GAA season is back, over the next four months teams up and down the country will battle it out for early season supremacy. Not only will teams be competing against one another, but the competition also intensifies within camp, as players go head to head for championship spots.
Whilst the Allianz League represents the first competitive games of the season, the truth is that the pre-season competitions have thrown up some crackers so far, which makes one hope that 2019 might be a good year for Gaelic football.
So, with that in mind, we sat down at Pundit Arena HQ to predict our Allianz League winners and our early season flops.
Teams: Cavan, Dublin, Mayo, Tyrone, Kerry, Roscommon, Galway, Monaghan
It’s a shame that the marquee division in the Allianz Football League is also the easiest to predict as it is extremely hard to look past All-Ireland champions Dublin. Jim Gavin’s men are gunning for five-in-a-row this year and the gap only seemed to increase in 2018.
Defeat to Westmeath in the O’Byrne Cup final will give fans around the country hope, but in truth, it was arguably Dublin’s ‘C Team’ out in January. Many of their big guns will re-enter the fray and you would be mad to bet against Dublin securing their sixth league success in seven years.
As for potential challengers, James Horan’s return is sure to galvanise a Mayo side who disappointed last year, narrowly avoiding relegation before being dumped out of the championship by Kildare in the qualifiers. Kerry’s young guns may have come along a year too early for this one, whilst All-Ireland finalists Tyrone will surely feel they stand a chance having impressed en route to another Dr McKenna Cup on Saturday.
Galway and Monaghan both excelled in 2018, and both teams have claimed big scalps in the league these past few years.
Given the quality of these sides, itis hard not to predict both Cavan and Roscommon to get relegated yet again. However, both sides are coming in with a new management team, led by coaches in Mickey Graham & Anthony Cunningham respectively who have had huge success in their careers. They will be confident of staving off relegation, will they have the strength and depth to compete with the top six teams though? That remains to be seen.
Division One Round 1 fixtures
Mayo v Roscommon – Castlebar
Kerry v Tyrone – Killarney
Monaghan Dublin – Clones
Galway v Cavan – Salthill
Champions – Dublin
Relegated – Cavan & Roscommon
Team: Armagh, Cork, Donegal, Clare, Fermanagh, Kildare, Meath, Tipperary
The toughest of the four division to predict. Each of these eight teams will feel they are capable of promotion to the top tier, whilst none of them expects to be relegated.
Armagh have had an impressive January thus far with huge wins over Donegal & Monaghan before narrowly losing out to Tyrone in the McKenna Cup final. Donegal will feel that they shouldn’t have been relegated last year and will look to bounce straight back up to Division One. Despite a horrendous league campaign last year, Kildare rallied to force their way into the ‘Super 8s’ how will they cope without the influential Daniel Flynn though?
Tipperary have been knocking on the door, but they did regress slightly last year so promotion may be out of their reach, but they should have enough to secure safety. Clare will be buoyed by their McGrath cup win over Cork and should safely navigate away from the bottom two.
Despite an Ulster final appearance in 2018, Fermanagh may struggle to compete in Division Two this year after Seamus Quigley opted off the panel, it’s hard to see whether they have enough in attack to win at least three games.
Meath and Cork are unknown quantities at this stage, two counties with a rich tradition, but neither have hit the heights their supporters expect in the last number of years. Cork, in particular, seem to be in disarray and one feels there may be a new low for them in 2019.
Division Two Round 1 fixtures
Clare v Donegal – Ennis
Fermanagh v Cork – Enniskillen
Meath v Tipperary – Navan
Kildare v Armagh – Newbridge
Champions – Donegal
Promoted – Armagh
Relegated – Fermanagh & Cork
Teams: Carlow, Down, Laois, Longford, Louth, Offaly, Sligo, Westmeath
Another tough division to call. Carlow secured their first promotion in 33 years in 2018 and carried their league form into the championship where they took the scalp of Kildare in Leinster, will the rising continue?
Paddy Tally has taken over a Down side who will feel that they shouldn’t be this far down the pecking order, however, it remains to be seen whether Tally’s system will prove successful in the Mourne County.
Last year’s Division Four champions, Laois carried their league form into the championship where they qualified for a Leinster final. John Sugrue has done a tremendous job since coming on board, and they will be confident of promotion. Westmeath toppled Dublin recently in the O’Byrne Cup final – albeit an understrength Dublin – John Heslin and co. should take some momentum from the win into their league campaign.
Offaly, Sligo and Louth are all unknown quantities with new management teams on board. Offaly’s John Maughan has previously lamented the lack of players making themselves available, whilst Sligo will have to go on without Red Og Murphy, the county’s brightest young talent who swapped the GAA for the AFL over the winter. On the flipside, Louth would have been excited at the prospect of the returning Ciaran Byrne from Carlton, however, the 24-year-old broke his ankle whilst on club duty and should miss most of the league.
Longford should have enough to yet again remain in Division Three.
Division Three Round 1 fixtures
Down v Laois – Newry
Carlow v Sligo – Carlow
Offaly v Westmeath – Tullamore
Louth v Longford – TBC
Champions – Laois
Promoted – Westmeath
Relegated – Sligo & Offaly
Teams: London, Antrim, Derry, Leitrim, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow
The league’s basement division boasts a couple of counties who feel that they should be plying their trade higher up the leagues.
Derry have fallen through the leagues in dramatic fashion, and will now look to try and climb back up the divisions. They will be viewed as favourites it is no sure thing.
Antrim could have been promoted last year but narrowly missed out, yet again they will feel that Division Three is well within their grasps. Waterford will be buoyed by a first championship win in nine seasons last year, however, promotion is probably a step too far for them.
Leitrim had a decent 2018, and ran Mayo close in the FBD League earlier this month, they will feel that promotion is within their capabilities. London, Wexford and Wicklow again are unknown quantities.
Division Four Round 1 fixtures
Waterford v Wicklow – Fraher Field
Antrim v Derry – Glenavy
London v Limerick – Ruislip
Leitrim v Wexford – Carrick-on-Shannon
Champions – Derry
Promoted – Leitrim