The status quo in Gaelic football was completely overturned in 2021, as Dublin’s six-year-long reign as All-Ireland champions was brought to an end by Mayo.
Many had assumed that Kerry would then get their hands on Sam Maguire for the first time since 2014, but the red hot favourites came undone at the hands of Tyrone, who subsequently piled more misery on Mayo in an All-Ireland final.
There were a number of pundits who predicted that Dublin’s time as champions would end, although most assumed that Kerry would be the ones to defeat their old rivals, but they ultimately failed to even reach the final.
As a result, next year’s championship is looking the most open it has in a long time, although Dublin and Kerry will be confident that they can restore themselves as the top dogs in Gaelic football.
The #GAA today announced its inter-county Master Fixtures list for 2022. The new split-season approach means that the average inter-county season length for each county has been reduced from 35 weeks to 26 weeks. #GAABelong
— The GAA (@officialgaa) December 21, 2021
Dublin will hope to overcome the loss of several senior players.
Although there are still plenty of players on the Dublin senior panel with numerous All-Ireland winners medals in their collection, there is no denying that they have lost plenty of key personnel.
Dublin looked short of leadership as they collapsed in the second half against a fervent Mayo effort, and they will need to identify a number of new cool heads that will help steer the side out of trouble next year.
The Dublin exodus has continued, as experienced duo Kevin McManamon and Philly McMahon both recently announced their retirements from the inter-county game, while it is unclear whether Stephen Cluxton or Paul Mannion will return next year.
Although Dublin will certainly still be in with a very good chance of reclaiming the title of All-Ireland champions next year, there is no doubt that they are a lesser force than they were a couple of years ago under Jim Gavin’s stewardship.
Can Tyrone retain their All-Ireland crown?
Tyrone were well deserving of their unlikely All-Ireland triumph this year, as they came through by far the toughest fixture list of any of the four semi-finalists to lift the Sam Maguire for the fourth time in the county’s history.
The O’Neill County overcame challenges from Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan, Kerry and Mayo on the way to All-Ireland glory and they also had to deal with significant Covid-related challenges which saw their meeting with the Kingdom postponed.
Although Tyrone proved they can win big games back-to-back in the championship this year, winning back-to-back All-Ireland titles should proved to be an even greater challenge, as every team will be extra eager to dethrone them.
Joint-managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher revolutionised Tyrone’s style of play in their first year in charge, and they will be a force to be reckoned with again in 2022, although another championship-winning year will likely prove to be a step too far.
Will Jack O’Connor return Kerry to the promised land?
Many had tipped Kerry as favourites to win the All-Ireland this year even before holders Dublin had been knocked out, but once again, the Kingdom failed to capitalise on their potential as they suffered defeat to Tyrone in extra time.
Kerry looked too reliant on David and Paudie Clifford, as well as Sean O’Shea, and will need to share the scoring responsibility more equally among their team if they want to win the Sam Maguire.
Jack O’Connor will hope to inspire his young team when he returns to the Kerry manager role this year, although Peter Keane’s public statement does suggest that the players felt that a change in manager was not necessary.
The Kingdom have all the tools necessary to win the All-Ireland, but they have made underperforming in big games a habit as of late, and need to improve on their leaky defence.
Mayo must go to the well once again.
Although the year ended in another crushing loss for Mayo, the westerners can take plenty of positives from their stunning comeback win against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final.
However, Mayo were expected to beat Tyrone in the final, and ultimately came up well short as the Ulster champions claimed a five-point win to lift the Sam Maguire for the first time since 2008.
2021 may well prove to be the one that got away for Mayo, as with Dublin finally out of their way, the most unlucky side in Gaelic football were still unable to end their 70-year-long wait for All-Ireland glory.
Mayo will likely be there at the business end of the season, but with Dublin and Kerry eager to improve on a disappointing 2021, and with Oisín Mullin departing for Australia, it looks unlikely that the Sam Maguire will be heading west next summer.
Several Ulster counties will have a point to prove.
There will be a number of counties in Ulster who will be looking to improve on their performances in this year’s championship, and the return of the All-Ireland qualifiers will certainly help them in their goal.
Donegal, Monaghan and Armagh will all compete in Division One of the Allianz League next year again, and each will expect to at least reach the quarter-finals of this year’s championship, having proven in recent years they are some of the best teams in the country.
Derry will also have high expectations of themselves, as they look to build on a promising 2021, as they stormed to winning Division Three of the Allianz League and almost beat Donegal in the Ulster Championship quarter-final.
Tyrone are of course the reigning All-Ireland champions, but each of these teams will feel like they have the ability to beat the O’Neill County on any given day, which could propel them to further success.
Galway, Roscommon, Cork, Kildare and Meath will be invigorated by return of the qualifiers.
While an All-Ireland title isn’t exactly on the cards for the likes of Galway, Roscommon, Cork, Kildare and Meath next year, they will look forward to a second chance in the championship in 2022.
Although Roscommon and Galway aren’t miles off Mayo’s level, their development has been stunted by their Connacht rivals as they have been limited to one or two championship matches a year in 2020 and 2021.
The same can be said for the likes of Kildare and Meath, who actually both looked much improved this year, but were realistically never going to beat Dublin and get the opportunity to test their abilities against opponents of a similar level.
Cork of course managed to stun Kerry in the 2020 Munster Championship, but were annihilated by their neighbours this year. It’s hard to say which result is a more fair assessment of where they are, but next year should present a much clearer picture.
The Tailteann Cup gives weaker counties something to play for.
While it may take a number of years to capture the hearts and minds of supporters, the Tailteann Cup represents a welcome change for counties who have no real hope of progressing far in the All-Ireland Championship.
The tournament, which will feature counties from Division Three and Four of the Allianz Leagues who don’t reach a provincial final, will result in far more competitive matches for plenty of counties.
One of the main issues with the championship for quite some time has been the number of one-sided encounters, and while that will still be the case in the provincial championships, at least weaker counties now have a realistic chance of recovering from beatings.
There remains question marks over how seriously each team will take the tournament, but success in the Tailteann Cup could soon be a sign of greater things to come from the county that lifts the new trophy.