it’s a disappointing end, then it’s because it finishes a great season and if they can stay in Division Two in 2013 and Seán McCormack can stay at the high level he is reached, then they are going places. On a side note they do need to hold onto Glenn Ryan for as long as possible.


16. Westmeath (-)

That Kerry loss put the heartbreak of their Leinster exit to Louth into perspective but they should also be proud of how they handled the Munster side and took the game to them for much of the qualifier. Paul Sharry was excellent at wing-back and John Heslin is developing into a superstar and a team needs to be build around his ball-winning and fast breaks from centrefield. He is that good. Michael Ennis is good too and if the forward line is lacking quality it certainly makes up for it with quantity. They had eight scorers as they exited the championship, while during the league they’ve been averaging seven scorers a game with Kieran Martin, Dennis Glennon, David Glennon and Ger Egan all having their moments. They could do with a marquee attacker but at least they’ve Division Two to look forward to and while the end to this season will hurt, it should also provide hope.


17. Roscommon (-)

What a bizarre season where we are left none the wiser as to whether the players are buying into the Des Newton era as much as they bought into the Fergal O’Donnell era. The bad of Galway, the good of Armagh, the predictable against Tyrone. 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. But they need more than one performance a year as only Cregg has shown any real consistency this term while Shine in particular has struggled to repeat his heroics of previous years. If they could get it right, they’ve the makings of a serious team in the medium term having won two of the last three Connacht under-21 titles and having just gone back-to-back at minor. That’s a big if though and they should be looking to get out of Division Three for starters.


18. Tipperary (-)

So it finally ends but they've so much to take with them from 2012 and so much to inspire all those underage players who have massive potential. Ciarán McDonald, Brian Fox, Michael Quinlivan and Peter Acheson will all just miss out on All Star nominations but if they can build on this year, who knows? Barry Grogan and Brian Jones may be back for next season and then there's integration of the All Ireland-winning minors. That's a lot to look forward to but they shouldn't expect miracles in the short-term but they must expect to get out of Division Four next year and beginning climbing the ladder and facing better opposition all year round rather than just in the qualifiers. It's still possibly four years before they can think of challenging the best in Munster and an awful lot needs to go right in that time for it to happen. But they are on the right track and there isn't a more exciting story in football.


19. Monaghan (-)

Yet again they give it a go in Ulster and collapse in the qualifiers. And if this year’s exit isn’t as embarrassing as their loss to Offaly in 2011, it should hurt just as much because for 35 minutes against Down they reminded us of the intensity they can play with and the passion they can bring. But then there was the loss to Laois having led 0-5 to 0-2 and having controlled the opening stages. Little wonder Eamon McEneaney could take no more of the wild inconsistency from players who promise much and then lie. That opening half up north where the defence was a throwback to the 2007 level, where Dick Clerkin and Eoin Lennon looked more than solid, where Tommy Freeman returned and where Conor McManus looked like he and Paul Finlay could be a force to be reckoned with is now long forgotten. They leave the summer looking for a manager to take them into Division Three on the back of one championship win in two years.


20. Antrim (-)

Everyone else seemed to be surprised at their efforts against Galway but we weren’t. In fact in the build up we talked about how they were made in the perfect mould to topple the Connacht side in Casement. But that should not have been the end and it was something they should have built on, what with no more than Tipperary and a badly-bruised Down in the way of a last eight place. They had the talent to go further as James Loughrey is still the exciting and speedy player coming up from the back and Michael McCann is one of the better midfielders in all of Ulster as not only can he dominate possession but he can score as shown when he kicked more from play than anyone else on the field in their last win. But knowing all that will make their exit even harder to take. A major opportunity has been lost.


21. Limerick (-)

Finally they get their best team — excluding John Galvin of course — onto the field together and we all saw that they can compete with big names when that happens. Stephen Lucey, Johnny McCarthy, John Riordan, Stephen Kelly, Ian Ryan and Jim Donovan were immense for 70 minutes against Kildare and their physicality, tackling and ball-carrying were phenomenal. But in the end it was just another moral victory and those names must be sick of those words after a decade of hard luck. Indeed they make Mayo’s house of pain look like a massage parlour. They’ve pulled themselves off the canvas before, but it’s getting harder to get back up each time and they are hugely reliant on the same core of six or seven players. Lose one or two and they revert to the side that couldn’t get out of Division Four.


22. 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 kicking the ball straight to the opposition repeatedly. But Brennan was wrong in everything he did during a tirade post-Longford. We don’t know why he’d want to hang around any longer with a team that are going nowhere, especially after turning on Paddy Bradley for his critical comments regarding funding by the county board. On the field, what we’ve seen repeatedly is Bradley having to drop deep to get possession but he’s too far out then and while Mark Friel is an okay defensive midfielder, they’ve no one to drive forward with ball in hand. They’ve no playmaker either, no pace and no prospects. Darks days are here and they’ll do well to maintain Division Two status.


23. Louth (-)

The Peter Fitzpatrick era ends with him saying that he's a Leinster-winning manager, it's just that his players never got the credit. That sums up the last two years and while his complete obsession with that 2010 game is understandable, it has done the team no good ever since. It's probably for the best that he's gone, even if he became a Fine Gael TD off the back of it. The next man in has Division Two football to looking forward to but he must get the best players in the county either back home or back playing. They have some top-quality operators like Darren Clarke and Paddy Keenan, but they've too many second-class citizens around the place as well and until that changes, they'll have to keep carrying players that aren't good enough to reach higher ground.


24. Cavan (-)

They impressed us by going to toe-to-toe with Donegal for a little while but if that was a moral victory, it was important they got an actual victory as well to show a young team that it’s all worth it. They should take that Fermanagh result with them from this season rather than the annihilation against a rampant and angry Kildare. Gearóid McKiernan is a good midfielder in the making and he was the one who took their opening qualifier by the scruff of the neck. David Givney beside him has a decent future too and Eugene Keating showed he has accuracy in the Ulster Championship defeat when taking an All Star full-back for five points and was popping up for good scores in their exit too. Anthony Forde in the backroom team is a key appointment and they are improving, although they’ve been shown how far it is they have to go.


25. Wicklow (-)

Not impressive against Waterford and couldn’t kick muck off a boat rope by the banks of the Shannon. We said in the Micko era that real improvement would come about via league promotion and not by big days in the championship so we cannot come down too hard on Harry Murphy. Besides, he was missing Ciarán Hyland and Leighton Glynn, James Stafford’s performances haven’t been up to his early-season standards and they are one-dimensional with obvious long-balls into Seánie Furlong the cornerstone of their game. But their last two games have shown them how much work needs to be done if they are to be competitive at a higher league level come the new season.


26. Clare (-)

How will they look back on the year? Disappointment, and that's incorporating a place in the Munster final. It wasn't much of a day out and the Kerry draw was horrific and they leave the stage realising how far they are off the best in their province and how they'll never win anything. But the biggest blow to Clare football may have been losing out to Wicklow in Aughrim on the last day of the league as that cost them promotion. That's where a county at their level really builds and it'll be hard after reaching a provincial decider to drop all the way back down to the bottom and start again. But they have to, and they have to succeed there if they are to ever go anywhere.


27. Carlow (-)

Brendan Murphy tweeted after their exit that depression was setting in. It shows what football means to him and as long as he’s desperate for Carlow to do well, then they’ll keep improving because he’s one of the best footballers in the nation. Darragh Foley beside him in midfield is improving too and that’s the foundations laid for a competitive team. But if they are to be a victorious team they need to create a conveyor belt of talent to improve both backs and forwards. Drawing with Meath and taking Laois to the wire represents some of the best results they’ve had in generations but what would be even better is a promotion push. With all that in mind, the selection of a manager with a vision and a serious work ethic is key now that Luke Dempsey has had enough.


28. Offaly (-)

So Tom Coffey wants three years to revive the county’s fortunes. That’s dedication because not many would want to spend three minutes with this side. 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 they were held to six points by Kildare and 10 by Tipperary. But forget those defeats, they are only a symptoms of the disease. 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. With all that in mind, Coffey needs to look at building bigger, better and more confident footballers in a structure that won’t change every time the wind changes.


29. Leitrim (-)

There’s not an icy heart that won’t have been melted by that win over Wicklow and they gave it a serious go against Laois in what was their All Ireland final. Those feats took guts and courage because we saw Barney Breen after the Mayo defeat and he was hurting for players that never stood a chance despite all the dedication and commitment. Yet despite that, despite the lack of finance, despite the lack playing numbers, despite the fact they can’t keep their own few footballers in the county, they came out and won their first ever qualifier. It passed so many with everything else that was going on, but in its own way theirs is one of the stories of the season, even if it's already over.


30. Fermanagh (-)

So Peter Canavan will be in charge for the 2013 campaign but he will need to take a Kieran McGeeney-style approach and try and revamp football at all levels. There are some great names still on the panel but they are great because of the past and not the present and turning to the likes of Marty McGrath just won’t cut it any longer. Cavan won the qualifier because of youth, Fermanagh lost it because of a lack of youth. Canavan also needs to clear out the deadwood from a camp that’s been the most troublesome about. Many wouldn’t play for John O’Neill but even when a more professional set-up was created, many still couldn’t sit still and do their jobs.


31. Waterford (-)

That loss in Aughrim will hurt and Gary Hurney will have to look at himself while whoever the new manager is will have to look at what might have been and the help his team are getting from within the county. Remember, there was club championship just six days before their Munster opener against Limerick in a season they could have reached a provincial final for the first time since 1960. They’ve now won just seven of 24 games since their historic promotion from Division Four. 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 and their new manager, whoever he is, need to get their own administrators somehow on side.


32. London (-)

So they didn’t win against Antrim but there’s very definite improvements here and it’s only going to get better if they can keep their heads down. Across their last five championship games - which involved a draw and a win as well as three losses - they’ve been outscored by only four points on aggregate. When have they ever been that competitive? Captain Seán McVeigh very nearly dragged them across the line in this year’s qualifiers, and he’ll be a huge loss as he heads home but others need to stand up and drag them across the off season and remind them they are close to something special.