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Friday 18 April 2014

Martin Breheny: The men for all seasons

Michael Murphy (Donegal) and Rory O’Carroll (Dublin) are both vital players for their county’s hopes for success this season in both the Allianz NFL and the championship

Who are the main influences on the football scene and who would be the biggest loss to their county?As the new Allianz NFL season gathers pace, Martin Breheny names the 32 players who would be most missed across all the counties

Division 1

Cork: Aidan Walsh'

It's difficult to believe that he is only just past his 23rd birthday, but then he was an early developer, winning an All-Ireland senior medal and an All Star award in his debut season (2010).

At face value, Cork have strong back-up options in most departments, but a midfield without Walsh would leave the attack living off much more meagre rations than is the case when the Kanturk giant is aboard.

He's now their most valuable asset in so many ways.

Donegal: Michael Murphy

Karl Lacey's injury in the third quarter of the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin may well have delayed Donegal's title season by 12 months as the defence's security rating visibly dropped after his departure.

He remains a crucial figure for Donegal, but not quite to the same degree of Murphy, without whom they would have no chance of retaining the All-Ireland title. On a transfer market, Murphy would be one of the most expensive buys.

Down: Benny Coulter

Others should have put themselves forward as the main man by now, but the truth is that Down are still heavily reliant on the Mayobridge striker who has been aboard the team since 2000.

He's the man whom opposition fear the most, both in terms of exploiting the half chance and also when it comes to creating space for others. It's a continuing problem for Down that others haven't stepped forward to share the responsibility.

Dublin: Rory O'Carroll

It would be easy to go with Bernard Brogan as the man they could least afford to be without, but that isn't necessarily the case as Dublin have a wide range of options all over the attack.

Not so in the full-back line, an area Jim Gavin will examine closely before settling on his championship trio.

O' Carroll is a certain starter – indeed, if he were to be forced out for any reason, it would greatly diminish Dublin's prospects for 2013.

Kerry: Colm Cooper

Heading into his 12th season, he won't be with Kerry until after Dr Crokes' All-Ireland club bid is over, but whenever he joins the county squad, he will immediately become the main man.

It's as simple as this: with 'Gooch' aboard and playing on full power, Kerry have a decent chance of winning the All-Ireland, but without him they would drift well down the contender list.

Kildare: Johnny Doyle

At the age of 36 and heading into his 14th season, he should no longer be required to carry the same weight of responsibility as he did throughout the last decade, but he still remains the spiritual leader of the team. And that's part of the problem for Kildare, since others should long since have stepped forward and relieved Doyle of the heavy load.

Mayo: Keith Higgins

Young Player of the Year in 2006, he has developed into one of the most consistent defenders in the game.

Corner-backs tend to be undervalued, but there's no doubt that Mayo without Higgins would be a much less secure outfit. Probably fatally so, since he's the man they usually delegate to pick up the opposition's best attacker.

Tyrone: Sean Cavanagh

He has been central to everything Tyrone have done for the past decade and remains as important as ever. Now approaching his 30th birthday, he still has plenty left in the tank, but could reasonably have expected some of the younger brigade to be showing greater leadership.

Their failure – thus far at least – to do that is one of the main reasons why Tyrone have slipped down the championship ladder.

Division 2

Armagh: Aaron Kernan

He won't return to the Armagh camp until after Crossmaglen Rangers complete their AIB All-Ireland club run but, once he's available, his place on the team is assured. One of the best wing-backs in the game, it's vital for Armagh that he has a good season if they are to make progress towards returning to the glory days.

Derry: Eoin Bradley

Natural finishers belong to a rare – and priceless – species. Bradley fits into that category, albeit without being as consistent as his talents warrant.

Now under new management, it will be interesting to see if Brian McIver can extract the maximum from Bradley. He needs to if Derry are to move forward.

Galway: Michael Meehan

Injury problems seriously disrupted his career over the last three seasons, a period in which Galway suffered no fewer than four one-point defeats in the championship.

Meehan was involved in some of them, but not at full power, so it's fair to assume that the Galway landscape would not have been as bleak if he were in top fettle.

Galway supporters will be hoping he has a trouble-free run this year.

Laois: Brendan Quigley

With Quigley and Colm Begley at midfield, Laois can compete favourably with any combination. Quigley has immense scope, but sometimes gives the impression that he's playing within himself and that there's much more to come. He needs to deliver on it. So do Laois.

Longford: Michael Quinn

Now one of the best centre-backs in the game (he's lucky to have specialist No 6 Glenn Ryan as a mentor), Quinn is crucial to Longford's prospects of building on the progress of recent years.

Louth: Paddy Keenan

He has been Louth's main talisman for quite some time and remains so.

His early season has been disrupted by injury, but once he returns to full fitness, he's the man all opposition will plan for in their pre-match deliberations.

Westmeath: Dessie Dolan

He missed last season and Westmeath badly missed him.

Players of his calibre are invaluable and while he's had problems with injuries, he will be one of the first names on the championship team if he's fit.

Wexford: Graeme Molloy

A specialist full-back, who delivers consistently, is a treasured asset on any team. Wexford are lucky that their man fits the bill so well, especially when they are asked to step up in class in the championship.

Division 3

Antrim: Michael McCann

Still struggling to make a breakthrough in Ulster, Antrim are in reasonable shape and could well emerge as strong promotion contenders. Midfielder McCann is one of the main anchors, without whom Antrim would struggle.

Cavan: David Givney

A big midfielder with plenty of natural talent, there's no reason why he can't be a major influence on Cavan football for years to come.

Fermanagh: Ryan McCluskey

Conversations between the corner-back and his team manager should be interesting since Peter Canavan majored in the art of making life hell for defenders. McCluskey will learn from the master.

Meath: Graham Reilly

He had an outstanding season in a turbulent 2012 for Meath and, barring injury, there's no reason to believe he won't even be more influential in the big action later on. He offers Meath options at midfield and half-forward, making him a very important figure in their set-up.

Monaghan: Darren Hughes

Strong, versatile, consistent, he's also a good leader. All in all, the sort of player Monaghan need in their league rebuild after dropping down two divisions in successive seasons and also when the championship heat intensifies.

Roscommon: Senan Kilbride

He won't be with the county panel until St Brigid's complete their AIB All-Ireland club bid, but once he joins John Evans' squad, he will be a crucial figure in the attacking strategy. He is definitely one that Roscommon cannot be without next summer.

Sligo: David Kelly

He will miss the league due to injury (how Sligo could have done with him when being held to 1-8 against Roscommon last Sunday), but, hopefully, he will be fit for the championship. With Sligo on the opposite side of the Connacht draw to Mayo, Galway and Roscommon, the season has exciting possibilities, which would be greatly enhanced by Kelly's presence.

Wicklow: James Stafford

Thrashed by Fermanagh last Sunday, Wicklow need to stabilise quickly to avoid getting dragged into the relegation battle. They will need Stafford at his best around midfield to achieve that and also to give them a decent chance of prolonging the summer run.

Division 4

Carlow: Brendan Murphy

Other counties would love to have him, but he will always remain loyal to his native county, even if it's most unlikely it will get him on the winners' podium. Still, it's all about doing the best he can for Carlow whose progress under Anthony Rainbow is hugely dependent on Murphy.

Clare: David Tubridy

A reliable finisher and a man who is well capable of causing problems for defenders at a higher level if the opportunity arises.

Leitrim: Emlyn Mulligan

He already holds the distinction of being only the fourth Leitrim man to receive a trophy (FBD League) and will be one of their main reference points in the county for the season. Either Leitrim or Sligo will reach the Connacht final, so it's a big year for Leitrim and Mulligan.

Limerick: Seanie Buckley

His early season has been hampered by injury, but provided he has a trouble-free run later on, he will be one of the main driving forces in Maurice Horan's plans to take Limerick out of Division 4 and into a good championship run.

London: Mark Gottsche

As usual, London will have to cope with the experience of losing most games. That's a huge test of character and nobody is more likely to take up the challenge with maximum enthusiasm than their Galway native midfielder.

Offaly: Niall McNamee

He's a class apart when his game is going right. He would have made it on to any Offaly team in any era, but is more important than ever at a time when the county's resources aren't anything like what they used to be and he can lead from the front.

Tipperary: Ciaran McDonald

Not as well-known as his namesake from Mayo, but that doesn't take away from the fact that he is a high class performer. A cornerstone of Tipperary's defensive operation, McDonald is vital to their prospects of making it a good year.

Waterford: Shane Aherne

A midfielder of considerable stature, Waterford could well be promotion contenders if Aherne powers up to maximum efficiency.

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