Continuing the season of guest appearances on the site, I’m delighted to welcome a new voice into the visitor’s slot as JPM – whom many of you will already know as a long-standing contributor in the comments area – provides his assessment of the main challengers for this year’s championship.
In the run-up to our opening encounter I was pondering on whom we might meet along the way on this year’s journey. Below are who I believe are the main contenders (along with ourselves) for ultimate glory and my thoughts on what we have to overcome to get past these forces.
Perennial champions: There or thereabouts, always. The Manchester United of Gaelic Games. If they’re not winners they are rarely out of the top two. They have contested every final bar three occasions since the dawn of the new millennium. In fact they have won well over a quarter of all the Senior All-Irelands ever contested since the GAA was founded in 1884. A phenomenal record and a tradition of winning.
Since the greats of the late 70s and 80s, every Kerry team that has come online since has been compared to them. It is fair to say though that this current crop are every bit as good (if not better – as the overall nationwide standard has improved) than their illustrious counterparts.
Players of the likes of Gooch, Galvin, Donaghy, Marc & Tomás Ó Sé, and Declan O’Sullivan would all walk blindfold onto any other county team. They could in fact pick their preferred options and demand captaincies as well. It is worth noting that Kerry were the only team to beat last year’s All-Ireland champions but through ill discipline and perhaps a little misfortune they were denied the opportunity to meet them in the decider. 36 All-Ireland titles and their record is best summed up by the 2009 title: “36 and Counting”.
League champions 2010. League champions 2011. Reigning All-Ireland champions. What more can you say? Like Galway, a dual county where in the high streets and back alleys the hurl and sliotar dominate and it’s left to a majority of more rural parishes to maintain a proud tradition that has always been somewhat overshadowed by their more celebrated neighbours.
With respect to Cork though one question always springs to mind – how many All-Irelands would the Leesiders have won if they had not met Kerry so early in the Munster championship? Far more, I believe, than their present total.
This current team is noted for its physicality and size. No other team can match Cork for sheer strength, bulk and height. But they also have proved they have what it takes to win. Their comeback against Dublin in the recent League final showed their strength in depth and their ability to neither lose their focus or desire when it comes to getting over the line.
Our capital. Croke Park. Dáil Eireann. HQ. Dublin…. H’mm – it has it all!! Population 1 million+ so you’d imagine getting 20 good Gaelic football players should not be so difficult. A great tradition with 22 Senior All-Ireland titles. This year also having the benefit of playing every game in Croke Park thus using it as their own backyard.
However Dublin (seem to) want to make it difficult for themselves. Currently they’re a lot like us. They get carried away with hype when so much is yet to be played for. They have ridiculous expectations every year and needle-probing post-mortems publicised nationally when everything go awry. Who’d want to be a Dublin manager? I wouldn’t. They will however be exceptionally hard to beat at home especially if everything falls into place for them. On the other hand the biggest mistake would be to fear them, as then you’re onto a hiding and a jeering from 80,000 Dubs which would make it a miserable end.
Our neighbours and traditionally our greatest rivals. They have 44 and we have 42. What have Galway got that we don’t? Well for one they have Padraig Joyce. He has to rank as one of the greatest players ever to don that Maroon jersey. Secondly they have tradition. Nine All-Ireland titles. We have three. We compare ourselves to them and based on Connacht championship wins, yes – we should have many more All-Ireland senior titles. Losing to them is like going to the sun on holidays and seeing it lash for two weeks before your eyes. Life becomes a grind after it. It’s a game we must win above all else. Especially in Castlebar. Who knows what it could lead to? It does wonders for the confidence of the Green and Red. It’s like a dream come true and then waking up after a fantastic night’s sleep and believing you can take on the world if you decide to.
“C’mon Tyrone – you’re on your own”. A famous cry. It’s actually with trepidation that I write this. In my opinion of all the counties in Ireland Tyrone has had the greatest highs and suffered the worst lows in recent years in GAA history. Since making the breakthrough in 2003 agony has followed the ecstasy at every turn.
Tyrone will be dark horses this year. No one knows exactly what to expect from them because of everything that has transpired. But they still have great players – even if the questions of age and desire arise.
But I still believe that if they meet Brian Dooher will again stand up to Tomás Ó Sé and Seán Cavanagh (if fit) will still put the ball over and under the bar when required. Also they have minor All-Ireland winners of 2008 and 2010 which we should be seeing breaking into the team. To be honest I wouldn’t begrudge them winning this year. I’d even suggest after what’s happened this year alone that I doubt anyone would.
Some would call them the aristocrats of Gaelic Games. Up until last year’s All-Ireland final Down held the enviable record of never ever having lost a senior championship final. They were of course the original team from north of the border to make the breakthrough and they forged the way for Donegal, Derry, Tyrone and Armagh to make similar history.
They are a team that plays with style and purity. No seventh defender. No incessant hand passing. It’s 15 men who all play direct football and no one can deny that it is somewhat of a natural beauty seeing the Red and Black colour triumphed in Croke Park. Down people themselves are very generous and pride themselves on enjoying their days out with good fun. But they are an exceptionally dangerous team to meet on their day. Phenomenally solid down the middle with Brendan McVeigh, Marty Clarke, Benny Coulter, Danny Hughes, Dan Gordon and big Ambrose, Down will undoubtedly have a major say in who goes where this year and with what.
I know there are others along the way too who can stop us (and who would love to) – notably the Rossies and Sligo. Meath and Donegal are also to be watched closely. Based on the above opposition, though, I would suggest the best path to any glory is now to take the shortest route possible. So challenging and fighting for every game is what’s important. After that a slice of luck and the belief that it’s the right time for Mayo men to stand up tall and proud once again will be all that’s asked for.