As the Summer Championship fever approaches, Brian Carty predicts the movers and shakers in the quest for Sam Maguire glory.
As the days lengthen and the summer fast approaches, so too does the All Ireland football championship lie just over the horizon. And while consistent league form does not always translate into good championship form, it is hard not to look past the teams who appear to be coping well with the experimental rule-changes and who are showing glimpses of form as the business end of the year draws ever nearer.
Nonetheless, in the year of the GAA’s 125th anniversary, the destiny of the 2009 football championship is as hard to predict as ever.
Provincially speaking, the Ulster championship remains the most difficult in which to choose a victor, with each team capable of beating the other, given the topsy-turvy form shown in the league. Armagh have performed solidly all season in Division 2 and have amassed an impressive tally of scores, while Monaghan have proven to be their usual resilient, hard-working selves.
Fermanagh supporters may well be disappointed with their team’s league performances this year, but as history has shown, have become quite the expert of the qualifiers in recent years.
Reigning All Ireland champions Tyrone have had a somewhat mediocre league campaign, including an eyeopening defeat to the hands of Kerry but are no doubt geared more towards the summer, and will have Dooher, Cavanagh and O’Neill in flying form come their championship opener.
“In the year of the GAA’s 125th anniversary, the destiny of the 2009 football championship is as hard to predict as ever”
Derry have shown good glimpses of form but would hope not to have a repeat of last year where they won the league only to have an early championship exit, while Down and Antrim have been on fire in the lower echelons of Division 3 and Division 4 respectively. However, given Armagh’s pedigree in the Ulster championship and their almost annual appearance in the provincial decider, they look set to repeat last year’s exploits in becoming Ulster champions.
Leinster too is somewhat of a lottery in terms of who will contest the final, although it is hard to argue that the Dubs are the team to beat. Last year’s beaten finalists Wexford have lost seven consecutive competitive games since their famous victory over Armagh in the quarter-finals last summer and appear destined for a run in the qualifiers as opposed to a chance of redemption in the Leinster final.
Westmeath got relegated from Division One, and like Wexford, found a victory hard to come by, they have arguably the meanest defence in the game, and teams will find their blanket defence hard to break down. Meath and Laois have shown almost identical form in Division 2, and appear to have improved this year, with Meath no doubt relishing to take on Dublin in Croke Park in what is sure to be a fiery encounter.
However, Kildare appear to be the team best equipped to de-throne Dublin’s recent dominance. They have shown great resilience and determination throughout the league and their physical approach under McGeeney is akin to the great Armagh team that he captained to glory back in 2002.
Nonetheless, despite using the league to try out new players, to varying results, Pat Gilroy’s Dublin are tipped to yet again retain their Leinster crown despite the Lilywhite’s best efforts.
Unfortunately both Munster and Connacht will continue to be the two-horse races they have come to be, with both a resurgent Kerry and a revitalised Galway tipped to pip their arch-rivals Cork and Mayo to the winning post.
As with every championship the Qualifiers will no doubt throw up its usual surprise package, with Donegal tipped to make some strides through the quagmire, while the likes of Monaghan and Fermanagh will no doubt be formidable opponents, especially if given a home draw. But who will be awarded the Sam Maguire trophy come the fourth Sunday of September?
While Galway may prove the darkhorses for All Ireland glory and Dublin will no doubt have a Hill-16-influenced charge to the latter stages of the season, a repeat of last year’s final pairing of Kerry and Tyrone could be on the cards.
Tyrone will come good at the right time of the season and will have aweinspiring forwards like Sean Cavanagh and Stephen O’Neill to call on.
However, Kerry are more determined then ever to end their Red Hand championship hoodoo, and under Jack O’Connor have only ever lost one championship match, that being the 2005 decider. Add the return of Tadgh Kennelly from Down Under, and the continued improvement of the likes of Tommy Walsh, Killian Young and David Moran, and the Kingdom remain favourites to take what means more to them then anything else – the All Ireland.