Posted by Shane Stapleton
Wednesday 5 June 2013
As the men are beginning to be separated from the boys, we take a look at the order of power in the Football Championship right now — based on form, expectations and quality.
1. Donegal (unchanged from last week)
Answered a lot of critics with the manner of their win over Tyrone in Ballybofey. Sucked up everything the Red Hands offered and, when they got the ball to their molten hot inside forward line, it was lights out. Paddy McBrearty created two goals with constrasting moments of brilliance which sum up how hard it is to stop Donegal — high ball or pacy down low, you’re in trouble. Deservedly sit up top.
2. Dublin (-)
There's no doubting that Dublin have the players to regain the All-Ireland but we still think they will need a fit Alan Brogan to get over the line. The win over Westmeath was clinical but they hammered Louth in their first outing last year too, but that precipitated some underwhelming performances thereafter, including a good part of that Mayo defeat when the fitness of Brogan was a costly issue. We are also yet to see how Jim Gavin will reshuffle his pack if a big team puts the Dubs in trouble. These are our caveats, but we very much expect them to be in the shake-up.
3. Mayo (-)
Didn't quite have enough for Dublin in the league semi-final but Alan Dillon and Andy Moran are building fitness, while the Connacht thrashing of Galway showed that they have too much for anyone in their province. We can't see them being touched in Connacht and their massive workrate and class up front gives them a chance at winning more.
4. Cork (-)
We learned nothing from the destruction of Limerick other than the fact that a Division 4 team is ill-prepared for an All-Ireland champion elect, which Cork propose to be. We’re not sure if they have quite enough to do that but it depends on how the new personnel improve the team. Cork now have now got 2012 Cork hurler Damien Cahalane on board along with ex-Antrim star James Loughrey, but the loss to a third cruciate knee injury of Colm O'Neill is as yet incalculable. We expect the Rebels to push the very best, if not push them over.
5. Kerry (-)
Class is permanent and the Kingdom showed that to retain their Division One status once the bigger names of the panel returned to action during the campaign. It remains to be seen how Eamonn Fitzmaurice deals with the white-hot arena of championship action but his county still has some of the best players in the game, from Colm 'Gooch' Cooper to Kieran Donaghy via Darran O'Sullivan and back to Marc Ó Sé. Cantered past Tipperary but there are question marks over the pace of their attacking play, and we learned nothing in their demolition of Waterford. A flip of a coin between the Kingdom and the Rebels just now — we’ll know more after they inevitably meet in the Munster final.
6. Tyrone (-)
We never ruled out a surprise win by Tyrone over the All-Ireland champions but neither did we feel it was particularly likely. Stephen O’Neill is as classy as any of the Donegal inside forwards but he lacks the support of anyone else of that calibre inside, meaning teams can concentrate on corralling him. Sean Cavanagh will hurt plenty of sides this year and to be within two scores — albeit goals — of Jim McGuinness’ side was far from a disaster for Mickey Harte. Must go for the jugular when goal chances come, because their lack of linebreakers (compared with Donegal’s and Dublin’s, for example) means they could be at a premium.
7. Down (+1)
Just when football looked doomed to one-sided processions, the Ulster championship comes to the rescue with Down snaring a fantastic win over Derry at Celtic Park. Can they rediscover the form of 2010? Maybe not but Mark Poland, Benny Coulter and Donal O'Hare are big danger men while Kevin McKernan and Kalum King provide an imposing midfield partnership. They looked as if they would be beaten by the Oak Leafers until outscoring the hosts 2-5 to 0-1 in a 15-minute spell during the second half. Their meeting with Donegal could be the marquee provincial clash of the year.
8. Kildare (-1)
Beat Offaly 0-19 to 1-12 despite being far from impressive but a closer reflection of the gap between these sides was an eight-point gap left with four minutes to go. That the Faithful briefly pared that back to within a goal highlights any previous doubts we had about the Lilywhites, with both manager Kieran McGeeney and corner-back Hugh McGrillen pointing to sloppiness after the game. We struggle to see where the goals will come from against the better sides if they, as a Division 1 team, failed to create too many chances against fourth-tier proposition in the vast spaces of Croker. Niall Kelly, Paul Cribbin and Morgan O'Flaherty hit 12 points between them from the half-forward line, so there are positives too.
9. Derry (-)
Brian McIver already secured promotion to the top flight for 2014 so the good form they showed against Down in the first half last weekend was not a huge shock. If only they could have continued to load the bullets for dangerman Eoin Bradley, perhaps they might be looking forward to a tilt against the All-Ireland champions next. The Mourne County found a way to snuff him out but there is big hope now heading into the qualifiers. Some of the point-taking of James Kielt was a joy to behold.
10. Monaghan (+1)
Malachy O’Rourke helped the side to the best defensive record in the top three divisions and that’s some achievement for a team that had been relegated in successive seasons before winning Division 3. Have underperformed in recent seasons but they are on the favourable side of the Ulster draw.
11. Meath (+1)
Gained promotion from Division 3 but fell away against Monaghan in the final. Rebuilding under Mick O’Dowd. Often seen as a championship side but it would be a surprise to see too much from the Royals in 2013.
12. Laois (+1)
2012 began with a shocking loss to Longford and again a championship season has begun in inauspicious circumstances for Justin McNulty’s side after a 10-point home loss to Louth. They drop in the ladder but not too far because we saw how they recovered last year; we can’t throw the baby out with the very dirty bathwater just yet. May slide down further though.
13. Wexford (+1)
Relegated from Division 2 and that’s not ideal preparation for a Leinster championship clash with an improving Louth.
14. Cavan (+1)
Many may feel that Cavan's gameplan is rudimentary but it worked against Armagh and they should have won by more than four points. Have an outside shot of making an Ulster final because they are on the more favourable side of the draw but a good run in the qualifiers would be a good year. The loss of Gearoid McKiernan was huge but the emergence of Martin Dunne as a real scoring threat gives a boost further up the field.
15. Westmeath (-5)
It had been a year of huge improvement for the Lake County as they earned an unexpected promotion to Division One and followed it up with a convincing Leinster SFC win over Carlow. Few people expected them to beat Dublin at Croke Park and the scale of their defeat probably put to bed any questions of the Lake County beating Jim Gavin's side if they had them down in Cusack Park. They will do well to recover in the qualifiers.
16. Roscommon (-)
Huge task to overcome Mayo in a provincial semi-final but All-Ireland club champions St Brigids proved the quality is there. Donie Shine is one of the best forwards around and the Brigids contingent can help them recover from a difficult league campaign. Galway fans won't be happy to be behind the Rossies after hammering them last year but the Tribe's result against Mayo forced our hand.
17. Louth (-)
Aidan O’Rourke’s side finished fourth in Division 2 but the win over Laois by 10 points, in Portlaoise, shows that this is a promising project.
18. Armagh (-)
Paul Grimley came in for huge criticism from Joe Brolly as his side allowed Cavan exploit their man-to-man tactics. Uphill battle to save their season, but Laois proved last year that it can be done.
19. Galway (-)
Not big enough, not strong enough, not quick enough, not smart enough. Mayo utterly dismantled this young Galway side and it's no wonder that former greats such as Sean O Domhnaill are calling for huge change in how the county looks at football.
20. Sligo (-)
Eamonn O’Hara gave both barrels to manager Kevin Walsh on the Sunday Game after the loss in London and, grinding axes or not, it has put the boss in the spotlight. So too the players from whom a response will be demanded — under fire, they must show character. But this loss in Ruislip follows on from a very poor league campaign for a Yeats County side that has failed to produce a 70-minute performance this year.
21. Fermanagh (-)
Looked in decent shape for a second consecutive promotion until Meath got in the way. But Peter Canavan has his side in good shape heading into an Ulster clash with Cavan — a fixture which they will fancy.
22. Longford (-)
Often a very exciting team to watch but it remains to be seen how much substance they have this year because they did lose all of their NFL2 games, though only the Derry and Louth games were by any sizeable margin. That defeat to Wicklow may have given us our answer but we’re not sure if it was just an off-day or whether they are any worse than what’s beneath them on the list.
23. Limerick (-)
Have been very competitive with Munster’s big two in the majority of their clashes in recent seasons but were destroyed by Cork in the recent clash. Can make a good run in the qualifiers… until they meet another team of top-six quality.
24. Antrim (-)
Picked up just one win in Division 3 this year so and that was all the way back on February 3 against Cavan. Confidence could be iffy against Monaghan.
25. Tipperary (-)
Taken apart by a Kerry side that was still in league mode. Scarcely got a shot off from play in the first half and it was 33 minutes before they produced an attacking move that pushed the Kingdom from side to side. Unlucky that Kerry and Cork have shackled them in Munster but can again look forward to a qualifier run.
26. Wicklow (+1)
Harry Murphy’s side didn’t win a single game in Division 3 of the league this year so to beat Longford 1-15 to 0-16 in the Leinster SFC was quite a feat — it being their first championship win since 2010. Seanie Furlong hit 1-5 and the Garden County always seemed to be able to reply whenever the visitors to Aughrim asked a question.
27. Offaly (-1)
Offaly manager Emmet McDonnell was frustrated with some of the decisions made by referee Rory Hickey after their defeat to Kildare in the Leinster quarter-final but he was keen to point out the positives too, with a four-point defeat a big improvement on a fixture they lost by 13 last year. The new boss pointed out that he has only worked for six months with this group whereas Kieran McGeeney has had six years with the Lilies. The Faithful need to keep improving and find some quality to supplement the obvious class of full-forward Niall McNamee, without more players getting themselves dropped for disciplinary reasons — which is becoming a noticeable issue with many sides.
28. Clare (-)
Will be looking for Mick O’Dwyer to produce some of the old magic that saw Wicklow record championship wins over Kildare and Down, plus draw with Armagh, but the Munster pool has two colossal sharks in it. A tall order.
29. Leitrim (-)
Emlyn Mulligan scored 3-7 in the confidence-boosting win in New York but a seven-week wait until their clash with London may take the wind out of their sails somewhat, not to mention four players now being dropped from the panel for disciplinary reasons. Joint managers Barney Breen and George Dugdale are getting a good squad together though, and it would be great achievement to make a Connacht final.
30. London (-)
The worst team in the entire league but finally got the Connacht championship win that they had been pushing for over the years. Have made plenty of headlines since and could be shock provincial finalists this year if they beat Leitrim. What a story that would be.
31. Waterford (-)
Niall Carew's men suffered a horrendous beating by Kerry last weekend and it's a failing of the championship structure that such weak teams continue to be loaded into the abbatoir. The qualifiers must be kind to them.
32. Carlow (-)
Second worst team in the entire four Divisions of the league and were beaten soundly by Westmeath in their Leinster opener. Besides Brendan Murphy, they are lacking quality. 1000/1 outsiders with good reason.
33. New York (-)
Hammered out of their own gates at Gaelic Park by Leitrim so their season is already over.
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