It may only be February, but the significance of 2019 on the Gaelic footballing landscape should not be lost on GAA fans.
Jim Gavin’s Dublin side are gunning for a history-making five-in-a-row and it would take a fool to confidently back against them lifting Sam Maguire once again.
The Dubs have won six of the last eight All-Ireland titles with each of the first five coming by way of a single score victory in the final (Four by one point, one by a goal). However last year’s decider against Tyrone saw Dublin romp home with six points to spare. It was a margin that flattered Mickey Harte’s side as the game was put to bed by half-time.
Given their dominance, the expectations on Dublin to complete the “drive for five” are at an all-time high. Very few can see past them making history and putting to bed the debate as to who the greatest team of all time is.
However, two old adversaries have strung together some early season magic on the field and have people believing that maybe, just maybe Dublin can be stopped in their tracks in 2019.
Kerry & Keane – A Match Made In Heaven
Before the season got underway, Kerry were being touted as the only team capable of stopping Dublin. Having won the last five minor All-Ireland’s it was expected that a crowd of young stars would eventually come on to the scene to rival the Dublin juggernaut.
Despite the optimism, doubts had been cast over Peter Keane’s appointment given that he was relatively unknown outside of Kerry GAA circles despite being instrumental in some of those All-Ireland minor winning sides.
Two weeks into Keane’s reign and it would seem that this Kerry side will take some beating this season. Last week they expertly dispatched of Tyrone in tough conditions.
This win was all the more impressive given that Mickey Harte’s side visited Fitzgerald Stadium off the back of winning another Dr McKenna Cup a week prior.
An opening day home win was followed up with a Sean O’Shea masterclass in Cavan yesterday as Kerry claimed victory over another Ulster side. O’Shea’s breakout year was overshadowed by the phenom that is David Clifford, and some thought his accuracy from placed balls was what got him in the team. However, that could not be further from the truth as O’Shea has shown he can play ball. His playmaking attributes and ability to distribute clean, accurate ball into Geaney, Clifford and O’Donoghue will be key for the Kingdom in 2019.
Their half-back line has a great mix of youth, experience, attacking prowess and defensive guile. Paul Murphy at six looks confident in a more central role, the Rathmore man has quietly transitioned into a senior player and will be a huge asset at the back. Flanked by Tadhg Morley and Tom O’Sullivan, two hard-working defensive cogs, dogged at the back, teams will inevitably struggle when met with Kerry bodies on the 45-metre line. O’Sullivan may well find himself in the full-back line once Gavin White return, although, White’s attacking presence compliments the defensive abilities of Murphy and Morley beautifully.
Dublin visit the Kingdom this Saturday evening for the biggest game of the season thus far. If they can get one over on the All-Ireland champions in Tralee, it would be huge psychologically.
Mayo & Horan – Old Dogs Performing & Young Pups Thriving
James Horan’s return to the Mayo set-up has had pulses racing as the Yew County put both Roscommon and Tyrone to the sword in the opening two rounds of this year’s Allianz Football League.
Whilst last week’s Castlebar encounter was overshadowed by the terrible conditions and some of the unsavoury scenes, yesterday’s win in Omagh highlighted all that is good about Mayo football.
Their perceived ‘old guard’ were all on song in Healy Park as Mayo romped to a nine-point victory over Mickey Harte’s men. Multiple all-star winning corner back Keith Higgins popped up in the full forward line to score a wonderful goal that went through the hands of Lee Keegan, Diarmuid O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea & Andy Moran before the Ballyhaunis man fired passed Niall Morgan.
The real stars of the show, however, have been the ‘young pups’ who have injected some much-needed youth into the team. Fionn McDonagh & Ciaran Treacy put on a masterclass at wing forward yesterday which we highlighted in our weekly analysis piece The Deep Dive, whilst Brian Reape is proving a huge threat in the full forward line.
Horan’s return has seen a change in tact for Aidan O’Shea who drifted between midfield and full forward against Tyrone in a move that they will look to utilise throughout the league given the offensive mark. For so long Mayo have struggled to get the best out of O’Shea who is viewed as too valuable to waste in full forward, but not dominating enough out the field.
Andy Moran looked like his evergreen self in the full forward line yesterday and it will be interesting to see how he can bounce back in 2019.
All in all, things are looking up for both Kerry & Mayo, as well as GAA fans across the country who before last weekend would not have been blamed for thinking that the 2019 race for ‘Sam’ was a foregone conclusion.
Of course, it’s important not to get ahead of ourselves, it is only February, and the league hasn’t even taken shape yet, but given the flak that Gaelic football has come in for, coupled with the wonderful spell hurling is having, you can’t blame us for getting ever-so-slightly carried away.