Tuesday 25 October 2016

The race for Sam: Can anyone come close to Dublin and Kerry?

Published 21/04/2016 | 02:30

Donnchadh Walsh and Jonny Cooper are likely to renew rivalries when the country’s two best teams battle it out in the league final. Photo: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile
Donnchadh Walsh and Jonny Cooper are likely to renew rivalries when the country’s two best teams battle it out in the league final. Photo: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile

In April 2006, ten counties were priced at 20/1 or lower to win the All-Ireland football title. There are now only six in that bracket.

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Ten years ago, seven counties were 10/1 or lower to win Leinster. Now Dublin is the only one, priced at 1/10. Kildare are next best at 12/1, followed by Meath on 14/1 and Westmeath, recently relegated to Division 4, next best at 50/1. Changed times indeed.

With the second halves of both Allianz League semi-finals rumbling along in mismatch mode last Sunday week, there was plenty of time to reflect on the overall state of play.

The league has done its duty by delivering the two best teams for Sunday's Division 1 final in what will be a special occasion as the GAA avails of the opportunity to celebrate Easter 1916.

It's fitting that Kerry and Dublin, the two most successful counties in GAA history, will contest the big final while the all-Ulster Division 2 contest between Cavan and Tyrone has its attractions, too.


It leaves Connacht as the only unrepresented province, following Roscommon's defeat by Kerry.

Losing by 10 points wasn't the departure route Roscommon had envisaged. While few expected them to beat Kerry, it was thought they would be more competitive.

Still, Roscommon were one of few counties that made visible progress in the league. Granted, they lost their last three games - to Mayo, Dublin and Kerry - but that trio top the fancied list for the All-Ireland title.

Roscommon were widely tipped to be relegated, but they survived comfortably and also extended their education with an outing against Kerry in Croke Park. Once the initial disappointment of being overwhelmed in that match subsides, Roscommon will be the better for the experience - as indeed they will for the wider league campaign, where they exceeded expectations.

Very few others can say the same. Cavan's rise to Division 1 after 12 years in Division 2 will boost them.

So too with Clare, who picked their way through the Division 3 maze to join Kildare on the promotion trail.

Tyrone and Kildare won promotion from Divisions 2 and 3 respectively but then they shouldn't be down there in the first place.

Louth and Antrim escaped from Division 4, which will raise their spirits heading into the championship, without exactly changing the list of possibles for All-Ireland or indeed provincial glory.

That's the big disappointment from the league. The top end of the market has been pretty compact for quite a few years and, on the evidence of the last 11 weeks, nothing has changed.

In fact, if results are to be taken at face value, the contenders' list has shortened.

Mayo, Cork, Donegal and Monaghan all have big ambitions but none of them advanced their case in any way.

Galway's targets are confined more to province than All-Ireland these days but they did nothing to suggest that they can end Mayo's longest period of dominance over them for 116 years if, as seems certain, they meet in the Connacht semi-final on June 18.

Tables don't lie and Galway's failure to win promotion from Division 2 for five successive years proves conclusively that they are not a top ten, let alone top eight side.

Mayo, Tyrone, Cork and Donegal follow Dublin and Kerry in the All-Ireland betting, but only Tyrone can be happy with their league campaign.

Of course, it comes with the proviso that they were in Division 2 - territory which hasn't produced All-Ireland winners since Armagh triumphed in 2002.

Still, Tyrone have reached two of the last three All-Ireland semi-finals, leaving them familiar with the requirements that apply at the business end of the season.


Monaghan's spirited finish to the League, which rescued them from relegation, was a good send-off and with the U-21s further lifting spirits with an Ulster title success, there's a lively feel in the county.

Whether the senior team have the capacity to make further advances this year is debatable.

Their reliance on Conor McManus, who scored almost 49 pc of their entire league total from frees and open play, is a negative.

Add in the scoring contribution by goalkeeper Rory Beggan from placed balls and their joint haul is 56 pc.

Monaghan need to find scores from a wider variety of sources to enhance their prospects of taking their claims a notch higher.

Mayo's dice with relegation was put down to their poor start when a weakened team lost the first three games.

It was unfortunate for new manager, Stephen Rochford that his first league campaign had to be undertaken in fire-fighting mode but the upshot is that nobody knows where Mayo stand right now.

There's an assumption that they will come good but that's no longer enough, since the player revolt against Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly was based on the premise that they would become even better. Time will tell.

Donegal presented a brave face after last Sunday week's trimming by Dublin, but how real is their 'we know what we're doing' claim? They have lost their last five games by an average of almost six points.

It increased to seven points for the clashes with Dublin (twice) and Kerry.

And since that's the level at which Donegal expect to compete, it doesn't bode well for their prospects of winning the All-Ireland title.

And then there's Cork, whose rate of decline has been alarming.

Allowing for the fact that relegation to Division 2 was decided on the tight marginal that is scoring difference, they still could not consider themselves unlucky after conceding an average of 2-13 per game.

Even when they needed to win against Kerry on the final day to not only save themselves but also flash out a positive message for the championship, they were well beaten.

Indeed, Kerry looked well below top gear, yet finished five points clear.

Cork are not as bad as they looked in this year's league or in the loss to Kildare in last season's championship but they look a long way off being serious All-Ireland contenders right now.

They have the capacity for vast improvement but it must come quickly. So too with others if the old order is be really challenged.

The omens are not good.

Irish Independent

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