After achieving the unprecedented six-in-a-row, Dublin’s dominance on the Gaelic football landscape shows no signs of slowing down.
Dessie Farrell’s charges are favourites to retain the Sam Maguire Cup once more, following a steady National League campaign.
Ahead of the championship getting under way on Saturday live on Sky Sports, we look at the main contenders looking to end Dublin’s reign.
First round: Kerry vs Clare, Munster quarter-final, Saturday June 26. Live on Sky Sports Arena.
Manager: Peter Keane (Third year in charge).
Last All-Ireland title: 2014.
Key player: David Clifford. The Fossa star has continued his remarkable rise this season, turning in some stunning individual performances. The two-time All-Star is perhaps the most lethal forward in Gaelic football right now, and the Kingdom will be hoping he can bring that form into the championship.
League form: Kerry were arguably the standout performers during the National League. They laid down early markers for the summer with dominant victories over Galway and Tyrone, while their comeback to salvage a draw with Dublin showed their battling qualities.
Talking point: Can they improve defensively? The Kingdom were torn open at the back by Dublin in Thurles last month, conceding four goals. While they boast a top-class attack, the Munster side need to shore up defensively if they are to claim the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time since 2014.
First round: Sligo vs Mayo, Connacht quarter-final, Saturday June 26. Live on Sky Sports Arena.
Manager: James Horan (Seventh year in charge, third year of second term).
Last All-Ireland title: 1951.
Key player: Paddy Durcan. The flying half-back is key to Mayo’s game-plan. The westerners like to pour forward in numbers and with pace, and the Castlebar Mitchels is a player who can punch holes in the opposition defence.
League form: Mayo affirmed what many believed ahead of the National League – that they are an out-and-out Division 1 team. Their relegation to the second tier proved little more than a temporary inconvenience, as they swatted aside Down, Westmeath, Meath and Clare to seal a swift return to Division 1.
Talking point: Do they possess enough firepower in Cillian O’Connor’s absence? The Ballintubber star’s injury is a cruel blow, and they may have to plan without their marksman for the entire summer. Is it a loss with which they can cope? They remain favourites to retain the Nestor Cup, but they would then face a step-up with Dublin likely lying in wait for the Connacht champions in the All-Ireland semi-final. As Mayo have learned in recent years, they will need everything to go right if they are to bring down the Dubs.
James Horan has brought in several young stars. But can Tommy Conroy, Ryan O’Donoghue and Co fill the void left by the championship’s all-time top-scorer?
First round: Down vs Donegal, Ulster preliminary round, Sunday June 27.
Manager: Declan Bonner (Fourth year in charge).
Last All-Ireland title: 2012.
Key player: Michael Murphy. The Glenswilly star comes into the summer off the back of a hamstring injury sustained while in action against Monaghan. Jim McGuinness has said Donegal will need Murphy firing on all cylinders if they are to compete for the Sam Maguire Cup this year.
League form: Tír Chonaill topped the Division 1 ‘North’ group, by beating Tyrone and picking up draws against Monaghan and Armagh. They reached the semi-final, where they fell to Dublin.
Talking point: Can they get back to an All-Ireland semi-final? It is difficult to fathom that a team of Donegal’s standard has not reached the penultimate stage of the championship since 2014. Under Declan Bonner, they fell in the Super 8s in both 2018 and 2019, and tripped up in last year’s Ulster final. Regaining the Anglo-Celt Cup must be considered a minimum requirement this season.
First round: Tyrone vs Cavan, Ulster quarter-final, Saturday July 10. Live on Sky Sports Arena.
Managers: Feargal Lohan and Brian Dooher (First year in charge).
Last All-Ireland title: 2008.
Key player: Ronan McNamee. Given the manner in which the National League ended, defence will be key for Tyrone. McNamee was given the unenviable task of marshalling David Clifford in Killarney, and will be their go-to defender to keep tabs on opposition danger-men throughout the summer.
League form: Mixed. The Red Hands qualified for the semi-finals with one win, one draw, and one loss in the group stage. That set them up for a showdown with Kerry, which didn’t go according to plan for the Ulster outfit. The concession of six goals leaves serious question marks.
Talking point: Can they strike the right balance? Many commentators lamented Tyrone’s lack of attacking abandon during Mickey Harte’s reign. Under the new regime, can they push forward while retaining defensive solidity? The Kerry defeat will have set off alarm bells, and may force a rethink. There are serious issues to be resolved ahead of the championship.
First round: Galway vs Roscommon, Connacht semi-final, Sunday July 4.
Manager: Pádraic Joyce (Second year in charge).
Last All-Ireland title: 2001.
League form: It started with a drubbing in Tralee, and ended in a hugely disappointing relegation against Monaghan. There were brighter sparks in between, with an admirable performance against Dublin in Tuam, as well as an impressive victory over upcoming championship opponents Roscommon.
Key player: Shane Walsh. The Kilkerrin-Clonberne star will be needed if Galway are going to click into gear during the championship. When they have everyone fit and firing, the westerners boast a capable attacking unit, and Walsh is the key man.
Talking point: Can the Tribesmen arrest the slide? Just before the lockdown in March 2020, Galway were the form side in Gaelic football, as Joyce’s arrival heralded a swashbuckling style in which they out-scored opponents. Since the restart last October, they have recorded six defeats and just one win from seven matches.
First round: Monaghan vs Fermanagh, Ulster quarter-final, Saturday July 3.
Manager: Seamus McEnaney (Eighth year in charge, second year of second term).
Last All-Ireland title: N/A.
League form: Monaghan finished bottom of the Division 1 ‘North’ group, drawing with Donegal and Tyrone. However, they regrouped for their relegation play-off, staging a late comeback to force extra-time against Galway before edging the contest by a single point.
Key player: Conor McManus. The Clontibret forward remains the Farney County’s main attacking threat. While Jack McCarron and Conor McCarthy both made significant contributions in recent weeks, McManus remains the protagonist.
Talking point: Can Monaghan deliver under the weight of expectation? Championship defeats to Cavan (2020 and 2019), Fermanagh (2018), Down (2017) and Longford (2016) suggest Monaghan have been uncomfortable with the favourites tag in recent years. This Farney outfit have been caught cold on far too many occasions.
McEnaney’s charges will quietly fancy their chances of another provincial triumph after a relatively kind draw.
Tune into Inside The Game on Sky Sports Arena at 8:30pm Wednesday for our Football Championship preview.
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