Posted by Shane Stapleton

It wasn't a classic but Dublin are champions after grinding out a win over Mayo — and Jim Gavin’s side finish up the season top of the list

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It wasn't a classic but Dublin are champions after grinding out a win over Mayo — and Jim Gavin’s side finish up the season top of the list.

1. Dublin (-)
It wasn’t convincing in the end and it certainly was ugly but the title is staying in the land of the Liffey, with the best team in the land. Dublin were poor much for much of the opening half and the somewhat fortuitous goal through Bernard Brogan kept them in a game that, on another day, would have been firmly in Mayo’s grasp. But the Dubs took over and the manner in which they created so much space for Stephen Cluxton’s kickouts - something Robert Hennelly never had the benefit of - and the side showed a huge desire and intelligence. They were able to bring the ball up the field without the same difficulty as Mayo and even if they never finished off the Connacht champions, the Dubs always looked the better team. The chances kept coming and the second Brogan goal was the perfect answer the Andy Moran’s major (Mayo’s only score from play after the break) — with a sense that they would always respond. Yes, the late cynicism was tasteless and you would hope that the black card will make a difference for the new season. Dublin will go into it as the best team in the land having beaten Cork, winning an arm wrestle with Kerry, and grinding down Mayo. Deserved.

2. Mayo (-1)
James Horan said that this defeat to Dublin was harder to take than the loss to Donegal a year earlier. Perhaps that’s because they had an opportunity to gain a sizeable lead but blew up, with so many chances going awry. A soft goal for Bernard Brogan - the ball travelled 40 metres and perhaps Robert Hennelly should have cleared man, ball, the whole lot when it got near his small parallelogram - kept the Dubs in a game that they ultimately took over in all but the scoreline. Mayo had been dominating the 50-50 ball and creating more of the chances but, as we have looked at, the men in sky blue absorbed it and reversed the trend. Scoring just a goal from play in the second was a poor return and even if that had more than a little something to do with Dublin cynicism, the ball was more often at the other end of the field. The subs that came on failed to change the game while the forwards that started largely struggled. All Horan is left with now are questions: is Aidan O’Shea suited to sweeping? Should Keith Higgins have stayed in the forwards, or returned there late on when Eoghan O'Gara hurt his hamstring? Did he use the right subs, with Richie Feeney unused? Did they have work done on kickouts? Did losing two goalkeepers earlier this season cost them a little? No matter what, the better team on Sunday won. The pain for Mayo is that they probably still think they have what it takes to win… and perhaps they do.

3. Kerry (-)
But for an errant shot from Declan O’SullivanKerry might be in an All-Ireland final. The Dromid Pearses man had a chance to put the Kingdom ahead just before Kevin McManamon’s goal effectively ended this contest but he dragged it to the right and wide. The margins were so fine and everyone would agree that a seven-point margin of victory in no way reflected this classic encounter. Kerry were magic in the first half and Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper’s performance in those 35 minutes will go down as one of the greatest exhibitions of football ever seen at Croke Park. Over the course of the 70 minutes, Dublin created far more chances — 35 to 25 — so it was partly a case of the laws of averages kicking in. Kerry did so well to upset Dublin, their kickout strategy and to expose the man-to-man system. In the end, the better panel came through. But there’s hope for the future under Eamonn Fitzmaurice.

4. Donegal (-)
Donegal have hit the wall and in emphatic style. That they even beat Laois in between the Ulster final loss to Monaghan and the quarter-final to Mayo shows that this team has serious heart. But the injuries kept mounting and crucially it was to key players such as Karl Lacey and Mark McHugh. Both featured against Mayo but neither set the world alight, which they have been doing for the past couple of season. Donegal have a small panel and they need everyone firing so as to load the bullets for Michael Murphy, Patrick McBrearty and Colm McFadden. When that doesn’t happen, these classy forwards are working with slow ball in, and the output has been dramatically decreased in 2013. As manager Jim McGuinness explained in relation to the injuries to the likes of Lacey and McHugh: “Instead of managing a team, we were managing a situation.”

5. Tyrone (-)
It was all going for them until it all went against them. Tyrone were making huge amounts of space in the Mayo defence with Conor McAliskey (twice) and Stephen O’Neill getting early scores from play. But then the latter and earlier Peter Harte had to go off with injuries, and Mayo grew into this game. On another day, Mickey Harte’s men would have dug in and held on but they couldn’t keep the ball up the field. The scores dried up while Mayo poured forward and ultimately this game was done long before the final whistle. In the last three season, Tyrone have been eliminated by Dublin, Kerry and Mayo — all with plenty to spare and with lots of time left on the clock. They are still competitive with anyone but not at that old elite level.

6. Cork (-)
Lobbing high balls into the square should not be plan A, B and C. Conor Counihan has vacated the hot seat after being beaten convincingly by Dublin in all bar the scoreline, and it’s probably a good job he stepped down immediately. Because while he is now being complimented for a job well done and commitment shown, allowing the issue to hang would instead lead to mud-slinging about how underperforming this team had become. They have the players to put Dublin on the backfoot but instead they stuck with a number of players that are more suited to the 1990’s game. Meanwhile, Paul Kerrigan — who did have a poor Munster final — sat on the bench, Aidan Walsh was out of position at 11 and 14, and the midfield and defence seemed disjointed. They need to inject some positional sense for 2014.

7. Monaghan (-)
Donegal’s capitulation against Mayo put into context the Farney Army’s Ulster title win. Beating the All-Ireland champions was one thing but we now know how weakened Donegal are — so the narrow wins for Monaghan over Antrim and Cavan earlier on may be a fairer reflection of reality. Into the bargain, we don’t necessarily think Tyrone are an elite side either so for Malachy O’Rourke’s side to fumble a great opportunity – when a man up – says a lot about their composure just now. They did well to force defenders Conor Clarke and Justin McMahon to do so much of the shooting for Tyrone but letting Sean Cavanagh destroy them in the first half was remiss — because they found a way to curtail him in the second. The Moy man was always the danger, and Monaghan actually fed him with ball. When in attack, Monaghan moved the ball up the field as slowly as they did their players – so they never looked a big threat. A work in progress.

8. Meath (-)
You’d have to put this Tyrone defeat down to inexperience. Meath had their chances but they kept kicking them away – either through panicky shooting or by other lapses. Eamonn Wallace was at times electric but missed some great chances, and the fact that he was the only Meath man to score from play in the second half tells a story. In the first half, experienced defender Mickey Burke three times gifted scores to Tyrone for stupid fouls. Two that were kicked over directly and another when he coughed up possession in the opposition half, with the Red Hands quickly turning that into a point. It was needless and these sorts of moments meant the Royals could never push clear. Joe Sheridan was a decent kickout option but offered little from play, while Brian Farrell came in and could not quite get to the pitch of it. Mick O’Dowd is building something good here but it will take plenty more time. A good season.

9. Cavan (-)
Never in the hunt against Kerry – which was not a huge surprise considering the Kingdom’s experience at this stage of the season. The Kerry boys grow an inch taller in late summer whereas Cavan are still finding their feet at this level. Having played five of their six previous championship games this year against Ulster sides and the other against London, this was a departure for Terry Hyland’s side. Kerry raced into a 0-10 to 0-2 lead and credit to the Breffni Blues for fighting until the end. They couldn’t get the ball into Martin Dunne enough and eventually the classy attacker was withdrawn. A great season in an overall sense, but this was too much too soon.

10. Laois (-)
Much like with Kieran McGeeney in Kildare, people were keen to point out how Justin McNulty had a fine qualifier record. Against Donegal, he was looking for an eighth successive back-door success in two seasons but, like McGeeney against Tyrone, that all comes crashing down once you finally meet a big dog. It’s a fallacy based on beating mid-level sides, which they usually meet there. Had Kildare or Laois beaten the likes of a Cork, Kerry or a Tyrone in these qualifier runs, you’d say fair enough. For the O’Moore County, they were in prime position to dethrone the All-Ireland champions after the six-day turnaround from the Ulster final – and it didn’t happen. A tough draw but that would have truly defined a great qualifier record.

11. Derry (-)
Derry had the win in their hands against Cavan but let a last-minute lead slip before the Breffni Boys held out in extra time. Not only that, but the Oak Leaf County had established a 0-3 to 0-0 lead early on and, as we saw with Monaghan against Donegal, a fast start is often half the battle. Eoin Bradley should have had a penalty early on and that was costly. PJ McCloskey’s absence through injury and the clearly unfit Patsy Bradley meant Derry’s midfield was not what it should be — more key factors here. A disappointing end to what has been a season of some improvement.

12. Kildare (-)
Was it the case that Kieran McGeeney had taken this team as far as he could, or that no one else could have done what he could anyway? He has gone now but his successor cannot create goal machines. The problem the new man needs to solve is that Kildare look more shot-shy than is needed, and rarely turn teams’ defences with pace. In an overall sense, they seem to be just too average in too many sectors to beat the best, which Tyrone are not anymore. That Johnny Doyle remains their most crucial attacker is as much a compliment of the Allenwood man as it is an indictment of what the county had produced in the newer generations. They need to find pace and directness, and fast.

13. Down (-)
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.

14. Galway (-)
Galway were gallant in defeat to Cork but ultimately they just don’t have the player power right now. Paul Conroy is contributing well at midfield but he’s just too classy to not have in close to goals. But that’s the issue for a Tribe team that is lacking across the pitch. We would suggest that Cork’s poor selections and tactics were the reason that Galway were in the game, and that the likes of Dublin would have given them an unmerciful beating as Mayo had. They’ve recovered well from that loss in Connacht to get back this far but scraping past poor Tipp and Waterford sides before exposing a naïve Armagh challenge doesn’t fix everything.

15. 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 the destructions of Wicklow and Leitrim suggested they could make the All-Ireland series. But as soon as Jamie Clarke was kept under wraps by Galway, it was all she wrote. That is pretty much the key to beating the Orchard County, and Grimley has to find ways of varying their attack for next year.

16. Wexford (-)
Their season is over after defeat to Laois and two goals in the first half should have been enough to push them on, as the Models went five points in front before the break. Sixteen wides to two tells you why the Model County are out — and missing chances has ever been their issue. A far better team than their season’s results suggest.

17. Louth (-)
It was been an up and down season for Louth. 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 in Leinster. They were clearly the better side against Antrim for long spells but made hard work of it in the end, despite winning by six. Didn’t quite have the legs for Kildare in Newbridge. Seem to be on an upward curve.

18. Longford (-)
There is so little to separate Longford from Wexford and perhaps referee Padraig O’Sullivan’s decision to not award a free to Paul Barden, favouring an advantage, has on its own cost Glenn Ryan’s side their season. There was a regrettable melee at the end of normal time and that mars both side’s championship but these two teams — who have played so often in recent times — always provide entertainment. Punished for leaking goals.

19. 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.

20. Fermanagh (-)
A bitterly disappointing end to the season and the pained look on the face of Peter Canavan after a second championship loss to Cavan in 2013 told the story. The game ended with three reds and 12 yellows, and the Tyrone legend refused to comment on the officials for fear of getting into trouble. The qualifier clash with the Breffni men seemed to become a game of score-settling after so many recent clashes — and it eventually ruined what was already a drab enough affair. So a poor end to the season but they did beat Westmeath on their journey, who will be a Division 1 team next year.

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. 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.

23. 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.

24. 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.

25. 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.

26. 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.

27. London (-)
Gave their all against Cavan but it just wasn’t enough. It’s been quite a season for London but the truth is that much of it was down to the luck of the draw. They did exceptionally well to beat Sligo in Ruislip (which is soon to be modernised) and scrimped past fellow Division 4 side Leitrim — depleted because of disciplinary measures and an injury to star man Emlyn Mulligan — before being trod on by Mayo. Cavan may have won by nine points but that was most complimentary to Terry Hyland’s side. Paul Coggins has been doing a great job and, once the London board review that, he’ll surely be given an extension.

28. Leitrim (-)
Armagh’s eight-goal destruction of Leitrim tells you all you need to know about how well prepared London are for a Connacht final with Mayo. Leitrim were annihilated at home by the Orange County and, after promising so much, it’s turned out to be a terrible season. The breach of discipline by four key players certainly didn’t help the cause.

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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