It is that time of year again – when GAA fans from every corner of the land have started the countdown to the 2013 Championship.
This year’s football championship looks set to be the most open for years. Here is a look at the main contenders and some dark horses to lift the Sam Maguire Cup in September.
The Dubs have obliterated all that was put in front of them in this year’s league campaign – their sole loss coming at the hands of Tyrone in the round robin matches. Whether or not they go on to win the league final, it won’t make much difference to the Dubs’ summer.
Jim Gavin’s management and the addition of several new players during the league campaign have given this squad a new lease of life. The likes of Paul Mannion and DCU’s Johnny Cooper have been imperious this year, and if Gavin can find his best fifteen, this Dublin team will take some stopping.
Donegal are a wounded animal. They may have been relegated from Division 1 of the league, but don’t let that fool you. Jimmy’s boys will be a completely different prospect come the Championship. If they can overcome Tyrone in the Ulster quarter-finals, they should be strong favourites to win the province and go on to reach an All-Ireland quarter-final. If fortunate enough to avoid Kerry and Cork in the last eight, they are a shoo-in for the semi-final.
This is the first time in four years that Cork won’t be going into the summer as league champions. After a dismal league campaign, it is hard to know where the rebels are at right now and whether or not they are serious contenders.
The loss of Colm O’Neill will hamper Cork’s scoring options but they still have some great forwards at their disposal. If the likes of Patrick Kelly, Ciarán Sheehan and Daniel Goulding have fully recovered from injury, then Cork are in with a shout.
DCU’s Aidan Walsh will have a big role to play in the Championship and it will be interesting to see whether Graham Canty or Alan O’Connor partner him in the Cork midfield.
If anybody thinks that Kerry are finished, they have another thing coming. The Kingdom resurrected their league campaign by winning their last three games and retaining their Division 1 status against the odds.
Their best players are reaching the winters of their careers but there’s still life in the old dog yet. At this stage, the chances of Sam being paraded around Killarney in September are slim, but any team that can call on the likes of ‘Gooch’, Ciarán Donaghy and Declan O’Sullivan has a fighting chance.
Tyrone, Mayo and Kildare make up the best of the rest. A lot of hype has surrounded this current Tyrone team after an impressive showing in the league. However, they probably need another year or two before they can seriously challenge again.
Kildare are going into the Championship off the back of three straight defeats. They spend too much time in the gym and not enough time kicking balls on the field. The ‘Lilywhites’ are in the tough half of the Leinster draw, along with Dublin, and are unlikely to make a big impact on this year’s Championship.
Mayo, as always, have a chance. A lot depends on where they are mentally after yet another defeat in a September final. Aidan O’Shea is a colossus in midfield. If he can stay fit, and with the likely return of Andy Moran, then Mayo will be the strongest of the dark horses.
Kilkenny, Tipperary and Galway are the only teams that have a chance of lifting the Liam McCarthy this year.
For hurling fans, there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel as far as Kilkenny’s dominance wilting in any way. They have thirty odd players who would make it onto any other panel in the country and will be very hard to stop going for their three-in-a-row.
Galway need an All-Ireland and they need one fast. After so many years of heartbreak on the senior stage, everybody thought last year would be their year. They certainly have the talent to do it this time out, but there is a sense that they missed their big chance. Tipperary are more likely candidates.
Speaking of Tipp, it would be in no way surprising if Eamonn O’Shea’s men do the business this year. He seems to have instilled a new belief in his players – and with Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett back on form, they could go the distance this year.
Image Credit: Brian Lawless