Sean Cremin is here to dissect the key talking points ahead of the 2014 All Ireland Senior Football Championship’s commencement
- Defensive systems to return?
Blanket defences were at the height of fashion until last season. Armagh and Tyrone introduced the tactic before the likes of Dublin and Donegal brought the defensive system to a new level. Coaches copied and followed what was successful but Dublin reverted back to basics last year and played a more open brand of football. This year’s league saw most teams refer back to a more attacking style and it was great viewing from a spectator’s perspective. The next question is whether this will continue or not into the summer. Will teams continue to attack or will negativity creep back in as teams attempt to win at all costs? We will find out soon.
- How long before we see controversy regarding the black card?
It’s the main new feature of this season’s championship. One of the most highlighted moments last year was Sean Cavanagh’s rugby-esque tackle on Monaghan’s Conor McManus as McManus was ready to pull the trigger on what could have been a vital goal in the All Ireland Quarter final at Croke Park last year. It was the most high profile cynical foul we have seen and the ‘black card’ has now been introduced to punish such offences. The highest profile black card was Richie Feeney in the All-Ireland club football final with Castlebar Mitchels loss to St. Vincents of Dublin. The consistency of refereeing is what will be the most controversial aspect of this new sanction. If they are handed out accordingly and correctly, there shouldn’t be many complaints from players and pundits. But there is no doubt that somebody will find something wrong with the black card and it’s only a matter of time before debates escalate, the question is how long?
- Who can stop Dublin?
If teams go out and take one Dublin man for man, then it’s hard to see anybody stopping them. They have the best players available and if they perform to their best, they will beat any team in this years championship with relative comfort. As we got to the business end of the league, they showed the strength, depth and all round quality to retain their National League crown over Derry. Despite this, Cork beat them in the league at Croke Park and it took a last minute goal for them to earn a draw at home to Mayo. The under-21 semi-final saw them struggle to break down a defensive Cavan system. They are red hot favourites for the All-Ireland and it is hard to see any team stopping them. If somebody does stop them from winning back-to-back titles, they will need to be on top of their game all summer long.
- Can Jimmy win more matches?
2012 saw Jim McGuinness lead Donegal to summit of gaelic football where they gained a lot of admirers. ‘Jimmys winning matches’ became a viral sensation and the Donegal public went into celebration overdrive in wake of their first All Ireland since 1992. In the end, their title defence was poor and tame. They lost their Ulster title to Monaghan and shipped a heavy beating at the hands of Mayo at the quarter-final stage of the All-Ireland. They had a decent league campaign, despite losing the final and they will be closely watched in the championship. They still posses some quality players and are the type of side that may cause problems a side like Dublin if tactically set up correctly. 2014 should tell of Donegal were one trick ponies or if they still are a force at the top tier of the game. Getting through Ulster will be Donegal’s first goal of the season.
- Will teams build on their progress?
Derry, Monaghan and Cavan are three sides that have made significant strides over the last twelve months or so and they need to perform well in this year’s championship if they are to be taken seriously. Monaghan secured an Ulster title last year and missed an opportunity against Tyrone to go far in the latter stages of the championship. They won Division 2 of this year’s league but an injury to their star man Conor McManus could prove detrimental to their chances of building on last seasons success. Derry made a league final and will be looking to repeat a similar summer performance come championship time. Cavan also did well last year and have had good under-21 sides over the last five years with many bagging under 21 Ulster championship medals. It will be interesting to see if they can expand on their defensive system and go further than last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final appearance. They are three teams worth watching.
- How will the seeding system work in Munster?
It is a system that has received heavy criticism that has probably been justified. The seeding system gives Cork and Kerry an advantageous passage to the Munster final and makes life more difficult for Tipperary, Clare, Limerick and Waterford. The chances of having a novel pairing in the Munster final have lessened and it’s likely that the system will be reviewed again next year. Tipperary and Clare both made the Division 4 league final and would be looking to get some luck on their side of the draw to get to a Munster final and then build a qualifier run but now they must face either Cork or Kerry in a semi-final. It’s a harsh system on the weaker counties in Munster and everybody will be shocked if its not a Cork –v- Kerry Munster final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
- Will Mayo suffer more heartbreak?
Another annual question. Year after year, Mayo fail to deliver when it matters most. They have dominated Connacht, taken a few scalps but then failed on All-Ireland final day. On their road to Croke Park they have looked like champions but Sam Maguire continues to elude them. The heart-break and the sob stories are almost getting annoying at this stage. Can they win an All-Ireland? The more times they fail, the more difficult it is to believe. Looking at 2014, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Mayo were the team to defeat Dublin in a semi-final and then lose a third consecutive final. Their forward line doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. They will have a chance, but it looks like they will come up short again.
- What team may cause a shock?
It was Fermanagh in 2004 and Wexford in 2008. These are two recent examples of counties that shocked the country and went on a run to the All-Ireland semi-final where they were real contenders for the title. Will we see a surprise package in this year’s championship? Will a county go on a provincial run? Will a team gain momentum through the qualifiers? Monaghan nearly did it last year. Donegal surprised many a few years back. Now we have to see if a team can shock everyone again. It’s hard to try and predict a team to come through. As the point is being made, it’s always teams that nobody expects to perform can be the ones who cause the shocks along the way. Hopefully some team will throw a spanner amongst the works this summer.
- A championship without Colm Cooper
It’s the first time since 2002 that we will have a summer without watching Colm Cooper. The Gooch broke onto the scene as a young player with a big reputation and has duly delivered for the last eleven years. He is probably the greatest player of his generation and showed last year that he still had plenty to offer. Any football fan will miss watching him playing the game even if he has broken the hearts of supporters of their county before. People pay to watch the best players and Gooch is one of them. A summer without watching him play will not be the same.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena