Posted by Shane Stapleton

London make the biggest jump of the week but Armagh and Louth are on the move too

2013 July London
The provincial championships are coming to a conclusion and we’re facing into the second 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 (-)
Kildare had the perfect start but even at 1-2 to nil down, Dublin didn’t panic. They responded as champions do, with a goal from Paul Mannion. When Bernard Brogan blasted home a second just before half-time, there was no way back for a Lilywhites side that is seeing their neighbours push on to greater things. But last year Dublin opened their Leinster account with a demolition job on Louth before slowly grinding down the gears and out of the All-Ireland series at the semi-final level against Mayo — so it's still early days. Alan Brogan is apparently on the comeback trail and he may yet be the key to regaining Sam. Dublin will annihilate most teams outside the top six, but surely they can’t be number one until Donegal get a big scare at least.

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 against London 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 (-)
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 (-)
No team in the qualifiers wanted a piece of Tyrone and Offaly proved just why as the Red Hands coasted to a 1-27 to 0-8 win at O’Connor Park. The closest measurement of Tyrone this year was against standard-bearers Donegal, and they pushed the All-Ireland champions for some time. That is, crucially, without ever really looking like winning. 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. Won an All-Ireland from Round One of the qualifiers in 2008, lest we forget.

8. Kildare (-)
We knew from their at times unimpressive win over Offaly that Kildare were not good enough to challenge for the All-Ireland title this year and, more than ever, it feels as if their final-four run in 2010 was a massive missed opportunity. Kieran McGeeney’s side burst into a 1-2 to nil lead but Dublin steamrollered them from then on. Paul Grimley was criticised heavily for going man-to-man against Cavan and his fellow Armagh man left the Lilies open to arguably the best attack in the country here too. Will beat most teams but not the better ones, it seems. They just don’t have the ease of scoring in them yet.

9. Meath (+1)
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 a Leinster title from the Royals in 2013. Showed some great pace to their play in Wicklow but that was against Division 3’s worst side. Had too much for Wexford in the Leinster semi-final and that was a big plus — though in no way do they looked prepared for Dublin. Still, the bitterest of rivals often bring out your best.

10. Derry (-1)
It interesting that Ulster clashes are being revisited in the qualifiers now with Cavan having a rematch with Fermanagh and Down drawing the Oak Leaf County. Brian McIver already secured promotion to the top flight for 2014 so confidence was up before the championship started. Lost out in a thrilling clash with the Mourne Men but the easy win over Sligo may have injected them with confidence before they against meet James McCartan's side.

11. Monaghan (-)
Deserved their win over Cavan but are lucky to have avoided a replay after goalkeeper Rory Beggan clearly overcarried the ball near his own goal late on. The Farney County have beaten Antrim and the Breffni County now and, in that time, we have seen nothing to suggest that they can put it up to Donegal — who would soundly beat either.

12. Laois (+2)
2012 began with a shocking loss to Longford and again a championship season began in inauspicious circumstances for Justin McNulty’s side after a 10-point home loss to Louth. Just like last year though, Laois may be about to gather some moment. They beat a poor Carlow side on the first Friday night championship clash and will expect to beat Clare in Ennis too. With momentum and a kind draw, plenty can happen.

13. Cavan (-1)
Completely outplayed Armagh and showed a better quality of forward down the stretch to beat Fermanagh in a very poor game. Didn’t convert their chances against Monaghan and, though they will be bitter about not getting a late free to level the game, they are not in a position to challenge Donegal. Not that that will be of any consolation.

14. Armagh (+3)
Paul Grimley came in for huge criticism from Joe Brolly as his side allowed Cavan exploit their man-to-man tactics. It was always going to be an uphill battle to save their season but an absolute destruction of Wicklow has given them a chance to feel as if that's possible. Will fancy doing a job on Leitrim too.

15. Louth (+3)
It’s been an up and down season so far. It started with an impressive 10-point win in Laois but when Drogheda hosted its first home championship game since 1998, the heaving local crowd were unable to halt the Wexford charge. Clearly the better side against Antrim for long spells but made hard work of it in the end, despite winning by six. Will hope Kildare are mentally off the mark after the Dublin hammering.

16. Wexford (-3)
Wides, wides and wides cost Wexford again. Meath aren’t necessarily the better team but you have to take your chances. The Models have plenty of fine attackers too with the likes of Ciaran Lyng, Ben Brosnan and Red Barry. Lacked composure.

17. Longford (+5)
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. Beaten by Wicklow in Leinster but have now powered past Limerick, meaning we’re not fully sure what level they are at. Will fancy beating Wexford at home.

18. Roscommon (-2)
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.

19. Galway (-)
After the Mayo defeat the consensus was that Galway are not big enough, not strong enough, not quick enough, not smart enough. The Connacht champions utterly dismantled this young 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. Beat Tipperary and in decent fashion, that is until the Premier made a late comeback that never really seemed likely to be completed. Work-in progress. Finally won a game outside Connacht but it would be on the county’s reputation alone if we were to elevate them much higher on this list just yet.

20. Fermanagh (+1)
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 we knew they were fighters. To sneak past a team that will play in Division 1 next year, Westmeath, near the final whistle backs that up. Back to Cavan now to see what they’ve learned since that Ulster meeting.

21. Sligo (-1)
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 put the boss in the spotlight. It’s hard to say if Walsh would have stayed on had that furore not happened but he has decided five years is enough after the tame defeat to Derry — in the same year when they barely preserved their Division 3 status.

22. London (+7)
The worst team in the entire league but, after a win over Sligo and a replay win in Leitrim at the Connacht semi-final stage, the Exiles are in a provincial final for the first time. There has been a steady and incremental improvement under Paul Coggins in recent seasons, but it’s hard to imagine anything but a comfortable win for Mayo in the final. Held on against Leitrim in epic fashion. Yes Sligo are just ahead of them because, were they to meet again on Irish soil, we’d back the Yeats County.

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 this time. Two late cards against Longford in an 11-point defeat highlight what a shocking day at the office they had in the qualifiers. A poor championship.

24. Westmeath (-9)
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. Have slid down this table sharply, and you might argue they are better than some of those ahead in the packing order, but their results have been disastrous. Hammered by Dublin and beaten by a Division 3 team. Will climb the rankings quickly next year, we feel.

25. Tipperary (-1)
Quite a come-down from last year’s fine qualifier run as Galway proved the better side in Round One. Taken apart by a Kerry side that was still in league mode during the Munster championship.

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. Tried to hang on against Louth but never looked a likely winner.

27. Offaly (-)
You have to feel for Offaly. Manager Emmet McDonnell seems to be doing a good job but, as a Division 4 side, they were hugely unfortunate to be twice drawn with top-tier opposition. Kildare struggled to shake off the Faithful County but the biggest shark in the Round One qualifiers water, Tyrone, simply dismantled them on their own patch.

28. Leitrim (+1)
A brave if ultimately futile comeback against London in the Connacht semi-final leaves them looking very exposed ahead of the visit of a buoyant Armagh in Round Two of the qualifiers. Had Emlyn Mulligan been fit for either of the games with the Exiles, things could be so different.

29. Wicklow (-5)
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. Didn’t have the staying power against Meath and were put to the sword by Armagh.

30. 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. 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. Galway will fancy another Munster scalp here.

32. Carlow (-)
Second worst team in the entire four Divisions of the league and were beaten soundly by Westmeath in their Leinster opener. Had a great start against Laois but we soundly beaten in the end.

33. New York (-)
Hammered out of their own gates at Gaelic Park by Leitrim so their season is already over. 

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