future stars Why Kerry will be crowned All-Ireland champions and look capable of building a Dublin-type dynasty
AFTER a reign lasting just 226 days, Tyrone begin the defence of the Sam Maguire Cup in Brewster Park Enniskillen against Fermanagh on Saturday week.
The decline in the significance of the provincial football series is illustrated by the fact that only seven provincial football ties will be shown live on either RTE or Sky up until the four finals on the last weekend in May.
Sky will show the Tyrone v Fermanagh game live together with the Ulster quarter-final between Monaghan and Down, the Dublin v Wexford/Offaly Leinster tie and the Munster semi-final between Cork and Kerry – presuming it goes ahead.
Meanwhile, there will be just three football ties on RTE: Mayo v Galway in Castlebar; the winners of Tyrone v Fermanagh against Derry and the Armagh/Donegal v Cavan semi-final. So, as far as armchair fans are concerned the action in football doesn’t really start until the provincial finals.
On the basis of what we witnessed in Croke Park last Sunday between the best and second-best team in Division 1 of the league the All-Ireland series is already decided.
Not alone will Kerry be crowned champions on the fourth Sunday of July, they also look capable of building the kind of dynasty that Dublin did in the last decade.
But the form line in Gaelic football is never linear.
Kerry may well dominate the All-Ireland series this decade but until they get over the finish line with this group of players we will withhold the coronation.
The biggest take-home lesson from last Sunday’s debacle is that Division 1 finals ought to be abolished. And the Division 2 final could be axed as well.
Granted it would cost the GAA probably a quarter of a million euro in lost revenue, but it is worth the price.
Mayo clearly had other things on their mind as had Galway in the Division 2 decider. Their seasons will be defined by the outcome of their Connacht semi-final clash in two weeks’ time.
Division 1 of the league is extremely competitive as seen by the fact that seven of the eight teams had something to play for in the final round of fixtures. The title should be awarded to the side that finished top of the table – forget about finals.
Likewise, in Division 2 the big prize is securing a place in the top-flight – this is far more important than winning a Division 2 title.
It was a costly afternoon for Mayo. Not alone did they suffer their most humiliating loss at Croke Park since the 2006 All-Ireland final but they also lost key midfielder Jordan Flynn. He sustained a serious ankle injury which almost certainly rules him out of the Galway game.
The mood of the Mayo fans is now as dark as it was in the aftermath of their All-Ireland final loss to Tyrone last year. The goodwill created by some spirited performances in the league disappeared in an instant.
One of the unforeseen consequences of the new condensed football championship is the impact of injuries. A relatively straightforward Grade 2 calf muscle tear could result in a player missing key games.
The strength in depth of squads could decide the outcome of the All-Ireland.
Granted Kerry is more dependent on one individual – David Clifford – than any of the other leading contenders, but arguably they have the strongest bench.
In contrast, defending champions Tyrone are seriously handicapped with seven squad players pulling out since last year’s All-Ireland win and just to add to their woes, Mattie Donnelly is injured.
The Dublin bench is populated by wannabes who are attempting to break into the first team and would not be rated as potential game changers.
Mayo did introduce a plethora of newcomers during the spring and at one stage it looked like they might be able to deploy Aidan O’Shea as an impact substitute.
However, with doubts over the fitness of so many first-choice players they may have to start some of the newcomers they had planned to keep in reserve.
And spare a thought for Armagh whose luck is really out these days.
Last season on the eve of their Ulster semi-final clash against Monaghan their first-choice goalkeeper Blaine Hughes was ruled out due to Covid-19. His replacement Shea Magill experienced a torrid afternoon as Monaghan prevailed in a classic encounter.
This time around they are facing the prospect of missing four key players - Rian O’Neill, Ciaran Macken, Aidan Nugent and Stefan Campbell - for their Ulster quarter-final clash against Donegal in Ballybofey.
The four are appealing the one-match bans imposed after a fracas erupted at the end of the league game against Donegal.
The take-home message from this row and an earlier melee between Armagh and Tyrone is that the price of becoming entangled in a needless melee is a one-match ban.
So, let the championship begin but beware it could be mid-May before there is any real excitement!
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