Posted by Shane Stapleton

The Connacht semi-finalists make a jump while Down's gusty showing against Donegal gave them a bump

2013 Leitrim

The provincial championships are coming to a conclusion and we’re facing into the first round of the qualifiers so let’s see the order of power — based on form, expectations and quality.

1. Donegal (unchanged from last week)
As Jean Rasczak said in Starship Troopers: “I need a corporal. You're it, until you're dead or I find someone better.” Those putting Dublin at the top of the charts as All-Ireland favourites might be jumping the gun slightly because Donegal are still unbeaten. Yes, they were relegated in the league, haven’t been overly spectacular in their two championship wins, and have to find out if they have the appetite again for the work that took them to the game’s summit last year. But until they are beaten, or until Dublin do something special, they stay top here because we haven't even seen their top gear.

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, which 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 (-)
Mayo may not have been overly impressive in the very early stages of their Connacht semi-final win over Roscommon but they ground down and turned to dust the challenge of the 2010 champs. Twelve different scores, including numbers four through seven, shows how well they combine as a team. Maybe they need to be more direct in attack at times but we really won’t know exactly where they are at until it gets to later in the summer. Should walk the Connacht final after the thrashing of Galway and destruction of the Rossies.

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. Clare came within nine points but, ultimately, it was comfortable enough. As with Mayo, we won’t fully know what level they are at until they are rutting against another powerful stag, which they soon will with Kerry.

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.

6. Down (+1)
No one expected Down to push Donegal as hard as they did but their ability to match the champions physically in the first half gave them a chance. Now it never truly felt as if the Mourne Men were going to go that next step and win the game but they turned over Tir Chonaill with more regularity that we’ve seen, but not quite as often as was done to them. It was a game of small margins and that told on the scoreline. Down could never quite engineer enough scoring opportunities from play and, too often, Mark Poland and Benny Coulter were isolated and running away from goal. A work in progress though, particularly after that classy win over Derry.

7. Tyrone (-1)
We never ruled out a surprise win by Tyrone over the All-Ireland champions in the Ulster quarter-final 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. Won an All-Ireland from Round One of the qualifiers in 2008, and are 18/1 to repeat the feat.

8. Kildare (-)
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 margin 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 though, 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. Meath (-)
Gained promotion from Division 3 but fell away against Monaghan in the final. Rebuilding under Mick O’Dowd but are often seen as a championship side — though it would be a surprise to see too much from the Royals in 2013. Showed some great pace to their play in Wicklow but that was against Division 3’s worst side. Early days.

11. Monaghan (-)
As manager Malachy O’Rourke admitted afterwards, there won’t be too many teams running scared of Monaghan after a dull win over a very poor Antrim side. The Farney County kicked 17 wides and, while they will fancy their chances against Cavan in an Ulster semi-final, Down or Donegal would disassemble them on this form. Still, they have forward class in Christopher McGuinness, Conor McManus, Paul Finlay and current substitute Tommy Freeman.

12. Cavan (-)
Completely outplayed Armagh and showed a better quality of forward down the stretch to beat Fermanagh in a very poor game. It looked every bit a Division 3 clash and Monaghan won’t be too worried ahead of the Ulster semi-final. Need Eugene Keating and Martin Dunne to continue their strong form up front.

13. Wexford (-)
League form comes and goes but championship is what any team is remembered for. Mattie Forde retired but still the county plough on; Jason Ryan moved on and they still keep pushing on despite league relegation. With the likes of Ciaran Lyng, Ben Brosnan and Red Barry, Wexford will always take some beating. Will fancy their chances of getting to a Leinster final past Meath.

14. Laois (-)
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.

15. Westmeath (-)
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 (-)
Started well against Mayo in the Connacht final but were beaten with more ease than expected. Donie Shine is one of the best forwards around and the fact that he couldn’t start this game was a massive blow, with the game was over by the time he was introduced.

17. 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.

18. Louth (-)
Drogheda hosted its first home championship game for Louth since 1998 but the heaving local crowd were unable to halt the Wexford charge, as the Model men ran out winners with the same 2-13 scoreline that saw them home at this venue during the league in March. The Wee County showed some steel in beating Laois by 10 points in the last round but a lucky second-half goal by PJ Banville knocked the stuffing out of them for some time, though they still pushed Wexford all the way.

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 (-)
It’s early days for Peter Canavan but there was a lot of shortcomings in the Ulster loss to Cavan, with a blank scoring sheet after 25 minutes being the starkest. Still, they came back to be level with the Breffni County late on so not all is lost at this stage of the season.

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. Wicklow (-)
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. Didn’t quite have the same staying power when Meath came to town.

25. Tipperary (-1)
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. Antrim (-)
For a county with a bigger pick of players than any other of the Ulster counties, Antrim really do underperform. They were incredibly poor against Monaghan and to score 0-6 over 70 minutes was pathetic, particularly with the Farney County down a man for much of the second half. Kevin Niblock took a point when an early goal was on and his exit from the pitch through injury removed any chance of a surprise win.

27. Offaly (-)
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. Leitrim (+1)
Leitrim have shown a lot of resilience to still be in the Connacht reckoning. They had to remove four players from the panel for a breach of discipline and now, after losing star forward Emlyn Mulligan on 15 minutes against London in the semi-final, they still kept with the Exiles and almost won with a late ’45. However, it’s hard to see a world where either of the teams in the running for a final bout with Mayo will be anything other than cannon fodder. Are fortunate that the rules mean the replay cannot be staged in Ruislip, so they’ll be hoping Mulligan can feature and they come through.

29. London (+1)
The worst team in the entire league but, after a win over Sligo and a draw in Leitrim at the Connacht semi-final stage, the Exiles again have a great chance of making a provincial final for the first time. They’ll scarcely get a better opportunity to do so with Leitrim’s squad light of four players who broke the rules, and Emlyn Mulligan struggling with injury. This is a big chance after steady improvement under Paul Coggins in recent seasons.

28. Clare (-2)
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. Beaten well by Cork but showed a bit of fight to come back into the game after going 0-7 to 0-0 behind.

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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