WITH the National Leagues coming to a close last weekend, we now have a better idea of who the movers and shakers might be in this year’s championship.
The leagues have been excellent this year again and they have teams primed and ready for their assault on the championship.
The Division One and Two finals went how I expected them to go last weekend with Dublin and Mayo coming out on top.
I also enjoyed the Division three and four finals and I was particularly impressed with Sligo and their speed of play. Sligo have dropped off from what they used to be in my time but they are clearly building something down there and some of their play was unreal to watch.
We have no down time with the championship starting this coming weekend so at this point in time here is how I rank things.
Kevin McStay’s side were the form team in the league, consistently turning in big performances.
I got to see them live a few weeks back and I have to say I was extremely impressed with their conditioning.
I also believe that leaving Aidan O’Shea at full-forward offers them that kicking outlet and with his vision, he is setting up a lot of scores for them.
With the league title in the bag, they have to get back down to earth quickly as they face a massive test this weekend. but no matter what happens, I fully expect to see them later on in the year.
Although they fell off towards the end of the league, I’ve seen enough to suggest that champions are going to be hard to beat again this year.
With the way the fixtures fall for them now in Munster, their training has probably been tapered during the National League with a view to starting their tough stuff now.
Once all of their players are at the pitch of things, they will feel confident of doing the back-to-back.
We got a bit of a mixed bag from Galway in the league with a strong finish securing their place in the final. After last year’s run, they are probably another team who are a few weeks behind everyone else in terms of where they are with their fitness levels.
Once the Likes of Comer, Walsh and Finnerty returned, they looked like a different animal so over the next few weeks they will only get better and better.
I like the addition of Peter Cooke as I think he offers them another outlet so having him back this year will be massive.
I am putting the Dubs at number four and was tempted to put them higher, but given the fact that they have been in Division Two then fourth might be the place for them at the minute.
I do believe this Dublin team are a wounded animal who are biding their time before attacking all around them. When you bring Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion and now Stephen Cluxton into a squad, for me, the whole picture changes.
These lads with bags full of All-Ireland medals are not coming back just for the sake of it.
They obviously see an opportunity here and I think the Dubs will be very hard to beat come the business end of things.
Derry just slot in ahead of Tyrone at number five. They were impressive in the league, but we also must bear in mind that they were also in Division Two. When faced with a traditional Division One team last week in Dublin, they struggled big time.
The big question for me is how Rory Gallagher now approaches the next few weeks. Does he go all in and try win another Ulster title before seeing what’s left in the tank? Or, does he let Ulster go this year and try and win the big one?
The way the system and fixtures fall this year, any team that goes hell for leather from the start of the provincials will more than likely be caught in the knockout stages by a fresher team who have timed their run. So with that in mind, big questions and decisions are in store for all the big counties hoping to win Sam at the end of the year.
CASS CALLS IT…
Sam Maguire: Galway