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Quality is there for Dublin to reclaim Sam

The 2013 Football Championship promises much and is certain to throw up the usual mix of early upsets, one-sided provincial games and novelty match-ups in the qualifiers before we eventually get down to the real business next August.

When we arrive at that point in the competition, the likes of Donegal, Tyrone, Mayo, Galway, Cork, Kerry, Kildare and, of course, the Dubs will be primed for the final sprint to the line.

Of course, some of these teams would fall earlier if they were drawn out against one another, but it is safe to say that this year's champions will certainly come out of this group.

Donegal put their Ulster and All-Ireland titles on the line against Tyrone on May 26 and if ever there was an early test for the reigning champions, this is it.

HUNGER

Over the last two seasons, Donegal have shown remarkable hunger and commitment, but the big question will be can they get to the same levels again this year?

Personally, I think they can and it wouldn't be a total disaster if they got turned over in Ballybofey. The qualifiers can be an arduous route, but if they can avoid some of the big guns until the quarter-finals, I think they have the experience and the ability to win it again.

Last year's finalists Mayo also have a beauty to start with this Sunday. A young and fresh Galway team could be the surprise packet this year and with another Under-21 All-Ireland in the bag, theIR confidence will be sky high.

I wouldn't be surprised if Mayo got an early shock in this game, but experience might be crucial if it is close coming towards the end.

Cork and Kerry will contest the Munster final and the winner of this game will head into the later stages with a huge shot of confidence. I cannot see either team winning the All-Ireland, but it would be foolish to write them out of the equation altogether.

In Leinster, Dublin are on a different level to most and the provincial trophy is theirs to lose at this stage.

Kildare are the best of the rest and could produce a rabbit out of a hat, but it is unlikely based on what we have seen over the years from this team.

Jim Gavin has settled in very well as senior manager and, more importantly, his youngsters have stepped up with relative ease. The league success was very welcome and great for confidence, but the Championship is different gravy and in some ways, winning the league has shot the team into the limelight when it might have been better to come in under the radar.

There is no doubting that the talent pool in this county is overflowing and from that perspective, the future looks bright.

The underage success over the last few years has propelled many young lads into the senior squad and none of them look out of place.

Paul Mannion is a terrific talent and is almost certainly guaranteed a starting position in a few weeks' time. He has a great attitude and has all the attributes to become a top-class inside-forward.

Paddy Andrews is not a young buck, but has rediscovered his form this year mainly due to the fact that he has got to another level in terms of his fitness.

He has always had the talent to play on the big stage and is playing without any fear of being taken off in games.

Jason Whelan and Dean Rock are also pushing hard for places in a forward line that will have the likes of Bernard Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn, Kevin McManamon, Bryan Cullen – and then there is still Ciarán Kilkenny, who will surely come into the reckoning. All in all, the options up front are better than they have ever been and although the age profile of some of these players is still very young, I believe they can make their mark on this summer's competition.

The defence too has been given a youthful injection with Jack McCaffrey playing like a guy who has been there for years. In the modern game, you need pace and he has buckets of it, which complements the quality he brings to the game.

He can be a little vulnerable when he has to defend, but that area of his game will surely improve in time – for me he should be encouraged to support the midfield and forwards as often as possible. I am really looking forward to watching him in the Championship.

COMPETITION

There is healthy competition in defence also, Jonny Cooper and Kevin O'Brien having strong league campaigns under their belt and with Rory O'Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Cian O'Sullivan, Philly McMahon and James McCarthy pushing for starting places, the defence too looks solid.

Dublin are most people's tip to win this year's All-Ireland, which can bring its own pressures, but the proven quality is there from 2011 and with the young talent coming through, there is a genuine opportunity to go all the way.

When the 'sorting out' process is over and we get down to the last eight in the competition, I expect to see the Dubs in the mix and in with a great chance of going the whole way.


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