By Darren Casserly
A new year means a new season of football to look forward to and, with that, many new questions to ponder. This year looks like it is the beginning of a new era in football – the post-Gavin era. Jim Gavin and his Dublin team dominated the previous decade, becoming the most decorated side in GAA history, winning 5 All-Irelands in a row.
The National Football League (NFL) will be an interesting watch if only to see how new rules the GAA congress introduced will affect the game, and if the first round is any indication, it’s mixed at best. The new mark is the biggest talking point of these new rules, with a Michael Murphy mark against Mayo immediately coming to mind. What was a glorified 20-yard pass into chest gave Murphy what basically was an easy free.
Other things to note about the opening round of fixtures is that Dublin and Kerry seem to be neck and neck not just for the NFL title, but also the Sam Maguire. They put on yet another riveting display in Croke Park that really showed us what we have been missing these past few months, with Kerry’s new young captain David Clifford’s goal being a particular highlight.
Other teams to look out for this campaign are Padraig Joyce’s Galway side, which includes NUI Galway’s Sigerson Cup star Robert Finnerty and they look set to be strengthened by the return of Paul Conroy and Damien Comer. The league campaign could really dictate how Galway’s year will go, so it will be important for new man Joyce and his team to hit the ground running, and they seem to have started well with an opening round victory over a rejuvenated Monaghan side.
Elsewhere, the ever-present Mayo look as dangerous as ever, with new young, exciting prospects like James Carr and NUI Galway’s Tommy Conroy looking impressive against Donegal.
The Michael Murphy–led Donegal are, for the first time in a long time, the new boys in Division One with nothing to prove, and they will want to try and re-establish themselves in the league as soon as possible. In the opening round of fixtures, they drew at home to the aforementioned strong Mayo side, with Michael Murphy yet again instrumental to Donegal play, along with his tally of 8 points. It’s clear that their season lives and dies with the feet of Murphy.
Back to the ‘old boys club’, with Mickey Harte’s Tyrone side, who will look to be contenders again this year. They’ll be boosted by the return of star man Cathal McShane, who turned down a chance to go down under to return to the red hands this season.
Finally, we get to what looks to be the whipping boys of the league in the new boys Meath, who disappointingly fell to Tyrone in the opening round. However, scoring 1-09 against a staunch Tyrone defence is nothing to scoff at and will give them belief going into the next rounds.
The title challengers look to be the ever-present Kerry and Dublin sides. However, I would not dismiss Galway, who could be a dark horse in the league and have accumulated more points than Dublin over the last two years.
In Division 2, it looks like Jack O’Conner’s Kildare seem to be a smart bet to top the table, while Cork could be a sleeping giant in Division 3 after matching Dublin in the championship for 50 minutes last year and showing to be a class above in the opening round against Offaly. Carlow are also are hard to look past in Division 4.