By Shaun Casey
AFTER this year’s dramatic Ulster final that was ultimately decided via a penalty shootout, and won by Derry, Paul Flynn caught the headlines for his views on the best team in Ulster.
Derry had just edged out Armagh to complete back-to-back titles for only the second time in their history and their first since the mid-70s. But Tyrone was the team on Flynn’s lips.
The former Dublin footballer, who picked up six All-Ireland titles during his glittering inter-county career, stated that Tyrone were the best placed team in the northern province to give the Sam Maguire a real rattle.
Seamie O’Shea doesn’t see it that way. The former Mayo midfielder, who endured many battles with Flynn’s Dublin on the biggest of days, finds it impossible to split the top three teams in Ulster, namely Derry, Armagh and Tyrone.
The Red Hands got their All-Ireland campaign off to a poor start, losing to Galway away from home, while Armagh host Westmeath this weekend, with Derry taking on Monaghan.
Tyrone have “the most pedigree” says O’Shea, having recently held the Sam Maguire back in 2021, but the Breaffy clubman believes Derry are the team to keep an eye on.
“I guess they’ve got the most pedigree or at least the most recent pedigree but they probably haven’t shown a huge amount since and that’s to be expected. Sometimes there’s a bit of a lull after winning an All-Ireland,” said O’Shea.
“Derry look pretty good at the moment. They’re getting into a habit of winning and obviously winning again in Ulster I’m sure will give them a little more confidence.
“I’m not sure there’s a massive gap between any of the teams, not just in Ulster but generally. In particularly Derry, Tyrone and Armagh, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of those teams beat each other.
“Certainly, the further Tyrone get I’m sure they’ll draw confidence from the fact that they’ve been here before and they’ve done it, they’ve won it so maybe that gives them a little bit of an edge.
“And I guess until you’ve done it you probably don’t have that confidence, but Derry probably look the most capable at the moment. I don’t think there’s a massive gap between any of those top three in Ulster anyway.”
In terms of All-Ireland success, O’Shea agrees with the bookmarkers. Dublin and Kerry, despite losing to Mayo last weekend, are at the top of the pile with Mayo and Galway leading the chasing pack, but O’Shea believes that any one of seven or eight teams could be crowned All-Ireland champions by the close of 2023.
“I think you could maybe throw a blanket over a lot of those teams,” said O’Shea in reference to the favourites for the All-Ireland. “Kerry and Dublin are probably favourites and with Kerry because they have (David) Clifford, it’s a bit of a differentiator.
“So even if they’re close to some of those teams, he’s the difference maker and that’s probably what sets them apart. Dublin were unlucky not to beat them last year and I think they look pretty good this year.
“They’ve obviously got a couple of guys back and it’s hard to know where Mayo are given that they’ve been on a bit of a break. Galway look good, I think they’ve improved, and they’ve obviously added a few guys as well from last year, so they look really good.
“I think Derry and Tyrone are right there as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if either of those teams were to make a bit of a run, in particular Derry. They’ve been successful now for the last couple of years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of those top six or seven teams win an All-Ireland.”
In terms of Kieran McGeeney’s Orchard County, their failure to deliver on the big days poses its own problems. The Ulster final was the latest of a number of games where Armagh were in a position to win a big game but faltered when the opportunity presented itself.
“The only thing with Armagh is that, I think that Armagh are really good and they have a lot of good footballers but throughout the league they’ve been in positions to win games and they haven’t really close them out.
“Again, in the Ulster final, they were right there, they were in a dominant position with a couple of minutes to go and they weren’t able to close it out.
“The more often that happens, the more it kind of creeps in a little bit.
“Even though they’re more than capable of it, they’re going to need to get over the hump in some of these big games because they’re more than capable of it, they have a lot of talent and they’re well able to compete with those top teams.”