Dr Crokes remain the class of the field
Timmy Sheehan takes a look at the runners and riders for the 2017 race for the Bishop Moynihan Cup
So many factors influence the outcome of a championship that it is not easy or wise to predict the eventual outcome at the outset of the campaign.
Odds will be quoted, but they will largely be based on the results of the previous competition. One year on a lot can have happened in the interim period, which will impact and influence the prospects of the respective teams.
The format has always been the subject of intense debate and a bone of contention as far as the clubs are concerned. The new format which came into operation last year was intended to improve the quality of the competition.
Whether it did or not is subjective with opinions still varying on the merits or otherwise of what is the premier football competition in the county. For clubs it's a double edged sword, with one eye on survival and another on the prospects of outright success at the end of the season.
South Kerry will probably be the front runners in terms of the prospect of a divisional side lifting the Bishop.
They won it in 2015 and won last year's County Under 21 Championship title quite convincingly at the expense of Dingle. They are always well prepared and have benefited enormously from the leadership provided by their inter-county players Bryan Sheehan and Killian Young. However, Declan O'Sullivan is no longer in the line up and it's not easy to replace a player of that calibre. He was the spark which ignited their five successes since 2004.
Mid Kerry, winners in 2008 and finalists in 2014 are among the top ranked sides, given that, they will now have the Milltown / Castlemaine players in their ranks. They lost, narrowly (1-12 0-13) to Rathmore in last year's quarter-final.
St Kierans, are another side with prospects given their performances in last year's competition, beating Feale Rangers (1-17 1-15) before losing to Dr Crokes (2-16 3-12) and Rathmore (1-18 0-20).
Kenmare, who had been making steady progress, losing out in the 2015 semi-final to South Kerry (0-12 0-11) and in last year's decider to Dr Crokes (2-16 1-12), have seen their odds lengthened in terms of their prospects this season due to the fact that they will be without the Kenmare Shamrocks players, which is a setback for the District, because all of the indications were that they were going to make a bold bid once again this year for outright honours.
East Kerry haven't won the title since 1999, but they have a very good base of emerging young talent. They will be competitive if one uses their performances last season against Austin Stacks (1-16 2-8) and Milltown / Castlemaine (1-15 1-14) as an indicator.
St Brendans last appearance in a final was in 1992, when they were beaten by Mid Kerry (3-9 1-10). Before that it was 1958 and for the second successive year they were involved in the preliminary round against Shannon Rangers. They performed quite well last year, being eliminated by Rathmore in Round 2B (3-14 1-16).
Dr Crokes, the defending champions, have carried on from their All Ireland win in March and on current form are firm favourites to retain the title. Whether the exertions over the past twelve months will impact on their performances remains to be seen, but they have a squad strong enough to cope.
Austin Stacks winners in 2014, have been indifferent to date this season, but, at full strength, with goalkeeper David Hennessy proving to date to be a vital addition they will expect to be involved in the latter stages.
Kerins O'Rahillys have also been well below par in both the County League and club championship, but having last won it in 2002 and knocked out Legion last year (3-12 2-12), they can be counted upon to provide formidable opposition against any other side in the competition.
Legion, for their part, having gone so close in 2015, being beaten in a replayed final, experienced somewhat of a slump in their fortunes the following season, being relegated in the League.
However, the current level of their performances suggests that they might well be returning to the form of two years ago. Certainly, they are at present a side who can mix endeavour and expertise in equal measures and with James O Donoghue back to full fitness they will be expected to be strong contenders once again.
Dingle, pushed Crokes all the way in last year's semi-final (1-15 0-15) and are considered to be the side most likely club side this year to relieve the Killarney side of their crown.
In Paul Geaney, they have the best and most influential player in the competition and have a host of players who featured with Kerry at Under 21 level this season. However, the step up to senior can take time, and their performances to date this year, suggested that the are leaning heavily on the All Star's input.
Having said that, if they fire fully on all cylinders they will take some beating and they did eliminate South Kerry in last year's competition (0-12 0-11). Rathmore have been on the brink for a few years, losing out in semi finals in 2015 to Legion (1-12 1-9) and in 2016 to Kenmare (0-20 0-19).
Aidan O Mahony hasn't as yet featured this season, and, he has been for years the real heartbeat of the side. One feels that they will need his inspirational style of play if they are to land what would be their first ever title.
Kilcummin, finalists in 2002 are renowned Championship campaigners, and, while they had to survive a relegation battle against Milltown / Castlemaine last year to retain their status they pushed the eventual champions South Kerry all the way in two separate games in 2015. With Pat O'Driscoll at the helm, one can expect them to be extremely competitive.
Kenmare Shamrocks might find it difficult to compete on equal terms with the big guns, but they do have some serious firepower in their attack in the persons of Paul O'Connor, Stephen O'Brien, and Seán O'Shea.
Without Stephen O'Brien, six different scorers contributed to their win over Kerins O Rahillys (1-13 1-14) in the club championship, and they will have realistic ambitions of making an impact in the competition.
So while Crokes will be the short odds bet there's nothing guaranteed when it comes to championship. Injuries and emigration are just two of the aspects which can influence matters during the course of the campaign.
Momentum also and the divisional sides will benefit in this respect the longer they stay in contention.
Kerry's progress in the All Ireland series will also come into play, because at times, we have seen that when Kerry don't reach or lose an All Ireland final, some players can take a dip in form when they return to action locally.
These are just some of the many imponderables which exist before the destination of the Bishop is decided. All of the smart money will be on Crokes, but there are more than a few other sides who are capable of going all the way.
The first round ties will provide some indicators, but it's at the knock-out stages at the business end of the season which will confirm if a team has title winning credentials.
Initially it's interesting, it then becomes exciting, but ultimately it boils down to the sides with the best preparation, dedication, confidence, passion, belief and a few marquee players who can make the crucial difference in a game of small margins.
A bit of luck, along the way is also a help so, in a nutshell there are so many factors which will influence the eventual outcome, that to become Champions you need to tick all of the boxes all of the time.