Friday 25 May 2018

'Big Four' drive on - but where do others stand after summer campaign?

Who has shined and who has flopped in the 2017 championship? Martin Breheny runs the rule over the counties

Fintan Cregg of Roscommon, who exceeded expectations this year
Fintan Cregg of Roscommon, who exceeded expectations this year
Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It's down to the four that most observers predicted to reach the All-Ireland football semi-finals in a season where three of the provincial winners survived the quarter-finals, leaving Mayo as the only qualifiers still in contention.

But what of the rest? Who exceeded expectations, under-achieved or stood still over the past three months?

UNDERACHIEVERS

CORK: They took Mayo to extra-time but had earlier been wiped out by Kerry after surviving one-point calls against Waterford and Tipperary. There has to be more to Cork than what they produced this year.

DONEGAL: It wasn't so much the actual losses to Tyrone (Ulster semi-final) and to Galway (qualifiers) that surprised everybody but rather the nature of the defeats which drew accumulative losses of 27 points.

GALWAY: Started as defending Connacht champions and ended it minus the title and with the memory of big defeats by Roscommon and Kerry. The wins over Mayo, in particular, and Donegal were encouraging but their consistency rating remains low, just as it was last year.

MEATH: Losing to Kildare by nine points just isn't acceptable for the Royals. Worse still, they were well beaten by half-time. They later lost to Donegal, who were already well into a disappointing campaign that turned even more dismal against Galway.

Carlow manager Turlough O'Brien. Photo: Barry Cregg/Sportsfile
Carlow manager Turlough O'Brien. Photo: Barry Cregg/Sportsfile

LAOIS: A 14-point demolition by Kildare was bad enough but it was followed by a 10-point defeat by Clare. And in Portlaoise too. Serious stock-taking is required in a county that appears to have completely lost its way.

LOUTH: Being drawn at home to Longford in the qualifiers was a good break but they blew it and ended the game with 12 men as discipline broke down. That's not how their season should have ended.

CAVAN: They lost at home to Monaghan and Tipperary so it has to go down as a summer of missed opportunities.

WEXFORD: They were expected to beat Carlow in the Leinster first round and failed. They were also expected to offer Monaghan a good test in the qualifiers and failed, crushed by 18 points a week before Carlow stretched Malachy O'Rourke's men all the way.

FERMANAGH: Lost heavily to Donegal and Armagh. The players' response? Blame Pete McGrath. Surely it's time for the squad to look in the mirror rather than for easy scapegoats.

EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS

ROSCOMMON: Yes, they were embarrassed last Monday but the record books will still show them as 2017 Connacht champions, having started well behind Mayo and Galway in the fancied stakes. As for the theory that the big defeat by Mayo will stunt their development, didn't Dublin lose the 2009 quarter-final by 17 points to Kerry and won every one since then? And didn't Donegal lose the 2013 quarter-final to Mayo by 16 points, only to bounce back and reach the final a year later?

ARMAGH: As with Roscommon, the heavy quarter-final defeat was humiliating. Still, they reached the last eight, which is well beyond what anyone expected from them, most especially after they lost to Down in the Ulster quarter-final.

DOWN: Admittedly, they were starting from a low base after a few dismal championships so reaching the Ulster final represented progress.

CARLOW: Beat Wexford, tested Dublin for a long time, beat London and Leitrim, lost to Monaghan by five points, a flattering margin for the winners. A positive campaign for Turlough O'Brien and Co.

WATERFORD: Losing to Cork by a point was their best championship performance against the Rebels since they won in 1960. It's something to remember the season by.

STOOD STILL

MONAGHAN: There's a sense that they are at a certain level - admittedly a high one, given their playing resources - but can't move on to the next rung. They did nothing to change that perception this year.

TIPPERARY: It was always going to be difficult after the 2016 exploits and they responded quite well to the new demands. They would almost certainly have beaten Cork again if they hadn't lost the influential Michael Quinlivan in the first half.

CLARE: Like Tipperary, they didn't replicate the achievements of 2016 when they reached the All quarter-finals for the first time but it needs to be put in context as they were beaten by Mayo, a top four side.

DERRY: There's a sense of inertia around Derry these days that will make for a very demanding environment for whoever takes the manager's reins from Damien Barton.

KILDARE: They did better in Leinster than last year but overall they did not exceed expectations in a season where hopes were higher than last season.

SLIGO: In fairness, how many teams would fancy being paired with Mayo in Castlebar in May? And their luck was out in the qualifiers too when the second round draw took them to Navan.

LONGFORD: After beating Down and Monaghan last year, it would be easy to suggest Longford underachieved this summer. It would be unrealistic, since they are a Division 3 team that can't be expected to punch above their weight every year.

WESTMEATH: Hit the same wall as in previous years against Dublin and couldn't handle Armagh in the qualifiers.

OFFALY: Couldn't get past Westmeath yet again before being despatched from the qualifiers by higher-ranked opposition.

WICKLOW: Same as last year - two games two defeats.

LEITRIM: Beat London but that was as good as it got.

LIMERICK: Luck wasn't their ally, having lost to Clare and Wexford by a point.

ANTRIM: For a second successive year, they played two and lost two.

LONDON: Showed some promise but still lost to Leitrim and Carlow.

Irish Independent

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