Dublin way out in front, but where does your county rate at the end of 2015?
Martin Breheny ranks the football contenders 1-32 as attention starts to focus on 2016, with the pre-season competitions getting underway tomorrow week
Played 16, Won 12, Drew 2, Lost 2
(League and Championship)
Dublin had their full quota of defeats for the season out of the way by the first weekend in March, having lost two of their first three League games – to Cork and Kerry, both of whom they later beat, in the Division 1 and All-Ireland finals respectively.
Facts don’t lie. Dublin’s consistency in League (three successive titles in 2013, ’14 and ’15) and Championship (only two defeats in 29 games over the last five seasons) is ultra-impressive, the best since Heffo’s Heroes began a whole new era for the Blues in the mid-70s.
Great times for Jim Gavin’s squad but their dominance in Leinster has reached crisis point in terms of the province’s competiveness, in marked contrast to successful Dublin teams of the past, who often found local challenges as arduous as the outside tests.
Now, the Leinster Championship is no more than a warm-up for Dublin.
P12, W6, D2, L4
They deserve to be ahead of Kerry because they came closer to beating Dublin in the Championship, forcing a draw in the semi-final. Indeed, if the semi-final draw had paired Mayo with Tyrone, rather than Dublin, it’s highly likely the five-in-a-row Connacht champions would have reached another All-Ireland final.
Would that have staved off the heave against Pat Holmes/Noel Connelly. Or was that inevitable, once the All-Ireland wasn’t won?
Mayo didn’t appear to make any great push for the League this year but then there are many in the county who think it’s no help in solving the All-Ireland conundrum. Surely Dublin are the most recent example of how good spring form can be turned into a productive summer/autumn, so it will be interesting to see if Stephen Rochford makes a concerted drive to win the League. He should.
P12, W7, D1, L4
Sam Maguire is elsewhere so the season is seen as failure in Kerry. That they finished it by scoring only 0-9 in the All-Ireland final – their lowest return on the big day since 1984 – underlines the degree to which the attack malfunctioned against Dublin.
These are interesting times in Kerry. At the start of 2014, they were flagged as a squad heading into transition and unlikely to be in Croke Park past August. Instead, they won the All-Ireland title.
Now, after losing this year’s final, there are mutterings about another transition. If it’s as successful as 2014, Kingdom supporters will be happy.
P14, W6, D3, L5
How are Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal to be separated? Tyrone were last of the trio after being relegated from Division 1. They later lost by three points to Donegal in the Ulster first round but that game was in Ballybofey, which probably was a factor.
Tyrone re-mounted the Championship horse and ran it further than Donegal or Ulster winners Monaghan, whom they beat in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Clearly, there’s very little between the three teams, who again head the betting for next year’s Ulster championship.
It will be a massive season for Tyrone, who haven’t won the Ulster title since 2010, a period in which Donegal (3) and Monaghan (2) have taken the five titles between them.
P12, W7, L5
It’s frustrating for them that having won the Ulster title for two of the last three seasons, they hit a glass ceiling in the All-Ireland quarter-finals. That both defeats were inflicted by Tyrone compounds their disappointment as it left doubts as to who exactly were Ulster top dogs in 2013 and 2015.
Manager Malachy O’Rourke succinctly summed up what went wrong in this year’s four-point defeat by Tyrone.
“We just didn’t have enough people playing well enough to win the game,” he said. Taking Ulster form to Croke Park is the next big challenge for Monaghan.
P13, W6, D1, L6
The third leg of Ulster’s power stool (Donegal beat Tyrone; Monaghan beat Donegal; Tyrone beat Monaghan), they had every chance of beating Monaghan in the provincial final but were let down by dreadful shooting, especially in the second half when they kicked 11 wides, three of which came in the first three minutes.
The defeat took a lot of out of them and while they easily unpicked Galway’s locks in the qualifiers, they were well beaten by Mayo. Their much-feared defensive systems of recent years are being figured out more easily these days.
P13, W7, D1, L5
The great enigmas went from being seconds away from a Munster title win to suffering an embarrassment against Kildare a few weeks later. Earlier in the season, they had delivered another awful performance in the League final, losing heavily to Dublin.
And yet! Cork topped Division 1 for a second successive year and should have beaten Kerry in the Munster final (drawn game) so, on their day, they can match anybody. The big challenge for new manager Peadar Healy is to tighten the consistency bolts. If he succeeds, they can push on towards the top four at least.
P13, W8, L5
Sloppy home performance against Laois and Cavan, both of whom finished beneath them in the Division 2 table, cost Kevin Walsh’s men promotion, which has further hindered their development.
They were more competitive against Mayo than in recent years, but it’s a worrying situation for Galway when being ‘competitive’ against their great rivals, who have beaten them in their last five championship meetings, is regarded as progress.
Despite holding Armagh and Derry to a combined total of 0-20 in the qualifiers, Galway continue to have serious defensive difficulties against the bigger powers, as evidenced against Donegal, who hit them for 3-12 in Croke Park.
P11, W3, D1, L7
They scored a total of four goals in seven Division 1 games and added only one more (v Wexford, who had been relegated to Division 4) in four Championship games. It was a poor return and is one area that new manager Damian Barton will need to work on.
At the very least, he needs to create an attacking environment where goal chances are created. He will be doing so in Division 2 and while that offers an opportunity for experimenting, it’s not the best preparation for the Championship, where they will face Tyrone in the first round.
P12, W7, D1, L4
John Evans was named GAA Manager of the Month for April after Roscommon, who were in Division 3 in 2014, won promotion to the top flight. However, Championship defeats by Sligo and Fermanagh soured Roscommon’s season and Evans resigned.
The appointment of Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell as the new management team has raised optimism levels, but Roscommon are heading for a tough time in Division 1. Overall, though, the fundamentals are solid in Roscommon to press on over the coming seasons.
P10, W5, L5
Without an Ulster title since 1994 (Armagh, Tyrone, Donegal, Monaghan, Derry and Cavan have shared them all since then), Down are in jittery mode. So much so, that despite being promoted to Division 1 under Jim McCorry last April, they wanted him out at the end of his first season.
Eamonn Burns has been handed the difficult task of reviving a county that just hasn’t kept pace with faster-moving Ulster teams. It’s a reality they need to accept and involves giving Burns time to work towards creating something different.
P10, W5, D1, L4
They lost out to Roscommon for promotion to Division 1 on the head-to-head rule after both picked up nine of 14 points, but their subsequent Championship performances suggested that they weren’t ready for the step up.
Meath conceded a total of 5-31 against Wicklow and Westmeath in the Leinster Championship, which must have sent shivers down the spines of former Royal County defenders, who prided themselves on tight security.
The reality is that Meath are becalmed and unlikely to whip up a storm anytime soon.
P14, W6, D1, L7
Why should a county that reached the last eight in the All-Ireland race be ranked 13th? Because the remainder of their season, including a relegation run out of Division 2 and Championship defeats against Dublin and Kerry by a combined total of 46 points, warrant a much lower ranking.
Kildare’s qualifier win over Cork, in which they scored 1-21, was their best performance for a long time but can’t outweigh the awful days they endured. New manager Cian O’Neill is facing a huge task.
P14, W9, D1, L4
It was a highly progressive season in which they won promotion to Division 2 and reached the All-Ireland quarter-final, where they put in a feisty display against Dublin. It’s a credit to the squad and their shrewd manager Peter McGrath as Fermanagh not only raised their stock considerably but achieved it while playing an attractive brand of football.
P12, W5, L7
They enjoyed a special day when staging a remarkable comeback to beat Meath for the first time in the Championship and did reasonably well against Dublin in the Leinster final, without ever looking like causing an upset.
However, it was followed by a disappointing performance against Fermanagh, while earlier in the year, Westmeath were relegated to Division 3. Still, Tom Cribbin, in his first season, steadied what was a wobbly ship and will build on it next year.
P10, W4, D1, L5
A good defence is all very well but no team can hope to make real progress with such a dismal goal rate as Cavan. They managed only one goal in seven Division 2 League games and three (two of which came against 32nd-ranked London) in three Championship games. It’s simply not enough to drive Cavan up the rankings.
After doing so well at U-21 level in recent years, Cavan would have expected to make more progress at senior level than has been the case. They badly need a big season in 2016.
P11, W7, D1, L 3
Kieran McGeeney achieved his first objective as new manager with promotion to Division 2, which was to be expected.
However, the Championship was very disappointing as Armagh were woefully bad against Donegal and, after beating Wicklow in the qualifiers, were picked off by Galway in the Athletic Grounds.
That contrasts with an All-Ireland quarter-final slot in 2014, where Armagh were unlucky not to snatch a draw against Donegal. The pressure gauge will be high next year.
P11, W3, D2, L6
Mick Lillis takes over at the end of a season where Laois won only three of 11 games and were lucky not to drop into Division 3, having avoided relegation by a point.
Losing to Kildare by 13 points in a Leinster quarter-final replay was bad enough but the summer got worse when Laois were beaten by Antrim in the qualifiers. And in O’Moore Park too! Lillis has some serious re-building to undertake.
P11, W6, L5
The trend remains very much upwards in Tipperary football but the big question is whether it will rise high enough to smash the glass ceiling fitted by Kerry and Cork in Munster.
That’s the challenge which new manager Liam Kearns will embrace enthusiastically, starting with a bid for promotion to Division 2, after Tipp finished third in Division 3 last year.
Mind you, he won’t be helped the departure of Colin O’Riordan to Australia, while some others have opted for hurling.
P10, W4, L6
The Championship win over Roscommon was a spectacular high point, only to be followed by a thumping defeat by Mayo in the Connacht final, before qualifier elimination against Tyrone, where Sligo performed quite well. It was Sligo’s first season under Niall Carew, who can take quite a few positives out of the campaign.
P10, W3, L7
The five-point qualifier win over Down was the only highlight in a year where Wexford dropped into Division 4.
That victory, which played a big part in Jim McCorry’s departure as Down manager, showed what Wexford can do when they perform near their best. Question is – can they locate the required consistency? They are favourites for a quick return to Division 3.
P13, W9, D1, L3
Three defeats from 13 games and promotion from Division 4 made it a progressive season for Longford, even if they did bomb against Dublin in the Leinster quarter-final and, more surprisingly, against Kildare in the qualifiers.
It’s a slow haul at this end of the market, with Denis Connerton now taking up the managerial baton from Jack Sheedy.
P10, W4, L6
It was 1-1 with Limerick in the battle for fourth place in Munster behind Kerry, Cork and Tipperary. However, Clare won the Championship clash, whereas Limerick won the League meeting, so the Banner men deserve the higher ranking.
P9, W3, L6
After losing to Clare by two points in Munster, Limerick were hit with the worst Round 1 qualifier draw of all – a clash with Tyrone in Omagh, which ended in a nine-point defeat. An easier tie might have set them up for a decent run.
P11, W7, D1, L3
Promotion from Division 4 was achieved but, yet again, they couldn’t get past Longford in the Championship after holding a big lead at one stage. Offaly later ran Kildare to two points in the qualifiers. Overall, it was a year of some progress for Offaly and manager Pat Flanagan, who was in his first season.
P10, W3, L7
New manager Colin Kelly said last January after Louth lost a first-round O’Byrne Cup game to Wicklow that supporters would need to be patient as a time of transition lay ahead. He was right. Louth were relegated to Division 4 and later lost heavily to Westmeath (at home) and Tipperary (away) in the Championship.
P10, W5, D1, L4
A qualifier win over Laois in Portlaoise was the high point of a season where Antrim finished behind Longford and Offaly in the race to escape from Division 4. Big defeats by Fermanagh in the Ulster Championship and the qualifiers showed how far off the Ulster pace they are. And yes, they have to play Fermanagh again in next year’s Ulster preliminary round.
P9, W3, D2, L4
A fourth-place finish in Division 4 was followed by Championship defeats by Galway and Louth, the latter in a qualifier tie. Leitrim have a dreadful record in the qualifiers, winning only once since 2001, which suggests they might be better off in a secondary championship competition.
P9, W1, D1, L7
Their figures are worse than their performances, as some of the League defeats were by small margins. They ran Meath to four points in the Leinster Championship and, with a little more accuracy, would have been much closer against Armagh in the qualifiers, when they lost by 10 points.
P9, W2, D2, L5
A fifth-place finish in Division 4 was followed by two poor Championship performance – against Laois, who beat them by 17 points and Longford, who won by 10 points in the qualifiers. Another flat season.
P9, W1, D1, L7
It started so well under Tom McGlinchey when they won the McGrath Cup, followed by a first-round Division 4 win over Wicklow. However, that was Waterford’s only win in League or Championship, underlining how difficult it is to make progress in a hurling-dominated county.
P9, W1, D1, L7
They beat Wicklow in the League on a day when the opposition were well below full strength and it turned out to be London’s only victory of the year. Can it really only be two years since they reached the Connacht final beating both Leitrim and Sligo along the way?