2015 is behind us, and while the summer championships were most definitely a let-down, we look forward to 2016 with a sense of anticipation. Can Kilkenny and Dublin defend their crowns?
What is going to happen elsewhere? Who will be the Westmeath or Fermanagh of 2016?
Some of our main GAA writers, Seán Ó Murchú, Seán Cremin, Donal Cashin and Brian Barry got together around a crystal ball to try figure out what will happen.
One wish for 2016
SÓM: Same applies every year, the Cork hurlers to win back the Liam McCarthy Cup. Years of heartbreak have incurred since the Rebels’ last victory in 2005 and it’s about time the hurlers of Cork add to their tally of 30 All-Irelands. However, for the GAA as a whole, I would love to see all live broadcast championship matches revert to being free-to-air.
SC: Higher quality of games. How does that happen? Realise that there is a lot more to GAA than a sold out Croke Park and get a decent structure of fixtures in place for EVERYONE in GAA. Clubs improve, intercounty teams will improve and everyone is happier.
Will this happen in 2016? No. But can the hierarchy of the GAA please put the foot down and begin to get some sort of structure in place? Please.
DC: That the GAA would final make a decision on the divide between the club and intercounty game. Playing club finals in November and playing little or no matches in July/August is very unfair for the club player.
BB: A hurling championship akin to 2013 again. It had everything.
One outlandish prediction
SÓM: Dublin footballers to falter outside home comforts. Laois to beat Wicklow and then cause the shock of the summer by beating the reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin in Nowlan Park. Is it possible? Of course.
SC: Chaos in Clare.
DC: Mayo for Sam, anybody?
BB: Laois made serious strides in recent years on the hurling front, and have earned the right to compete in the Leinster championship proper without the need to qualify. The draw gas been kind, as they avoid Dublin, Wexford and Kilkenny. Should they overcome the qualifier in the first round, they will fancy themselves against Galway in the semi. Judging how the Tribesmen reacted in 2013 after All-Ireland Final heartbreak, the O’Moore county will quietly fancy themselves.
Player to watch out for:
SÓM: Shane Bennett announced himself on the senior stage with a peach of a goal in Waterford’s All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Dublin and the 19 year-old will only go from strength to strength. In footballing terms, the towering Dingle midfielder, Mark O’Connor is a force to be reckoned with for the Kingdom.
SC: It is yet to be announced if he will return for 2016 or not, but the man to watch as far as this writer is concerned is Down footballer Martin Clarke. He was one of the most exciting players back in 2010 when he debuted for Down having spent earlier days playing Australian Rules Football. He did not feature in 2015 due to illness, but made his intentions clear that he wishes to return for 2016. If he returns, he could add a lot to the championship.
DC: Austin Gleeson is the most exciting young hurler in the country. Once Derek McGrath settles on a permanent position to play him, this hurler will only get better.
In football, Mattie Donnelly is proving to be the next Sean Cavanagh in Tyrone. A great engine and footballing brain.
BB: Conor McDonald. The Wexford forward showed what an immense talent he is as Wexford captured the u21 Leinster title last summer. Liam Dunne’s side will improve from 2015, and McDonald is one of the most dangerous scorers in the country.
A fully fit Noel McGrath will bolster Tipperary’s attack that were over reliant on Séamus Callanan in the semi-final last year.
Team to watch out for:
SÓM: Roscommon footballers under new management will be a force to be reckoned with while in hurling, Clare and Davy Fitzgerald will be on a mission to redeem their past two years of disappointment. Tony Kelly and company will be out to set the record straight and prove many doubters wrong.
SC: Galway hurlers. They tend to show PHD knowledge in Second Season Syndrome. And some might also question their ability to win finals. But they have put their heads on the block massively over the winter months. And if they are to be taken any bit seriously going forward, they really have to deliver in 2016.
DC: In football I feel Tyrone are improving and weren’t that far off last year. A good mixture of youth and experience, and in Martin Donnelly, a star in the making.
It’s now or never for the Clare hurlers, and Davy Fitzgerald knows this with the appointment of Donal Óg. Maybe he will give them the structure and playing style which this very talented team are missing.
BB: The two football flops of 2015, Tipperary and Roscommon, will be keen to ensure last summer was only a stumbling block with a clear road ahead. Limerick in hurling are badly in need of a big year, starting with promotion to Division 1A.
Munster football winners?
SÓM: With the coming force of Tipperary significantly weakened by the loss of Colin O’Riordan’s move to the AFL, it looks likely that it will be a two-horse race between Cork and Kerry once again. Kerry’s clinical and ruthless nature should see them shade it.
SC: Have to go for Kerry. Cork and Tipperary are both under new management. Tipp appear to be losing players to hurling which may impact their ability to cause an upset. Kerry are the obvious choice. They have a strong squad and probable home advatange to Cork in the final. It is hard to see them not being triumphant.
DC: Kerry are still the best team in Munster, and ought to triumph.
BB: The only argument to be made against Kerry is that they are on the opposite side of the draw to Cork and Tipperary. Whoever faces the Kingdom in the final will have the benefit of a truly competitive game under their belt. Nonetheless, class will tell and Kerry will triumph.
Leinster football winners?
SÓM: Can you really look past Dublin? Provided that they win their opener in Nowlan Park, they should triumph. Kildare, under new manager Cian O’Neill may offer something new but the sheer class, strength and depth of the Boys in Blue should see them over the line once again.
SC: It is hard to see history not repeating itself and the obvious choice is Dublin. They will be moved out of Croke Park and while it will improve the championship as a whole, Dublin have to be fancied. Cian O’Neill, a man who has coached teams win both senior hurling and football All-Irelands, makes his first move into management with a Kildare side who have beaten Dublin at underage in recent years. He may spring an upset, but it is hard to see.
DC: Dublin remain the team to beat, and no side in Leinster look capable of doing so.
BB: Dublin will win Leinster.
Ulster football winners?
SÓM: I fancy Mickey Harte and Tyrone to conquer Ulster for the first time since 2010. With a blend of youth and experience, Tyrone showed character and skill to reach the All-Ireland semi-final. With the winning All-Ireland u21 team a year older, Tyrone will be stronger than last term.
SC: This is always the most difficult one to pick at this stage of the year, but Monaghan get the shout. Ulster teams’ form can vary and a back-door run often suits some of the sides up North. Monaghan play Down at home in a quarter-final and while their attention will be to go further than an Ulster title, I fancy them to defend their title.
DC: Tyrone were the last ones standing in August last year, but have not claimed provincial honours since 2010. Expect that to change this year.
BB: Notoriously difficult to call. However, not much love is being shown for Donegal. They might be further off contention for Sam Maguire than they have been in recent years, but an Ulster championship remains very much a possibility.
Connacht football winners?
SÓM: A Roscommon v Mayo final looks to be the most likely outcome. Two teams backboned by impressive management teams will provide a treat but I have got a feeling that this may be Mayo’s year….surely?
SC: Like the other provinces, Mayo have dominated but Connacht is meaningless to Mayo at this stage. We can expect to see ‘Mayo For Sam 2016’ appearing soon, and that will be their main focus. Galway and Roscommon had the better of the underage successes in recent times. Galway will finally get a win over Mayo in the semi-final and secure the Connacht title with a second win.
DC: Roscommon had a poor year in 2015, but night is darkest just before the dawn, and they could finally make a statement at senior level this year.
BB: Connacht could arguably stake a claim as the most exciting championship this year. Mayo are favourites, but may be blinded by the will to rectify past August/September failings. Galway have been steadily improving, and could take a scalp in the semi-final.
All-Ireland football winners?
SÓM: Mayo. Stephen Rochford has assembled an impressive backroom team and with the core bunch of players hitting their prime, Mayo are destined to end years of heartbreak. Dublin, along with their own inclination to under-perform on the big day will be the main threats to the men from the west.
SC: The Boys in Blue have dominated football, winning three of the last five titles. They are yet to win back-to-back titles. While they are considered a good team, they won’t be seen as a great team unless they win consecutive titles. They will be all out to do so, and its hard to back against them. So the verdict is Dublin.
DC: Dublin were too good for the competition in 2015, and look primed to win back-to-back titles.
BB: Very hard to make a case against Dublin.
Munster hurling winners?
SÓM: Any of the five counties in contention are well capable of claiming provincial glory. The outcome of the quarter-final clash between Cork and Tipperary will go a long way to determining the destination of the title while Clare and Limerick will want to redeem themselves after a disappointing 2015. Waterford are the coming force but Tipp’s firepower up front may prove too much.
SC: Waterford could be the only Munster team satisfied at the end of the 2015 season. Tipperary won the Munster title last year, but failed to win their next game against Galway. Cork, Limerick and Clare all had shocking seasons.
Is the Munster title a poisoned chalice? No team has won an All-Ireland having won the Munster title since 2005 and in only three seasons since then, 06, 09, 11 have the Munster champions contested the All-Ireland final, losing every time.
Anyway, off the fence, and time to predict. The Munster Hurling Champions for 2015 will be Tipperary.
DC: Clare have had a disastrous time since winning Liam McCarthy in 2013. Nobody will give them a chance against Waterford in Thurles, and they could be a dark horse.
BB: The only team I would rule out is Cork, who would have to beat both Tipperary and Limerick away to reach the final. I fancy Tipp to regain their crown.
Leinster hurling winners?
SÓM: A Kilkenny v Galway final seems the mostly likely outcome and one can’t see past the Cats claiming provincial glory once again. Brian Cody’s mens’ dominance in the middle sector of the pitch has just about overwhelmed every team in the country
SC: The shorter route suits the ageing Kilkenny team so they will be all out to win Leinster. Dublin and Wexford are both on Kilkenny’s side of the draw. Kilkenny should account for either of those, to face Galway in a final. Galway to gain revenge in Leinster is the call here, brave.
DC: Kilkenny have recovered from the blip in 2012 and 2013 where they failed to capture the Bob O’Keeffe Cup, and I think they will reassert their dominance this summer.
BB: Dublin will need their full compliment to compete for provincial honours, so Wexford could finally get past the Boys in Blue in the first round. Should the Yellowbellies win, they will face Kilkenny in Wexford Park, and it will be closer than last season. Kilkenny will win Leinster, but will be pushed harder than last year.
All-Ireland hurling winners?
SÓM: The Munster quintet, along with Galway and Kilkenny will be the main contenders. I hope for an open season like 2013 but Kilkenny’s superiority will more than likely shine through once more.
SC: This writer referred to Galway being a mystery earlier in the piece. Well the same could be said for Tipperary. They used to be regularly hyped up, then they kept failing, then they were written off, then proved people wrong, then the Galway defeat threw up more questions.
New management will be interesting. There was talk of more physicality being needed, they have new additions from the football panel. This writer thinks they have the best players, and therefore fancies them to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup in September 2016.
DC: Kilkenny are still the team to beat.
BB: Tipperary have not gone away. In truth, most of their high profile retirements this winter were merely squad players in 2015. They have the tools to beat the Cats, whether they have the mindset is another question.
Do you agree/disagree, or have any brave predictions? As always, we’d love to hear from you, the fans.
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