All Ireland Senior Football Championship preview
The All Ireland Senior Football Championship gets underway in earnest on Sunday in Balybofey when an ever improving Donegal side host Antrim.
This early match might be a preview of one of the stronger Ulster sides as Donegal have a chance to do something they have not done for quite some time and claim an Ulster title.
Dublin at 9/2 have flattered to deceive in the past, and despite a highly encouraging league campaign the Dubs have shown one or two flaws. Their results on paper look impressive, but on closer inspection their ability to kill off teams has been quite evident. They seemed to have put up an unassailable lead against Mayo, going 13 points clear, in the group stages before being pegged back. They did manage to see out the game but again in the league final they went eight points clear of Cork only to lose. Pat Gilroy's men may wobble once they get out of Leinster, but there is an air of expectation surrounding the county and they are bound to deliver soon.
Cork are undoubtedly the favourites for Sam, at 5/2 the Rebels have justified their tag with an impressive League campaign underlined by the come from behind win against Dublin. The defending champions have strength in depth and will be boosted by the return of the talismanic Graham Canty and Anthony Lynch. There was a bit of a shock at the omission of certain Cork players from the GAA All Stars awards at the end of the season and they will certainly have something to prove this time around.
The Rebels main threat will come from the Kingdom. Kerry are second favourites for the title they possessed in 2009 beating Cork in the final. The Kingdom were humbled in Croke Park in the quarter-final last year by eventual All Ireland finalists Down in a defeat which saw the county show it's age as many of the team have been going for the best part of a decade. However to write off the Kingdom at any stage is always a mistake, they are a County that pride themselves on success, Provincial titles don't mean as much as the All Ireland and they are a team that can peak come September.
Meath may be the reigning Leinster champions, but a torrid league campaign saw them almost be relegated to Division 3. They are also under new management in the form of former Monaghan steward Seamus McEnaney. He has flooded the squad with a host of new players and has opted for a tall team also. Meath have always been a big and physical side, players like Graham Geraghty, Trevor Giles and Colm O'Rourke emphasising this throughout the years. They are 25/1 to claim their first All Ireland title since 1999.
Tyrone will almost always be one of the fancied Ulster sides, the Red Hand County are 8/1 to replicate their 2008 Championship winning form. They were quite impressive in provincial action last year, but the defeat to Dublin was a huge blow for the county. Brian Dooher looks like he will never retire and the attacker will no doubt be a staple of Mickey Harte's side this year.
Donegal are 33/1 outsiders to make the Croke Park final and lift Sam in September, but the last time the Tír Conaill Men tasted Ulster success they went on to All Ireland glory. They exited the Championship fairly rapidly last year, being beaten by Down and then Armagh, but Jim McGuinness has developed a real dynamic inside forward line. They are well worth an outside bet for the title and to claim what would be their sixth Ulster crown.
Connacht hasn't produced a winner since Galway in 2001 and based on league form this trend will continue. Mayo are a county crying out for an All Ireland win, they have suffered the most heartbreak of all the 32 counties. They are 25/1 to claim their first title in 60 years and they are a team currently undergoing a period of transition. James Horan has scoured the County for new talent and has unearthed a few rough diamonds. With some leadership and discipline they could be there or thereabouts in the latter part of the year.
It's hard to look past the Munster teams for All Ireland glory, Cork and Kerry only really rate each other as threats, but I feel that the Kingdom has a lot to prove and with an ever ageing side this could be their last hurrah.