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Thursday 17 April 2014

Undisputed champions: Martin Breheny's end-of-year rankings

Donegal are back at No 1 on the football ratings for the first time in 20 years, but how do the rest rate?

1. Donegal

Played 14, Won 10, Lost 4

(League & Championship)

Defeats by Down, Laois, Kerry and Dublin left them dicing with relegation but they saved their Division 1 status with a win over Armagh in the final game. Perfection kicked in from there on as, for the second successive year, they won the Ulster title via the preliminary round before extending the empire nationwide.

Their seven-game championship adventure featured wins over Cork, Kerry and Tyrone, who between them had won eight of the previous 10 All-Ireland titles. It leaves Donegal sitting proudly at the summit, with nobody questioning their right to be there.

2 Cork

Played 13, Won 9, Drew 1, Lost 3

A third successive Division 1 title and a Munster crown looks satisfactory enough but instead there's an empty feeling on Leeside, where it's generally felt that one All-Ireland title is a poor return on the talent levels in the county. But is it? Championship results don't lie – certainly over a few seasons – and the reality is that Cork have come up short on too many big days. Still, they deserve the No 2 slot for the second year in a row.

3Kerry

Played 14, Won 9, Drew 1, Lost 4

How would Kerry have fared against Donegal if they hadn't gifted them a goal from a sideline in the first half of the All-Ireland quarter-final? It's a question that is still occupying the finest Kingdom minds while new manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice has to decide just how much of an overhaul is required. It may not be as much as some would have you believe.

4 Mayo

Played 14, Won 8, Drew 1, Lost 5

The wait goes on. Still, the latest attempt to end it will begin in a very positive mode in 2013 after a season where considerable progress was made. The injury sustained by Andy Moran against Down in the All-Ireland quarter-final was a real blow and while Mayo disguised the impact well against Dublin, he was badly missed against Donegal in the final.

The big challenge for Mayo is to maintain momentum, something they haven't always done after losing an All-Ireland. In fact, they failed to retain the Connacht title in 1998, 2005 and 2007 – seasons after they lost the All-Ireland final.

5 Dublin

Played 12, Won 7, Lost 5

The signs were ominous in the league when they finished just a point above the relegation zone after losing four of seven games. They had run an excellent league campaign in 2011 and took that form into the championship. It was different this year as Dublin never came close to reaching the heights of last season.

For all that, they might well have reached the All-Ireland final if Bernard Brogan had been more clinical with a goal opportunity during the fightback against Mayo. Expect new manager Jim Gavin to make some significant changes.

6 Kildare

Played 14, Won 9, Drew 1, Lost4

Progress in the league where they finally escaped from Division 2; misery in the championship where they underperformed against Meath in the Leinster semi-final, before being wiped out by Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Playing in Division 1 will be a big plus in terms of pre-championship sharpening.

Also, it will be interesting to see what impact Jason Ryan's presence will have. There's still a big question mark over whether Kildare have the raw materials to match the other top contenders.

7 Down

Played 13, Won 7, Lost 6

Weak efforts against Donegal and Mayo in the championship undermined a year that seemed primed for progress after an enterprising league. Down conceded a total of 5-36 against Donegal and Mayo, underlining defensive frailties which badly need to be sorted out.

Worse than that, there's wasn't a whole lot of heart displayed against Mayo, which is the ultimate crime for any team. There's more to Down than they showed this year.

8 Laois

Played 13, Won 6, Lost 7

Relegation from Division 1, followed by a first-round Leinster defeat by Longford left Laois looking at a possible wipeout, but they turned the season around with four All-Ireland qualifier wins and a close call against Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Question is: which Laois will re-appear in spring, the struggling outfit from the first half of last year or the improved model that ran well later on? As ever, nobody has a clue because Laois and unpredictability have been close allies for years.

9 Tyrone

Played 12, Won 9, Lost 3

Nine wins from 12 games looks good but the two championship defeats by Donegal and Kerry (they also lost the Division 2 final to Kildare) made it a flat season for Tyrone. They are now very much in transition and heading into uncertain territory. For a while, in recent years, they had good underage talent, but there's no guarantee that it will blossom at senior level. Still, they are back in Division 1, which will help their championship preparations.

10 Meath

Played 13, Won 5, Drew 1, Lost 7

The Leinster semi-final win over Kildare was the only real high point of a season that saw them drop into Division 3. That's quite a setback, but they shouldn't have any great difficulty coming straight back up. The win over Kildare showed what Meath are capable of on a given day. However, they have a big problem with consistency or, more specifically, a lack of it.

11 Armagh

Played 9, Won 2, Drew 1, Lost 6

Too high at No 11? Why are they ahead of Roscommon, who beat them in the championship? As with all the ratings, the year has to be viewed in context. Armagh were in Division 1, albeit the relegation end, where four of their defeats were registered. They are not as bad as their yearly figures would suggest – nonetheless 2012 was a seriously disappointing 10th anniversary of Armagh's best ever year.

12 Westmeath

Played 10, Won 4, Lost 6

They looked for a long time to be on their way to one of their most famous victories in the county's history when they led Kerry in a qualifier clash, only to be edged out by a point. Earlier, they did well to survive in Division 2, finishing ahead of Derry, Meath and Monaghan.

13 Wexford

Played 12, Won 6, Drew 1, Lost 5

Promoted to Division 2 and gave a good account of themselves in Leinster, reaching the semi-final where they lost to Dublin by four points after missing several good chances. Lost by a point to Tipperary in the qualifiers in a sloppy performance that didn't do justice to the quality in the squad.

14 Longford

Played 13, Won 9, Drew 2, Lost 2

A hugely progressive year during which the squad grew in maturity and Glenn Ryan enhanced his managerial reputation. Promoted to Division 2 as group winners, they beat Laois and Derry in the championship and lost to Wexford ( replay) and Limerick. There's a good feel to Longford football at present and they're up 10 places from last year.

15 Sligo

Played 10, Won 6, Lost 4

Their championship win over Galway was the highlight of their season. Ran Mayo close in the Connacht final before losing heavily to Kildare in the qualifiers. They deserve the No 2 rating behind Mayo in Connacht, having overtaken Galway, whom they beat in championship games in 2010 and 2012.

16 Galway

Played 10, Won 4, Drew 2, Lost 4

They just about make the top half of the rankings, which is a shocking indictment for a county of its size and tradition. Losing to Sligo (at home) and Antrim in the championship underlined the deficiencies in the Galway set-up. Without a provincial title win since 2008, they haven't beaten a non-Connacht team in the championship since ousting Louth in a qualifier in 2004. That's a dreadful summer return.

17 Monaghan

Played 10, Won 3, Lost 7

They have dropped from Division 1 to 3 in successive seaspns. Luck has deserted them, not least this year where they were forced (rather unfairly) to concede home advantage for a crucial league game against Galway. Being in Division 3 will give them a chance to stabilise and make a strong promotion push.

18 Derry

Played 9, Won 2, Drew 1, Lost 6

Their worst year for quite some time but at least they survived in Division 2, which will stand to them in the re-building process.

Everything about them looked stale and switched off this year – they're better than that, so expect a big improvement in 2013.

19 Louth

Played 10, Won 3, Drew 2, Lost 5

The odds had them favourites to be relegated from Division 2 but they eventually finished fourth before beating Westmeath (Leinster first round) and losing to the same opposition (qualifiers). Way off the pace against Dublin, the heavy defeat left them flat for the qualifiers.

20 Roscommon

Played 10, Won 5, Lost 5

A strange sort of season where they failed to escape from Division 3, lost heavily to Galway in the Connacht championship, turned in a fine performance to beat Armagh in the qualifiers before losing heavily to Tyrone. There's more in them than they showed this year.

21 Cavan

Played 10, Won 3, Lost 7

They just avoided the trap door to relegation from Division 3 but at least they managed it, which is a big plus heading into 2013. After considerable success at U-21 level in recent years, the outlook has to be favourable for a substantial surge.

22 Tipperary

Played 12, Won 4, Drew 1, Lost 7

A troubled start to the league, which prompted the departure of manager John Evans, saw them eventually drop out of Division 3, but they did much better in the championship, beating Wexford and Antrim in the qualifiers. The outlook is pretty good for next year.

23 Antrim

Played 11, Won 6, Lost 5

A mixed sort of season, the high point of which was the qualifier win over Galway. However, it was followed by a defeat by Tipperary, thus undoing the good work of the previous week.

24 Clare

Played 11, Won7, Lost 4

Missed out on promotion to Division 3 on the head-to-head rule after finishing on 12 points alongside Wicklow. Beat Limerick in the championship, which was a big boost, but then ran into Cork (Munster final) and Kerry (qualifiers). They're in good shape and will be boosted further by the arrival of the Waterville wizard.

25 Limerick

Played 12, Won 6, Drew 1, Lost 5

A frustrating year where they finished well short of the promotion pace in Division 4 before losing to Clare in the Munster semi-final. They did much better after that and were unlucky not to beat Kildare in the qualifiers. Maurice Horan will be expecting a big year from them in 2013 and will probably get it.

26 Fermanagh

Played 11, Won 7, Drew 1, Lost 3

Dominated Division 4 en route to promotion before losing to Down and Cavan in the championship. The loss to Cavan was especially disappointing but the overall trend is positive under Peter Canavan.

27 Wicklow

Played 12, Won 8, Lost4

They won the Division 4 title, albeit after finishing three points behind Fermanagh but later suffered an unexpected defeat against Leitrim in the qualifiers. Still, it was a decent season, crowned by the escape from Division 4.

28 Offaly

Played 9, Won 1, Lost 8

A dismal year that saw them drop to Division 4, lose heavily to Kildare in the Leinster championship and to Tipperary in the qualifiers. There's a huge amount of rebuilding work to be undertaken in a county that never thought they would find themselves dropping this low.

29 Leitrim

Played 12, Won 6, Lost 6

Beat Wicklow in the qualifiers before losing by two points to Laois was a decent championship effort.

It was a solid recovery after taking a big beating from Mayo in the Connacht semi-final.

30 Carlow

Played 11, Won 3, Drew 1, Lost 7

Drew with Meath in the Leinster quarter-final in what was the high point of their year.

It's a basis from which new manager Anthony Rainbow will build for next year.

31 Waterford

Played 10, Won 3, Drew 1, Lost 6

A flat season in which they never got into the promotion push from Division 4 and lost to Limerick (Munster SFC) and Wicklow in the qualifiers.

32 London

Played 10, Won 1, Drew 1, Lost 8

Their one win came against Kilkenny in the league but they were unlucky to lose to Leitrim in the Connacht championship.

33 Kilkenny

Played 8, Lost 8

Another winless season and now they have bailed out of the league. It's sad to see that.

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