Tuesday 16 January 2018

Martin Breheny's Gaelic Football Power Rankings: Rating the top ten teams at the mid-term

Daniel Flynn of Kildare celebrates scoring his side’s second goal during the Leinster SFC semi-final clash with Meath. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Daniel Flynn of Kildare celebrates scoring his side’s second goal during the Leinster SFC semi-final clash with Meath. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Small things matter when it comes to influencing opinion. Kildare's powerful performance against Meath last Saturday prompted fresh hopes that after several years as a one-county fiefdom, Leinster may have genuine challengers pursuing Dublin.

On a broader scale, Tyrone's highly efficient display against Donegal suggests the jigsaw pieces for an All-Ireland picture are beginning to fit neatly together while Galway's win over Mayo for a second successive season points to something substantial being built by Kevin Walsh and his fellow-Tribesmen.

The defeat was a setback for Mayo but after negotiating their way to last year's All-Ireland final from Round 2 of the qualifiers, there's real confidence that this season can be rebuilt too, starting against Derry next Saturday.

Cork didn't exactly electrify the southern scene with one-point wins over Waterford and Tipperary, yet there's a growing feeling that with so much latent talent in the squad, one big performance would transform their fortunes.

They will get the opportunity to deliver in the Munster final tomorrow week when they attempt to beat Kerry in the championship for the first time since 2012.

A win in Killarney is unlikely but if Cork offer a consistent challenge, it will greatly enhance their hopes of reaching the All-Ireland quarter-final via the fourth round qualifiers. Here's how the top 10 stand this weekend.

1 DUBLIN

Curiously, their All-Ireland odds have lengthened slightly (13/8 from 6/4) over the last few weeks..

Is it down to a combination of Diarmuid Connolly's suspension, Michael Darragh Macauley's and Cormac Costello's injuries and a failure to score a goal against a Carlow team that finished third in Division 4 or could it be delayed negative sentiment from the Allianz League final defeat by Kerry?

And then there's the three-in-row factor. With the exception of the great Kerry team of 1975-'86 era, the treble hasn't been won since 1964-'65-'66 (Galway), demonstrating just how difficult it is to main full momentum for so long.

Dublin have geared everything towards the pursuit of three in a row this year, yet still managed to come so close to retaining the league title, which was quite an achievement. The next few months may prove that.

2 KERRY

Their All-Ireland odds tightened marginally (5/2 from 3/1) over the last fortnight, probably as a result of Cork's deeply unconvincing advance to the Munster final.

However, new circumstances, which could make Kerry's All-Ireland journey more difficult, are lurking in the background.

If, as expected, they beat Cork, their All-Ireland quarter-final opponents will be a winner from the 'A' side of the qualifiers, where the biggest beasts are Mayo, or the beaten Connacht finalists. That gives Dublin an advantage over Kerry because if Gavin's men win Leinster, they will face opposition from the 'B' side of the qualifiers which, for now at least, has no one as strong as Mayo.

If Mayo survive the three qualifier rounds, Kerry win the Munster title and Galway retain Connacht, then it's Kerry v Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-final, irrespective of all other results.

3 TYRONE

Now clear third All-Ireland favourites (11/2), there's renewed optimism in Red Hand land, although quite why it wasn't there all along is difficult to understand.

After all, it's not as they haven't been showing promising signs. Indeed, the absence of a reliable long-range place kicker and Seán Cavanagh's dismissal probably cost them last year's All-Ireland quarter-final against Mayo.

And when they took seven of eight points - including a draw with Dublin - in their first four league games this year it looked as if they were building a powerful momentum. However, they stalled after that, losing to Donegal, Mayo and Kerry, which raised fresh doubts.

Last Sunday's demolition of Donegal has re-fired the ambition jets, with many now convinced that Mickey Harte's men are on course for an All-Ireland semi-final showdown with Dublin, a challenge they would relish.

4 MAYO

They are in the exact same position as this time last year. Yes, All-Ireland glory is a long way off (they would need to win six games) but check the route and there's every reason to believe they will be in the last eight by late July, after which anything is possible.

The qualifier draw has been kind again, handing them home advantage for a third time in a year against a Derry team that has done nothing for a long time to suggest they can win in Castlebar.

If Mayo win, they will be in the same group as the winners of Laois v Clare, Donegal v Longford, Meath v Sligo (they can't be drawn against Sligo, having already played them in Connacht) in the 3A draw.

A win there would leave Mayo playing the losing Munster or Connacht finalists (they can't be drawn against Galway if Roscommon win Connacht). The season is still very much alive for Stephen Rochford and a group who showed last year that they know how to negotiate the qualifiers.

5 GALWAY

The Connacht final is not the foregone conclusion the odds suggest. Roscommon drew with Galway in Pearse Stadium last year - indeed they might well have won if they pressed on when they had possession in stoppage time, rather than indulging in incessant handpassing in Galway's half without getting a shot away.

Still, if Galway beat Roscommon, they should be better focused than last year for the All-Ireland quarter-final, although the defensive bolts, especially in the full-back line, will need to be tightened. Still, Galway are a promising work-in-progress.

6 MONAGHAN

A model of consistency under the excellent Malachy O'Rourke in recent seasons, it's a classic example of a small county getting the absolute maximum from its resources. It really would be an upset if they failed to Down this evening, although they will be conscious of how they misfired at home to Longford in last year's qualifiers.

Still, their ambitions remained lofty and given the solidity shown again this year, they have a good chance of reaching Croke Park for the All-Ireland qualifiers, probably as Round 4 qualifier winners rather than Ulster champions.

7 KILDARE

The biggest movers of all, their All-Ireland odds have dropped from 80/1 to 28/1 in a month, following their powerful surge past Laois and Meath. The latter performance was very significant, for while the Royals imploded, there was still an awful lot to admire about Kildare.

They have averaged almost 20 points per game in 10 league and championship outings this year and while it all been against Division 2 and 3 (Laois) opposition, it still displays an enterprising culture that will stand to them in bigger tests.

Promotion to Division 1 and a first appearance in the Leinster final for eight years represents considerable progress and there may be more to come, albeit via a Round 4 qualifier rather than as Leinster champions.

8 CORK

They reached ten All-Ireland quarter-finals in a row from 2005 to 2014 but are now at risk of missing out for a third successive year.

It's a long time since they went into a Munster final as 5/1 outsiders but with expectations so low, it could be the start of a fightback. They won't beat Kerry but a good performance would fill their encouragement tanks for a qualifier tie.

Reaching the quarter-finals would be a real achievement for the Rebels after what they have been through for the last two years.

It's not as unlikely as first impressions suggest.

9 DONEGAL

Last Sunday's no-show against Tyrone was an aberration that may not be as damaging to Donegal's re-build as the early prognosis suggests.

After reaching six successive Ulster finals, the law of averages struck hard against Tyrone but the fundamentals remain sound.

Home advantage against Longford next weekend offers them a good chance to re-launch.

Their season could still have a lot to offer but they are down to the last chance so there can be no more misfires.

10 ROSCOMMON

They still have two possible routes to an All-Ireland quarter-final, which has been the target ever since they were handed the best draw of all the Connacht counties.

Relegation from Division 1 was always likely this season but what made it so disappointing was the manner in which they lost their first six games by an average of over eight points before beating Cavan in their last outing.

They will need to get their defensive alignment much more secure if they are to profit from an enterprising attack.

Irish Independent

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