So here we are again. The beginning of the real football and when the summer crowds come forth expecting the League cobwebs to be blown away and the wheat to truly be separated from the chaff. At the end of it all will be another champion county standing alone with everyone else lost in their wake.
But who will prevail? And who are the true contenders versus the real pretenders? An initial delve then into the four provinces is required in an attempt to solve this annual riddle.
First stop fittingly is, Munster, the province of the current champions. Undoubtedly there is a resurge in certain counties in the province most notably Tipperary who prevailed through the Munster U21 road to contest the recent All-Ireland final. However, as most reading this know, U21 is a lot different to Senior level and in that respect even though they may cause a shock through the back door it seems unlikely that they will dislodge the usual fare coming through to contest the final.
Some will argue that the Munster championship is unfair. However, it should be remembered that it was through the Munster Council that the current agreement was put in place, with both Limerick and Waterford approving this set-up. So until a majority decide it is unfair then this agreement will have to stand. Some thought behind the reasoning for the current set-up is that it offers the other four hopefuls at least one game to prepare before meeting either of the top two. But it is still extremely difficult to see past either Cork or Kerry missing out on the final.
However based on current form both appear to be operating at different levels. Cork looked good all throughout the League right up until the final when for some bizarre reason they capitulated spectacularly. Where that leaves them in the overall scheme of things is difficult to know now as surely a trouncing in a League final will hardly bolster confidence levels for this group of players prior to the championship.
Kerry on the other hand took the complete opposite approach in the League and looked decidedly shaky throughout. And this lasted right up until when it counted most when relegation was staring them in the face. Rather fittingly it was away against their old foes Tyrone that they showed their true worth.
With David Moran highly influential at midfield and Colm Cooper back pulling the strings from centre half-forward they really looked like they were beginning to thrive again. With the rest of the big guns still set to arrive (Marc O Sé, Donnachadh Walsh, Aidan O’Mahony, James O’Donoghue and more), this group look decidedly formidable and most certainly will have a say in where the final silverware will land.
Standing against them is the tradition of All-Ireland winners losing the following year and of course several others who will be eager to similarly show they have what it takes.
To that end it is suitable to go straight over to the other hot favourite for overall honours and look at the lie of the land. Well, the sad fact is that Leinster is still a one-horse race and looks likely to stay that way for quite some time. Realistically the only team in anyone’s minds of stopping Dublin in their now traditional march to a Leinster title is Meath.
Meath had a good Division Two League campaign and were perhaps a little unfortunate not to win promotion. However what was far more significant for the province was the lineup at the other end of the table. The other three Leinster teams in Division Two all finished at the bottom of the table with both Kildare and Westmeath being relegated.
Overall the fare on offer in Leinster is decidedly poor. And when you ally that with Dublin’s resources, overall strength and power it’s not a huge prediction to see only one result here. The only real guessing game will be the margins of victory.
Up North things are trickier to figure out. Monaghan look the value bet here simply because of the nature of the draw with Donegal, Tyrone, Derry, Armagh and Down all residing on one side. Their biggest hurdle could be complacency in the run up to the final when coming up against the likes of Cavan, Fermanagh and Antrim.
On the harder side of the draw, Tyrone look a team in transition. The big question now is whether Mickey Harte will continue at the helm or whether the successful duo of Canavan and Dooher are ready to make the move up. Time will tell and although it’s very dangerous to underestimate them it’s difficult to see the current Tyrone team making a big impact this year.
Derry too were very unconvincing and were overwhelmed in Division One in 2015, resulting in relegation prior to the last game. On the up side Armagh won Division Three but whether they have enough to offer yet is uncertain. Down too won promotion but they were easily defeated when losing a man to Roscommon early in the Division Two final.
So on current form Donegal look the likeliest to come through from this pack. They have a very solid defence allied to strong young talent consistently coming through. And in Paddy McBrearty they have in this person’s opinion the best corner forward in the country. They also have the experience at this level and know they can compete with any of the big guns on the national stage.
The big question is sustaining it through the minefield above. Will fatigue catch up with them on the way with one big game after another? That is the difficult question that needs to be evaluated before making the final call. And in making the call the evaluation is that they will have enough to prevail in Ulster this season but fatigue perhaps will come back to bite them later on in the year.
Closer to home the ground water looks decidedly muddy when trying to predict the eventual winner. The nature of the draw, as WJ has alluded to, is completely daft with one team probably playing twice before meeting someone who hasn’t played at all. Galway will try to use this advantage as much as possible and although Leitrim will possibly test them it is more than likely only a building block to the crunch game on the 14th June.
The winners will most likely face a test against the very strong up and coming Roscommon. London and Sligo will certainly put it up to the Rossies but the fact that they are on a high roll now will surely take them past these examinations.
In fairness to the Rossies it already has been a great season with winning the Division Two title. Ally that with another U21 Connacht championship and the future looks bright for that yellow bus to be utilised a lot more as the championship year progresses. Whether this will culminate in a 2015 Nestor Cup remains to be seen as a lot will depend on who comes through from Salthill.
If it is Galway then the final will probably be in Castlebar but if it is Mayo who prevail in Salthill, then it is a different call to be made. Basically the Galway v Mayo game is crucial to the whole outcome in Connacht and to our own whole season. To that end a separate analysis is required as there is simply too much to discuss than what can be fitted into general observations.
Overall though the scene though is set yet again for hopefully another thriller season. And although some will argue that the real football won’t begin until the Bank Holiday weekend in August, the build up will still be entertaining as the ups and downs of the various footballing realms are laid bare. To that end all GAA fans can look forward to what will hopefully be a cracking three months before the final curtain will come down once more and the provincial results for 2015 are decided.