Posted by Shane Stapleton
Wednesday 10 July 2013
The provincial championships are coming to a conclusion and the qualifiers are putting plenty of teams to the sword so let’s see the current 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. Will fancy beating the old enemy in the Leinster final.
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. Kerry (+1)
Kerry were sublime and the pace at which they attacked was lovely to watch. They won’t get that time or space against Dublin or Donegal and they don’t have as many pacy threats in the team, so an All-Ireland is still a tall order. What better county to prove us wrong though. Won’t have been happy with a mini-collapse during the second half but they will feel there is more to come. After the early struggles in the league, Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s debut season is bubbling along nicely.
5. Cork (-1)
We would sooner judge Cork when Paddy Kelly and Ciaran Sheehan are fit to start, and when Eoin Cadogan is right. All three add a real drive to the team and people spoke of how lateral the Rebels were — well, Kelly and Sheehan would add that directness. You need players running at defences and it was unusual to see another man who does just that, Paul Kerrigan, so peripheral. For Cork to recover and win an All-Ireland, they need to have more than just Aidan Walsh penetrating from deep. They also looked very open in defence and Kerry aren’t the only side who will expose that.
6. Tyrone (+1)
Tyrone scored just 0-5 in the first half of their qualifiers against Roscommon — not what you'd expect of Mickey Harte’s men after the destruction of Offaly. Perhaps it was a case of finding it hard to get up for another game they were expected to win with ease. They’ll be alarmed with the Rossies getting so many goal chances though, meaning warning signs are there for Harte’s charges. Won an All-Ireland from Round One of the qualifiers in 2008, lest we forget.
7. Derry (+3)
Derry lost a classic shootout against Down in Ulster but their season has rebounded nicely, albeit in much more sedate circumstances. We mean this in the sense that, whereas the Mourne County racked up 2-17 against Derry in the opener, the Oak Leafers have conceded a grand total of 1-13 in their two qualifier wins since over Sligo and Down. James McCartan’s men managed just 1-5 of that and didn’t produce a score from play in the second half.
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 (-)
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. 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 hammered Clare in Ennis this time. It’s the luck of the draw as to how far they go good, but well short of the very best.
11. Down (-5)
The opening-day win over Derry was exceptional and they gave Donegal a good game after that but their season is over. Derry avenged that Ulster loss and did so with progressive ease as the clock wore down. The Mourne Men were stung by the loss of Benny Coulter but to score just 1-5 was poor, and two late red cards exhibited their frustration at managing just a single placed-ball score in the second half.
12. Monaghan (-1)
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.
13. Cavan (-)
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 (-)
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 (-)
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 (-)
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 (-)
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 (-)
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. Will rue not taking some of the goalscoring chances against Tyrone as a shock win was on.
19. Galway (-)
Highly unimpressive from Galway to beat a Waterford team that was destroyed by Kerry by just a point. When the final whistle went, the Tribe players were trudging off as if beaten, showing that they realised how poor they had been. And the fact that this was at home too would worry their fans… well, the few that showed up. Hardly set the world alight against Tipp before that either.
20. 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 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 (-)
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 (-)
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 (-)
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 (-)
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 (-)
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 (-)
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 (-)
Clare were beaten well by Cork but showed a little fight that day. It did the footballers of the Banner County no favours that a good portion of the crowd filed out after the home side won the hurling half of this double header against Laois in Ennis. The O’Moore County won the football with the same ease as Clare’s hurlers won the small ball. It was an unfitting send-off for Mick O’Dwyer, who of course may yet wash up some place else.
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. Ran Galway closer than expected.
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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