TALKING HEADS: What the experts think
I think it's a big loss for any team, particularly for this Kerry team, because the players that are gone like Darragh ó Sé and Tadhg Kennelly have a huge level of experience and they were leaders of the team.
Those guys will be extremely difficult to replace. A fresh approach might help in the defence of the title -- it would have been very hard with the old team, but the new guys might bring a fresh appetite for Sam Maguire. Tommy Walsh will be a huge loss for them in the forwards but they have Kieran Donaghy back. They won the All-Ireland practically without him last year so he will be geared up to win this year. The one thing they will have to do is avoid injuries; they can't afford to lose any players.
Time will tell whether Kerry can deal with all their absent friends. No other county in Ireland would be able to lose that calibre of players and still have genuine expectations of doing well as I would think Kerry have. Looking in from the outside, I feel that the two missing players who will hit them hardest are Darragh ó Sé for his leadership, experience and aura and Tommy Walsh for what he could have been.
It's a huge blow for any team and you can see from some of the results they suffered in the league that they probably wouldn't have suffered in other years. It shows they are not invincible as they have seemed over the years. Anyone that has lost the calibre of players that they have lost are definitely going to be affected, but they have a lot of young guys and experienced heads in the ranks who will help them get through it. It's not like it's crisis time there or that Kerry would be in a big panic over it. Munster is more competitive this year than ever with the rise of Waterford and Tipperary. You don't know what to expect from that province but Kerry are probably looking at September.
Kerry won't see the true effect of the losses until the quarter-finals. They are pretty much guaranteed to get out of Munster. They have an unbelievable amount of talent down there. If any other county was to suffer the same loss then they wouldn't have a hope but with the quality of player that Kerry have they should be able to progress pretty far in the championship.
something has to be done to revitalise the provincial championship. Over the years it's gone stale. People say that the Ulster championship is open and competitive but when you look back over the records, it's only been Tyrone and Armagh that have won it in the last ten years and it will probably be the same again this year. Dublin are going for their sixth Leinster title in a row and in Connacht and Munster it's the same teams winning every year too. You often see teams winning provincials and then getting knocked out in the qualifiers. Teams that come through the back door are often better prepared for the All-Ireland than they are for the provincial because winning the All-Ireland is their aim for the year so they prepare for that. A Champions League format where you play teams both home and away and use it as qualification may work. Even if the qualification was on a provincial basis, it might work.
This is a complex issue. For a lot of counties, winning a provincial title is the pinnacle so they wouldn't be in favour, I would imagine, of scrapping it. For the stronger counties, provincial titles aren't what they used to be. Just have a look at any provincial winning captain's expression when lifting the cup. They aren't exactly ecstatic. Stronger counties look to the last eight as to where it's at in championship terms. I think we should retain them but give a much greater advantage to winning provincial teams in terms of timing and venue for quarter-finals.
there is a lot of pride in winning a provincial championship. When we won back in 2004 it was massive for us. I'm not strongly in favour of scrapping it but I would be open to suggestions for making it [the championship] longer and more competitive. I suppose you don't want to go down the road of grading it with divisions and stuff like that but it could definitely be on a league format like they have with the AIL, that would probably be the most reasonable format, Having it like it is at the moment where a team like Mayo or Dublin could be flying and win a provincial championship then not have a game for six weeks isn't a great system. They need to make it that everyone has a good distribution of games and that everyone has the same number of games.
Every province is different. In Ulster, we tend to have a big two but in other provinces there might be a bit more activity. The quality of games varies from province to province. The problem with getting rid of the provincial system is that there isn't an automatic replacement for it, but for sure it's not right at the minute. Club football is being affected; finals are being played in December and league training again in January. It's not the [county] managers' fault -- they have to hold back players because they are under pressure.
At this stage, Cork look like they are in the best position to win the All-Ireland. When you look at their team they tick a lot of boxes. They are physical and athletic and they are good finishers and they have a good manager. They need to overcome their mental issues. They have won the league, beaten Kerry in Munster, overcome Tyrone in an All-Ireland semi-final, the only outstanding thing they need to do is overcome Kerry in Coke Park and in turn get over their mental issue.
Cork. They have a massive hunger. They now have plenty of experience of the big days. Physically they are impressive; talentwise they have some great players. All in all, I think they look good.
it could be a year for someone outside of Kerry and Tyrone to take it. Dublin are always talked about. They had a couple of blips in the league but we'll see how strong they are against a decent Tyrone team. I think Armagh have got it together -- if they manage to get out of Ulster, they might have a good run at it. Cork and Mayo are looking good and we'll see if Galway can get it together under Joe Kernan.
Cork look to be on form at the moment and more then ever teams that win the league are going on to win the championship. Armagh will contend with them though.