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winners and losers Pat Spillane's GAA end of season grades throw up plenty of talking points

Being a teacher in an era when students had to earn their grades, I’m an exacting taskmaster – be warned

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Tyrone captain Pádraig Hampsey lifts the Sam Maguire Cup. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Tyrone captain Pádraig Hampsey lifts the Sam Maguire Cup. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Tyrone captain Pádraig Hampsey lifts the Sam Maguire Cup. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

I have been preoccupied in recent weeks.

What with the Kerry managerial saga, Special Congress, club championships – not to mind my appearance on Living with Lucy – I overlooked doing a final wrap on the 2021 football season.

So, here it goes. Being a teacher in an era when students had to earn their grades, I’m an exacting taskmaster – be warned.

PASS WITH HONOURS

TYRONE

Blindingly obvious but the way they turned around their season after enduring a 16-point drubbing from Kerry in the Division 1 League semi-final was breathtaking. And they also coped with an outbreak of Covid-19 in the squad.

They tick all the boxes in terms of athleticism, skill and pace and are blessed with impact substitutes. Managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher deserve huge credit for the way they altered Tyrone’s style of play in such a short time frame.

Unquestionably, they had the rub of the green – they fell over the line against Monaghan and Kerry and were fortunate that Michael Murphy was dismissed so early in their championship match against Donegal. One wonders how they will cope as defending champions – they need causes and not being tagged as favourites.

MAYO

One has to admire their warrior-like qualities. They secured promotion back to Division 1 and ended Dublin’s six-year reign as All-Ireland champions. Their wanabees – like Tommy Conroy, Ryan O’Donoghue and Oisín Mullen – are bound to improve. The way they flopped in the All-Ireland final suggests they overachieved in 2021.

KERRY

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28 August 2021; Seán O'Shea of Kerry during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Kerry and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

28 August 2021; Seán O'Shea of Kerry during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Kerry and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

28 August 2021; Seán O'Shea of Kerry during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Kerry and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It would be churlish to write off their season – after all, they shared the Division 1 League title with Dublin, won the Munster title by a landslide and would probably have beaten Tyrone but for the injury to David Clifford. But we have exacting standards in Kerry – hence the arrival of a new manager.

ARMAGH

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It was mostly positive from Armagh, even if they failed to win any silverware. They secured their Division 1 status and the O’Neill brothers, Rian and Oisín, would walk on to any county side. From number 8 to 15 they are on par with the top teams, but their defence remains a work in progress. Kieran Donaghy’s involvement in the team management has been a big positive.

MONAGHAN

I’m sure they are tired of being patronised. But they remain a formidable side, despite having a population of just over 60,000. They produced a heroic performance late on against Galway to stay in the top flight, and could have beaten Tyrone in the Ulster final. But Conor

McManus is in the autumn of his career.

Overall, their attack lacks consistency, though the recruitment of defensive coach Donie Buckley was a shrewd move.

DERRY

Very unlucky not to have beaten Donegal in the

Ulster championship, having earlier secured the Division 3 league title. Have benefited enormously from the new split season – which means their players are not distracted by club duties – and Rory Gallagher’s decision to adopt a more positive style of football.

KILDARE

Secured promotion back to Division 1, they tightened up defensively and they possess an abundance of forward talent. However, they didn’t show enough ambition against Dublin in the Leinster final. It will be interesting to see how the new management team led by Glen Ryan fits in.

DUBLIN

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Dessie Farrell

Dessie Farrell

Dessie Farrell

It would be too easy to say they had a poor season. Remember they shared the Division 1 league title and won their 10th Leinster title on the spin. Looked a tired team in extra time against Mayo. It was bound to happen sometime.

Dessie Farrell has a couple of big decisions to make. He needs to recruit new defenders and have difficult conversions with some of his elder statesmen. But don’t write them off yet – particularly if Paul Mannion returns.

PASS

DONEGAL

Granted they regained their Division 1 status and were unfortunate to lose Michael Murphy so early against Tyrone, but they look a spent force. Lack of pace in defence is a key concern and they seem destined for a steep decline once Murphy hangs up his boots.

CLARE

Colm Collins continues to do a remarkable job helping Clare to continue to punch above their weight. They retained their Division 2 status, but were exposed by Kerry in the wide expanses of Fitzgerald Stadium when they clashed in the championship. Still, the second-best team in Munster.

WESTMEATH

Though they were relegated to Division 3 and won just one of their six matches I still believe they are a decent side – but didn’t get a break all year.

For example, they kept a clean sheet in their three regulation matches in the league and lost two of them by a point. Should also have beaten Cork (relegation play-off) and Kildare (Leinster semi-final)

LOUTH

It was a case of mission accomplished for Louth as in his first season in charge Mickey Harte guided them to promotion from Division 4. Their Achilles heel is Harte’s preference for a defensive orientated, counter-attacking style of football which doesn’t utilise the strength of their best player Sam Mulroy.

ANTRIM

A sleeping giant, they achieved their primary objective in securing promotion from Division 4. However, their subsequent 13-point championship loss to Armagh, when they conceded four goals, illustrated how much ground they have to make up.

WEXFORD

Had the dubious honour of winning the Division 4 Shield. But they knocked Wicklow out of the Leinster Championship and fashioned a solid performance at home to Dublin in the quarter-finals. Manager Shane Roche can be happy with the progress made in his first full season.

OFFALY

Ticked two key boxes by securing promotion to Division 2 and winning a Leinster championship match. There is a feel-good factor in the county now after the success of their U-20 team and the involvement of both Shane Lowry and Tomás Ó Sé. Need to be mindful that there is a world of difference between U-20 level and senior.

MEATH

A curate’s egg sort of a year. They failed to secure a quick return to Division 2 but produced spirited second-half performances against Kildare in the Division 2 semi-final and, more notably, against Dublin in the Leinster semi-final. Lack of consistency and the absence of a discernible system of play continues to plague them.

DOWN

A scrappy pass due primarily to the fact that they survived in Division 2. They were woeful in the championship, enduring a 16-point drubbing from Donegal and are currently without a manager after the departure of Paddy Tally.

WICKLOW

They lost four of their five games in 2021 and their manager Davy Burke also departed. But their victory over Cavan, which secured them Division 3 status for another season, gets them a bare pass.

LONGFORD

The big positive was keeping their place in Division 3, thanks to an excellent win over the 2020 Munster champions Tipperary. They beat Carlow in the Leinster Championship before enduring a walloping from Meath. Team manager Padraic Davis departed and they are still looking for a successor.

FERMANAGH

Endured a 19-point loss to Derry in the league but still reached the Division 3 promotion play-off, where they lost to Offaly. No match for Monaghan in the championship, they now have a new locally based manager Kieran Donnelly.

CARLOW

Giving Carlow a pass suggests I’m going a bit soft in my old age. They made little progress but deserve some credit for beating Waterford and Wexford.

FAIL

GALWAY

Their two competitive wins this year were achieved against neighbours Roscommon, who failed to win a game. Collapses against Mayo in the Connacht final and against Monaghan in the Division 1 relegation play-off were inexcusable. The appointment of Cian O’Neill as their new coach will hardly have their fans rejoicing, given that his last involvement was with Cork who endured a record 22-point loss to Kerry in the Munster final.

ROSCOMMON

Played five, lost five – their average losing margin in the league was seven points and they were far too negative against Galway in the championship. Definitely a year to forget.

CORK

Given their size and resources they should not be down here near the basement. But their results don’t lie. Apart from a record 22-point mauling from Kerry in the Munster final they had to win a play-off to stay in Division 2. New manager Keith Ricken did well at U-20 level but dealing with senior players will be a lot more challenging.

SLIGO

The managed one win from five starts and their mismatch against Mayo in the championship, when they lost by 20 points, had the hallmarks of a contest between an U-17 side and a senior team.

LEITRIM

Fared even worse than Sligo, losing their four games by margins of seven, nine, one, and 24 points. The last result was against Mayo in the championship, when frankly they looked disinterested. All is not lost, though – appointing Andy Moran as their new manager was a smart move.

I’m not trying to patronise Leitrim, but I watched three club games on TV last weekend: Nemo Rangers v Douglas (Cork), Austin Stacks v Kenmare (Kerry) and Ballinamore v Mohill. By far the pick of the trio was the Leitrim final.

LAOIS

Relegated to Division 3 after losing their four league ties by an average of more than eight points. Worse still, Westmeath – who also dropped out of Division 2 – beat them by 16 points in the Leinster Championship. I watched them a couple of times and they lacked pace and energy and morale seemed to be rock bottom. New manager Billy Sheehan has his work cut out to turn them around.

WATERFORD

Managed one win – against Wexford in the league. But the decision of Shane Ronayne to walk away after just one season to take up what he described as his dream job of managing the Cork women’s team is hardly a ringing endorsement for Waterford footballers.

TIPPERARY

After a dream-like year in 2020 this was an annus horribilis season for Tipperary. They won one match in the league before losing to Longford in a Division 3 relegation play-off and endured an 11-point drubbing from Kerry in the Munster quarter-final in a game in which they showed zero ambition despite being defending champions.

CAVAN

The 2020 Ulster champions suffered a similar fate to Tipperary. Their calamitous loss to Wicklow in the Division 3 relegation play-off means they have now suffered three relegations in as many seasons and will play in Division 4 next year. Though their championship loss to Tyrone wasn’t a surprise, their lack of any fighting spirit was.

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