Tuesday 12 December 2017

The verdict: our experts on the GAA championships

Mayo captain David Heaney leads his team out before the 1996 All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry
Mayo captain David Heaney leads his team out before the 1996 All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry

Cliona Foley

The bookies have installed Dublin as low as evens favourites in the race for the All-Ireland title – are those shorts odds ludicrous or realistic?

Donnchadh Boyle: Realistic. Their power surge to beat Cork in the league semi-final proved they were playing well within themselves for the early part of the season. They look well ahead of any other team in Leinster and from there they'll only have to win three games to retain Sam – something that looks well within their reach.

Tomas O Se: Well even as someone who doesn't understand betting odds, I'd say however low the bookies can go, they're right. Based on what we have seen and knowing the fellas that have to come back into the squad, you'd have to say they won't be easily beaten.

Eoin Liston: They are generous odds based on the league. They won the final easily without almost a third of their championship starting team. Paul Mannion, Jack McCaffrey, Cormac Costello and Ger Brennan will all be coming back. I think they've actually improved since last year.

Colm Keys: Entirely realistic. It is very difficult to construct a case against Dublin on the evidence of their last two league games. They may cough up goal opportunities or switch off for a spell, but they look capable of winning games from any situation.

Eugene McGee: Yes, the odds are ludicrous for a competition that includes a minimum of six games. But the bookies will probably make the money on other types of betting such as the expected margins between the various Dublin games, the type which seems to be very popular with young people, especially GAA players.


Clare shook the hurling world last year – but was it a one-off or the start of a power shift away from the ‘traditional’ big three of Kilkenny/Tipperary/Cork?

Cliona Foley: Clare's age profile and underage success suggests they'll be there for a while. The last three Leinster titles have been won by three different counties, as have three of the last four Munster crowns. Dublin are Leinster champs and their minors recently contained Kilkenny's to 0-3. It is shifting.

Cyril Farrell: There has been a power shift away from the Big Three in that they won't be as far ahead of the rest in the coming years as they used to be. Clare showed others what's achievable with the right attitude and preparation.

John Mullane: It most certainly wasn't a one-off. And Clare are Kilkenny's biggest challengers this season. You wouldn't rule out Davy Fitzgerald doing back-to-back titles and within the next few years, you'll see more teams pushing on and winning All-Irelands, outside of that top three.

Martin Breheny: Clare have joined the Big Three at the top table and will remain there. The field is tightening up behind that four. It used to be well strung out but that's no longer the case.

Vincent Hogan: Don't think it was a one-off. That Clare victory was on the back of three U-21 All-Irelands in five years while the likes of Galway, Dublin, Limerick and Waterford all have strong lines of underage talent coming through.


Have Mayo lost their chance of making the All-Ireland breakthrough with this squad?

Colm Keys: No, but it will probably not happen this year either, with the expected improvements in Dublin's game. There is a resilience and grit within Mayo that may sustain them to a successful end to the journey over the next two to three seasons.

Donnchadh Boyle: Undoubtedly, they looked tired in their failure to see off 14-man Dublin or a numerically disadvantaged Derry in the league semi-final. Still, they are out on their own in Connacht so they can rebuild through the championship and they are another side who can advance to an All-Ireland quarter-final with the minimum of fuss. From there, they can still rattle anyone but they'll need a new spark from somewhere.

Tomas O Se: No, I actually have a sneaky feeling that Mayo might do something. I don't know what it is with them. Does the hype get into their heads? I don't really buy that. To me, they haven't produced it on final day. But with the players they have, they're capable of winning one. They just need their big players to be bigger.

Eugene McGee: At the risk of having my sanity doubted, I will answer no. Let's no forget that they beat Dublin two years ago and blew their chance last year in the final 10 minutes of the decider solely through their own messing around and loss of composure.

Eoin Liston: Absolutely not. They've spent the league improving their attack and they've put up some huge scores. The hunger will be there and Alan Freeman is in fine form, while Tom Parsons is going to be a great addition. I expect them to make the final.


Cork and Galway were beaten All-Ireland finalists over the past two years. Which of them have the better credentials to be the more serious contenders this year?

Cliona Foley: Cork. Coming so close last year should keep them motivated and they play better as a 'team'. Galway are arguably more talented individually but they don't always click together and often lack precision and consistency. Unless they kick on they will remain the great enigma.

Cyril Farrell: Galway – marginally. Cork and Galway are similar in many ways. They are capable of beating anyone on a given day, but aren't consistent from game to game or year to year.

Vincent Hogan: Galway. Badly off the pace last summer, their experience will surely forewarn Cork that coming to within a puck of the ball of winning the All-Ireland one year guarantees precisely nothing the next. Anthony Cunningham looks to have tightened his defence and Conor Cooney has been flying in attack.

John Mullane: Galway. I think any time you lose an All-Ireland final, it seems to be very hard to come back the following year and produce it again, as we saw with Galway 12 months ago. Galway will have the bit between their teeth considering the manner in which they exited the 2013 championship.

Martin Breheny: Galway, provided they regain 2012 levels of form. They have greater depth to their squad than Cork thanks to so much underage success.


It’s five years since Kerry won the All-Ireland title – with the team in transition, will they go another five without an All-Ireland win?

Eugene McGee: No. Over the past 112 years since their first All-Ireland, Kerry have only gone 10 years without an All-Ireland win on two occasions. I doubt if it will happen a third time.

Eoin Liston: It is a possibility. But the talent in the forwards is still incredible even without Gooch, and if Eamonn Fitzmaurice can get the defence right, they will be very competitive.

Donnchadh Boyle: Optimistic Kerry folk will point out that they were within a few minutes of an All-Ireland final last year only to be caught by Dublin, but this is a much different side. Based on underage success in Munster, Cork look to be well ahead of Kerry but writing off the Kingdom is a dangerous game and with Jack O'Connor over the minors, they look to have the right people in the right places.

Tomas O Se: No, I actually have a sneaky feeling that Mayo might do something. I don't know what it is with them. Does the hype get into their heads? I don't really buy that. To me, they haven't produced it on final day. But with the players they have, they're capable of winning one. They just need their big players to be bigger.

Colm Keys: This is a year for a number of Kerry players to mature and accept more leadership. Next year is their best opportunity if Colm Cooper recovers and Tommy Walsh, as expected, returns home. After that it may well be barren for a period.


Did the Donal O’Grady controversy wreck Limerick’s prospects of building on last year or is there a possibility of a players’ backlash to the recent criticism?

Vincent Hogan: It won't have helped Limerick's chances, but their prospects certainly aren't wrecked. They have never been intimidated by the Tipperary shirt and any forward line with the surnames of Hannon, Downes, Dowling and Mulcahy on board simply has to be taken seriously.

Cliona Foley: There is much more chance that it will galvanise them. When the smoke cleared they ran Cork to three points in a high-scoring challenge match when Seamus Hickey and Declan Hannon both, noticeably, returned after long injury layoffs. It may actually help to refocus them.

John Mullane: I think it will affect them big time. The biggest problem for Limerick is that lack of continuity. They seem to be chopping and changing all of the time and with Donal O'Grady going, another coach will have to come in. It could be a difficult summer for Limerick.

Cyril Farrell: I'd expect a big reaction from the players. The controversy had nothing to do with them, but they are the ones who will be in the front line. O'Grady's departure has weakened their hand, but has not wrecked their season.

Martin Breheny: Limerick's season has been badly hit. They will do their best to rescue it but they seem headed for an early Munster championship exit and will need a good draw after that to keep their season alive.


Will the fiercely competitive nature of this year’s Ulster championship strengthen or weaken the various counties’ prospects in the All-Ireland championship?

Eugene McGee:This depends on the quarter-final draws, but the chances are it will not help their All-Ireland chances now that there is no outstanding team in the province like we had with Tyrone and Armagh some years ago.

Eoin Liston: You definitely learn from tough matches. But the biggest problem for the Ulster teams will be adjusting to the space of Croke Park. A lot of games in Ulster are dogfights and really tight. But Croke Park is a massive step up.

Tomas O Se: Well that hasn't been the case since Down won it in '91. Armagh, Tyrone, Donegal and Down themselves have all won it again since. But I think it does make for a very long year of tough, tough matches. Winning an All-Ireland for an Ulster team must be really special because of the journey they have to go through.

Colm Keys: Arguably the most competitive provincial championship for some time. Tyrone or Down will have to win four really tough games just to get to an All-Ireland quarter-final. Dublin and Mayo don't have such barriers. The attrition on one side of the draw could be high, with a price to be paid.

Donnchadh Boyle: Weaken. Tyrone and Down will have to win three tough championship games to reach an Ulster final while there's a good chance both Cork and Kerry will have to win just one game against Division 4 opponents to reach the same stage. The energy the Ulster champions will have expended will surely damage their drive from August onwards.


Which manager is under the most pressure going into the championship and which is under the least?

Vincent Hogan: I suppose Anthony Cunningham is under most pressure, though Eamon O'Shea can't be far behind. The man under least pressure is probably Brian Cody given he has absolutely nothing to prove.

Cliona Foley: Anthony Cunningham is under the most. Even allowing for injuries and the players’ own responsibility, Galway just haven’t kicked on and the debate over Joe Canning’s best position continues to rage. Brian Cody is under the least. After everything he has done for Kilkenny hurling, his reputation is utterly unimpeachable.

Cyril Farrell: Eamon O'Shea knows that unless Tipperary make real progress in the championship, the criticism will fly. That's how things are in a county that expects to win All-Irelands. Least pressure? Brian Cody. How could anyone criticise him after all he's done?

John Mullane: It's been a tough couple of weeks for Waterford manager Derek McGrath, on and off the field. But he'll be hoping that his team can produce a good performance against Cork on May 25, to kick-start the summer. Davy Fitz is under the least amount of pressure, having won last year's All-Ireland.

Martin Breheny: Anthony Cunningham is facing make-or-break season with a Galway after losing altitude at an alarming rate last year. As for least pressure, it has to be Davy Fitzgerald, who is in big bonus territory.

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