Friday 15 December 2017

Football rankings: Martin Breheny gives his verdict on the state of play

In three weeks’ time, counties will return to official training, despatching this season to the memory bank. How do they rate in football at the end of 2011?

This has been their best year since 1977 when they also won the All-Ireland title and were runners-up in the league (they had indifferent league campaigns in 1983 and 1995, prior to winning the All-Ireland).

Dublin's only competitive defeat this year came against Cork, who beat them by a point in the league final. Impressive progress was made in that campaign, which yielded an average return of 19 points over eight games.

The rate remained the same for their first four outings of the championship before they encountered the Donegal lock-out. However, they proved in the All-Ireland semi-final that they could adapt to any type of challenge and took their maturity a stage further when reeling in Kerry late on in the All-Ireland final.

The solid base put down in 2010 was further reinforced this year which, ultimately, is why Sam Maguire came to be wintering in Dublin.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 3/1; NFL (Div 1) 3/1.

Big Question: How will they react to success and all that goes with it?

2 kerry (2)

They are counting the days to the start of the 2012 season with the awful taste of the All-Ireland final defeat likely to even spoil their Christmas dinner.

One suspects if they were four points clear of Dublin again they would have continued with the enterprise that got them there in the first place, rather than seeking to hold on to what they had.

That's not the Kerry way and it probably cost them the All-Ireland. The memory of 2011 will leave them one mighty driven force, right from the Saturday night in early February when they come to Croke Park to play Dublin in the Allianz league opener.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 5/2; NFL (Div 1) 5/2.

Big Question: Five of their six starting defenders in the All-Ireland final were aged 31 or older. How many will be replaced to take the average age down?

3 cork (1)

Their second-half wipe-out by Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-final remains the year's greatest mystery.

Unquestionably, the injury blitz which had seriously weakened their attack (Daniel Goulding, Ciaran Sheehan and Colm O'Neill were absent) left them vulnerable, but the real problem may have been as much mental as physical.

Subconsciously, did they believe they could always press the accelerator and zoom clear of Mayo, only to find that they had omitted to fill the tank? Answers await in 2012.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 7/2; NFL (Div 1) 9/4.

Big Question: What will be their reaction to the double disappointment of losing to Kerry in Munster and surrendering their All-Ireland title on a day when they scored only one point (from a defender) in the second half?

4 donegal (14)

By far the year's most improved team, even if their style of play drew criticism, mostly it must be said by observers who seem to think a team has a responsibility to play an expansive game, even when it doesn't equate with their resources. In other words, be exciting losers.

Jim McGuinness realigned Donegal into a force that set records for the average concession rate in the championship. Meanwhile, the strike force scored enough to take Donegal to the All-Ireland semi-finals where the game plan didn't deliver.

Still, it was a great year for Donegal, who lost just two competitive games while winning Ulster for the first time in 19 years and returning to Division 1.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 16/1; NFL (Div 1) 8/1.

Big Question: Will good opposition become more adept at unpicking Donegal's locks and can they improve their own strike rate. There's also the question of how the Kevin Cassidy affair impinges on the set-up.

5 kildare (6)

Their last three championship defeats (2010 All-Ireland semi-final, this year's Leinster semi-final and All-Ireland quarter-final) were all by single scores, a run of bad luck which Kildare will feel has to change sometime. All the more so when their losses to Dublin and Donegal this year had some controversial moments which went against Kildare.

There's nothing Kildare can do about that, but producing consistent league form, something which history has shown to be a pre-cursor to All-Ireland success over the last decade at least, is in their own hands. Their failure to get out of Division 2 for the past few seasons may be more significant than is generally thought.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 12/1; NFL (Div 2) 7/2.

Big Question: Will they win promotion from Division 2, which would send out the clear signal that they had improved on previous years?

6 mayo (8)

Regaining the Connacht title and beating Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final looks good on their CV in James Horan's first year, but only time will tell whether there's more to come.

This year's Connacht championship was sub-standard (Galway, Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim didn't win a single qualifier tie between them) and the question of what really happened Cork remains unanswered. Mayo are progressing, but the precise rate remains in doubt.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 14/1; NFL (Div 1) 9/1.

Big Question: Will they capitalise on what is the best draw of all in next year's championship, where they have only to beat Division 4 opposition (Leitrim or London) at home to reach the provincial final and, by extension, book a guaranteed place in the last 12 in the All-Ireland race.

7 tyrone (4)

For a county whose success over the last decade was based on consistent league form, their failure to escape from Division 2 (they finished fourth behind Donegal, Laois, Derry) may have been more instructive than appeared at the time.

They later fell into Donegal's defensive trap in Ulster, but after relaunching themselves in the qualifiers, they suffered their worst defeat for a long time in Croke Park, losing to Dublin by seven points. A major re-building job is required to prevent further slippage.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 18/1; NFL (Div 2) 5/2.

Big Question: How radical will Mickey Harte be when it comes to reshaping the squad?

8 Derry (12)

Unlucky to be squeezed out of a place in the Division 2 final (they were level with Donegal and Laois on points, but had an inferior scoring difference), they made good progress in the championship before losing to Donegal in the final.

After that, they were marched to the destruction trap scandalously reserved for beaten provincial finalists who have to play a qualifier game six days later. Still, it was a year in which Derry arrested the decline of 2010.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 40/1; NFL (Div 2) 7/1.

Big Question: How much more scope for development do they have?

9 armagh (11)

Beating Down was the only summer highlight, but surviving in Division 1 (albeit luckily ahead of Monaghan, who had a similar number of points and a superior scoring difference) could prove very beneficial next year.

Incidentally, Armagh retained their Division 1 status as they beat Monaghan by a point in the head-to-head game.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 50/1; NFL (Div 1) 25/1.

Big Question: Can they infuse some of Crossmaglen's structure and stubbornness into their game?

10 down (5)

A very disappointing follow-up to last year. Survived in Division 1 by beating the bottom three, Armagh, Monaghan and Galway and drawing with Mayo before being well beaten by Armagh in the Ulster championship.

Lucky in the qualifier draws for a second successive year, they beat Clare, Leitrim and Antrim before being demolished by Cork. They badly need a good start to next season if much of the 2010 momentum is not to be lost.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 30/1; NFL (Div 1) 16/1.

Big Question: Were they a one-hit wonder in 2010?

11 laois (21)

They looked on course for a really exciting summer after being promoted from Division 2, where they beat Meath, Antrim, Derry, Sligo and Donegal (although the latter avenged the defeat in the final), but they came up a long way short against Dublin (Leinster quarter-final) and Kildare (R2 qualifiers), beaten by a combined total of 23 points. That was back to the bad old days, but they will be in Division 1 next spring, so the incentive for a recharge is high.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 80/1; NFL (Div 1) 25/1.

Big Question: Can they keep their fingers away from the off-field self-destruct button?

12 monaghan (10)

Losing to Offaly in the qualifiers was the low point, but they still deserve a top 12 rating.

They were unlucky to be relegated from Division 1 on scoring difference and ran Tyrone close in the Ulster championship before the flop against Offaly, which suggests it was an aberration. A squad very much in transition.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 33/1; NFL (Div 2) 10/1.

Big Question: How will they react to Division 2? Will it be a case of showing how unlucky they were to be relegated or will they get sucked further down the line?

13 wexford (17)

Unlucky yet again not to get of Division 3, even after losing three games (Louth edged them out on scoring difference), they won three Leinster championship games and were going well against Dublin in the final until they conceded an own goal, the ultimate rarity in football.

Out of luck too against Limerick in the qualifiers.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 66/1; NFL (Div 3) 5/2.

Big Question: If it's true you make your own luck, isn't it about time Wexford started?

14 meath (7)

Only three wins in league and championship and fortunate to remain in Division 2, so their presence in the top half shows how volatile things are below them. Meath's poor season leaves the memory of the 5-9 to 0-13 win over Dublin in the 2010 Leinster semi-final a very distant memory indeed.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 25/1; NFL (Div 2) 9/2.

Big Question: For a county that reached two All-Ireland semi-finals and won a Leinster title in the last five seasons, why do even their own supporters remain so sceptical about the short-term future?

15 galway (9)

The slide continued, taking them into Division 2 after 13 seasons in the top flight.

They shared the 32nd worst record with Sligo in league/championship games, with only Kilkenny below them, while they are still looking for their second win against non-Connacht teams in the championship since being crowned All-Ireland champions 10 years ago.

Still, they did win the All-Ireland U-21 title and have a new manager in Alan Mulholland. Presumably, he will be given time to re-build, a basic requirement denied to Joe Kernan and Tomas O Flatharta.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 25/1; NFL (Div 2) 7/2.

Big Question: Have they bottomed out and are they about to re-emerge after two dismal championship seasons where their only win was against New York -- luckily at that?

16 roscommon (18)

Still on the way up the league after dropping to Division 4, a slip-up they corrected this year.

Division 3 will test them, but the overall trend is good, even if they did surrender the Connacht title to Mayo this year, albeit rather unluckily on a July afternoon borrowed from foulest January.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 100/1; NFL (Div 3) 7/1.

Big Question: How will the squad react to new management after many of them knew Fergal O'Donnell so well from underage level?

17 antrim (20)

Relegated from Division 2 after losing six of seven games, they just weren't ready for the step-up to what is a very competitive group. The first to experience Donegal's defensive squeeze in the championship, they beat Westmeath and Carlow in the qualifiers before losing to Down.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 250/1; NFL (Div 3) 6/1.

Big Question: Can they come straight back up from a competitive Division 3 where seven of the eight contenders are priced between 5/2 and 7/1?

18 louth (16)

Their championship form (losing to Carlow by a point and to Meath by nine points) contrasts starkly with 2010 but Louth did win the Division 3 title and promotion, a success which should prove beneficial in the long run. Losing key players was a major setback, but they should still have beaten Carlow.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 200/1; NFL (Div 2) 22/1.

Big Question: Can they regain the championship momentum of two years ago?

19 westmeath (22)

They had a poor championship campaign, losing heavily to Wexford and Antrim, having made considerable progress earlier in the season, topping Division 3. Promotion will stand to them as, in general, the higher a team plays in the league the better prepared they are for the championship.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 250/1; NFL (Div 2) 22/1.

Big Question: Which is the real Westmeath, the solid group who won promotion from Division 3 or the chaotic outfit who flopped against Wexford and Antrim in the championship?

20 limerick (15)

The only Division 4-bound side to reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals, having won three qualifier ties against Division 3 opposition (Offaly, Waterford and Wexford).

Credit for exploiting that opportunity, but they were well beaten by Kerry in the Munster championship and All-Ireland quarter-final.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 50/1; NFL (Div 4) 9/4.

Big Question: Can they exploit the Munster championship draw which has Cork and Kerry on the other side?

21 sligo (13)

Going directly from Divisions 4 to 2 in successive seasons produced a level of growth they couldn't maintain, especially in a season when they were badly hit by injuries. For all that, they were unlucky to be relegated, losing to Kildare on the final day when a draw would have kept them up.

They had a flat championship campaign, losing to Leitrim and Wicklow.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 125/1; NFL (Div 3) 5/1.

Big Question: Can they arrest the slide which was pretty rapid this year?

22 offaly (25)

Still coming up short in the grim battle to get out of Division 3, although they were headed on scoring difference only for promotion this year.

Hammered by Wexford in the championship, they then stunned Monaghan before losing to Limerick.

Conceding a total of 5-29 against Wexford and Limerick points to an urgent need for a new defensive alignment.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 300/1; NFL (Div 3) 6/1.

Big Question: Offaly would always fancy themselves against the likes of Kildare, so could they stun the Lilywhites in the Leinster quarter-final?

23 tipperary (19)

Escaped relegation on the head-to-head rule ahead of Limerick, but didn't do anywhere nearly as well as their neighbours in the championship. Admittedly, the qualifier draw wasn't as kind, pitting them against Laois in the first round.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 80/1; NFL (Div 3) 6/1.

Big Question: To what degree will the uplift from the minors' All-Ireland success boost the seniors?

24 longford (27)

They escaped from Division 4, a grouping they would always feel was beneath them and ran a decent championship campaign, losing to Laois by a point, easily beating Cavan and losing by five points to Tyrone.

With the U-21s reaching the Leinster final, 2011 would be seen a progressive season overall.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 150/1; NFL (Div 3) 5/1.

Big Question: Can they make the top 20 by the end of next year?

25 wicklow (29)

A strange exit season for Mick O'Dwyer as Wicklow drew more games (5) than they won (4) or lost (3).

Four draws in Division 4, plus a one-point defeat by Roscommon shows how close they came to promotion and while they bombed against Kildare in the Leinster championship, they later beat Sligo and drew with Armagh before losing the replay.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 500/1; NFL (Div 4) 4/1.

Big Question: Can Harry Murphy build on the Micko era?

26 cavan (24)

Finished fifth in Division 3; well beaten by Donegal in Ulster; thrashed by Longford in the qualifiers. All told, another inauspicious season at senior level, but they enjoyed strong underage growth where they won both the Ulster minor and U-21 titles.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 250/1; NFL (Div 3) 14/1.

Big Question: Will the U-21/minor successes be the catalyst for a senior surge?

27 waterford (26)

Relegated from Division 3, despite beating Limerick and Tipperary, they later lost to the Shannonsiders in the qualifiers.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 300/1; NFL (Div 4) 6/1.

Big Question: How they react to being on the easier side of the Munster draw?

28 carlow (31)

Why so low after reaching the Leinster semi-final? Granted they beat Louth (by a point) to get there but it proved something of a one-off as they were well beaten by Wexford, followed by qualifier elimination against Antrim. Still, it was a better season than usual.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 500/1; NFL (Div 4) 12/1.

Big Question: Having been three points off the promotion pace in Division 4 this year, could the feel-good factor from the championship win over Louth help them closer to the top?

29 leitrim (30)

Beat Sligo in the championship, but quickly ran aground after that, losing heavily to Roscommon and continuing their barren qualifier run, losing to Down.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 500/1; NFL (Div 4) 16/1.

Big Question: What impact will Mickey Moran's departure have?

30 fermanagh (23)

A troubled year where the only positive aspect was the appointment of Peter Canavan as new manager. He takes over at a time when the only way is up.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 250/1; NFL (Div 4) 2/1.

Big Question: How many places can Canavan's guidance take them up the rankings? Ten?

31 clare (28)

Ran Down to a point in the qualifiers (Clare are always capable of one big performance), beat Longford and drew with Wicklow in the league, but elsewhere it was a largely flat season.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 300/1; NFL (Div 4) 9/1.

Big Question: Can they win the one game (v Limerick or Waterford) that would take them into the Munster final?

32 london (32)

Beating Fermanagh in the championship was a highpoint they will savour for quite some time. Elsewhere, their only win was against Kilkenny in the league.

2012 odds: All-Ireland 500/1; NFL (Div 4) 25/1.

Big Question: Having won a qualifier game this year, can they win their first Connacht tie for 35 years when they play Leitrim?

33 kilkenny (33)

Lost eight league games (they don't compete in the senior championship) by an average of 23 points.

2012 odds: All-Ireland: Not competing; NFL (Div 4) 1000/1.

Big Question: Will they win any game?

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