Saturday 24 March 2018

Football's deadly dozen - how they rate: Dublin still out in front but they can be exposed at the back

Having won the last two Sam Maguires, Dublin look to be out in front of the pack again, however, the gap appears to be closing. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Having won the last two Sam Maguires, Dublin look to be out in front of the pack again, however, the gap appears to be closing. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Four provincial finals that have been won by a cumulative margin of 37 points possibly distorts the quality and entertainment of a football championship that has, so far, been up with anything in the last decade.

The athleticism from most teams stands out, those lacking mobility and pace no longer able to conceal it.

The introduction of the mark has untangled a few knots too and has actually quickened, rather than slowed down the game a notch.

Roscommon apart, the other provinces have run along expected lines with Dublin and Kerry dominating and adding the minor and U-21 titles in their province for good measure to emphasise that the days of dips from either of these giants have gone. An All-Ireland final without either of them over the next five years is impossible to see. We look at the queue forming behind them as the business end is reached.

1. Dublin

Strength: The pace of change in personnel, even as they strive for three in a row, is staggering. Paul Mannion, Con O'Callaghan, Eric Lowndes and Niall Scully have put down deeper roots, Brian Howard has been given a nod to the future. All the while they are driving on relentlessly. They can, it seems, cut their cloth for every challenge.

Mayo's Aidan O'Shea. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Mayo's Aidan O'Shea. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Concern: If there is a slight chink Kildare's Tommy Moolick and Paddy Brophy, at either end of Sunday's game, showed an avenue that might be explored where they created chances from speculative balls into the Dublin goalmouth that weren't dealt with well.

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Con O'Callaghan on the ball for Dublin. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

2. Kerry

Strengths: Lightly-raced, they've been able to scale down after the league and will now be picking up in the four weeks they'll have since the Munster final. After two shoulder operations that hampered his preparations for 2015 and 2016, James O'Donoghue is looking like that 2014 man again with 16 points (seven from play) in two outings.

Concerns: The dependency on O'Donoghue and Paul Geaney for scores appears to have heightened. The other starting forwards have been set other tasks.

James O’Donoghue of Kerry is blocked by Cork’s Kevin Crowley. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

3. Tyrone

Strength: Have the record, the mindset, the form and the defensive order, complete with a rapid counter-attacking game, to lay down a big challenge to Dublin if that All-Ireland semi-final transpires. The quarter-final opponent they'll want to avoid is Monaghan having beaten them twice at that stage already in the last five years. The quality of their bench continues to improve, they averaged 23 points per Ulster championship game.

Concern: Have created many goalscoring opportunities. But conversion rates are too low.

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Sean Cavanagh holds aloft the Anglo-Celt Cup for Tyrone after their Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship triumph over Down in Clones. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

4. Mayo

Strength: Resilience is never in doubt but what they need is more of their key players coming back to form and in that context Aidan O'Shea and Diarmuid O'Connor have made timely interventions in recent weeks.

Concern: Their chief rivals seem to have quickened ahead of them by introducing different elements and personnel. Mayo have the appearance of a team standing still.

Mayo's Aidan O'Shea. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

5. Kildare

Strength: Many reasons to be cheerful. They restricted Dublin to their first single-figure win in Leinster for four years and they matched the third highest opposition scoring tally (Donegal's 3-14 in 2014 and Fermanagh's 2-15 in 2015 are higher) in the 28 games that Jim Gavin has managed Dublin in. That points to an obvious defensive flaw, however.

Concern: Having Kevin Feely's one-match suspension overturned is critical while repositioning Daniel Flynn to where his pace can really be exploited might be thought over again. With another game behind Paddy Brophy will improve.

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Kevin Feely added to his growing reputation

6. Donegal

Strengths: Michael Murphy, Ryan McHugh and Patrick McBrearty are better than what most counties can offer and their familiarity with what's required for this stage of the season, having won three round-four qualifiers in the previous six years.

Concerns: Tyrone and Meath both picked routes through their defence too easily.

Michael Murphy of Donegal in action against Shane McEntee of Meath. Photo: Sportsfile

7. Monaghan

Strength: Revenge factor will be strong for another game with Down and they play a possession game as good as most other teams.

Concern: Conor McManus cut a frustrated figure on Saturday evening with the dearth of ball coming into him. Why, with one of the best forwards in the game, do Monaghan not to try to find him more with quicker ball? And Jack McCarron has gone off the boil since the league.

Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke has a word with his players just before the Senior Championship Round 3B match between Carlow and Monaghan at Netwatch Cullen Park. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

8. Roscommon

Strength: Delivered the perfect ambush in Connacht which will instil greater unity and confidence. Enda Smith had his biggest game for his county while Conor Devaney's switch to half-back has worked well this summer.

Concern: Heading back now to a venue where they can probably trace their troubles back to last year after the mauling they took from Kerry in the league semi-final. Physically they are probably the smallest team left in the competition, something which might catch up with them from now on.

Having taken plenty of criticism after Roscommon’s relegation in the league, manager Kevin McStay was fully entitled to revel in the delight of winning a Connacht title. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

9. Galway

Strengths: The Shane Walsh/Damien Comer axis is one of the strongest around, capable of unhinging any defence.

Concerns: Amazing how one defeat can bend the straight line they felt they were headed in, darkening the mood in Galway. Their full-back line has not looked comfortable in this campaign while their big players around midfield just weren't combative enough against Roscommon. A 10-point defeat to Donegal two years ago will take a bit of reversing.

Michael Lundy of Galway is sent off by referee David Gough during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Galway and Roscommon at Pearse Stadium in Salthill, Galway. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

10. Armagh

Strength: They thrive on momentum as illustrated in 2014. Now they have wind in their sails. In James Morgan they have one of the best man-markers around and a blossoming midfield partnership in Stephen Sheridan and Niall Grimley. They also have staying power, finishing their last two games strong.

Concern: The depth of their attack. Stefan Campbell was their top forward in recent years but is reduced to a bit part now.

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Armagh's Andrew Murnin has a shot saved by Tipperary goalkeeper Ciarán Kenrick. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

11. Cork

Strengths: The belief that there is still 'a performance' in them despite so much disappointment will sustain them. Aidan Walsh and Ian Maguire remain a potentially strong midfield pairing.

Concerns: Has to have been an erosion of confidence since Killarney.

Luke Connolly of Cork reacts after a missed goal chance during the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Final match between Kerry and Cork at Fitzgerald Stadium. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

12. Down

Strength: The pace in some areas of the field. Caolan Mooney and Ryan Johnston have the acceleration to cut through any defence. That they hung in on Sunday when the game was getting away from them and finished stronger will stand to them.

Weaknesses: Surprise provincial finalists don't generally travel well next time out, Tipperary last year being the obvious exception. Will they really have the stomach for the second match with Monaghan this summer? Down were destroyed on their own kick-outs when Tyrone pressed up on Sunday.

Tiernan McCann and Peter Turley take a tumble after a challenge. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

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