Gaelic Games: The State of the Nation 2017: Top 16
In the second part of his analysis of how the football counties currently rank, Andy Watters looks at the top 16 team in the country...
THE Dubs refuse to lose and their determination to do whatever it takes to get over the line is just one of the many qualities that has made them the outstanding team in the country.
Their one point All-Ireland final win over Mayo snared three Sam Maguires in-a-row for manager Jim Gavin who has skilfully introduced new talents like Con O’Callaghan into his side at the expense of Allstars including Bernard Brogan, Michael Darragh Macauley and Paul Flynn who have had to settle for places on the bench.
Gavin even managed (for a while) without Diarmuid Connolly after he was suspended for ‘minor interference with a linesman’ during the Leinster SFC clash with Carlow. But he turned to the St Vincent’s maestro to see the Dubs home in the All-Ireland final. Dublin lost their National League crown to Kerry, but that is small potatoes when it’s stacked up against what was won and they’re the team to beat again next year.
NFL Division One: Cavan 0-11 Dublin 0-18, Dublin 0-10 Tyrone 1-7, Donegal 2-5 Dublin 1-8, Dublin 1-16 Mayo 0-7, Kerry 0-13 Dublin 0-13, Dublin 2-29 Roscommon 0-14, Monaghan 1-15 Dublin 2-15, final: Kerry 0-20 Dublin 1-16
Leinster SFC: Dublin 0-19 Carlow 0-7, Dublin 4-29 Westmeath 0-10, Dublin 2-23 Kildare 1-17
All-Ireland SFC: Dublin 1-19 Monaghan 0-12, Tyrone 0-11 Dublin 2-17, Mayo 1-16 Dublin 1-17
THE westerners seem destined to play second fiddle to Dublin after another heart-breaking All-Ireland final loss.
Mayo are possibly the best team never to have won a Sam Maguire, but that is cold comfort for their players and the legions of loyal fans in the west.
Once again they had their chances in the All-Ireland final, but couldn’t take them and again fell just short as Dublin got over the line by a point.
They are, they always are, inches away but the inches they are searching for are the hardest ones to find. Improved 10 per cent on 2016 and if Stephen Rochford can get another 10 per cent out of them next year it might finally be enough. But we’ll only believe that when the Sam Maguire arrives back in Castlebar.
NFL Division One: Mayo 0-12 Monaghan 1-11, Kerry 1-10 Mayo 0-15, Mayo 1-19 Roscommon 0-14, Dublin 1-16 Mayo 0-7, Mayo 0-15 Cavan 1-14, Tyrone 0-12 Mayo 1-10, Mayo 1-12 Donegal 0-13
Connacht SFC: Mayo 2-14 Sligo 0-11, Galway 0-15 Mayo 1-11; Qualifiers: Mayo 2-21 1-13 Derry (AET), Qualifiers: Clare 0-13 2-14 Mayo, Cork 2-20 0-27 Mayo
All-Ireland SFC: Roscommon 2-9 Mayo 1-12, replay: Roscommon 0-9 Mayo 4-19; Mayo 2-14 Kerry 2-14, replay: Mayo 2-16 Kerry 0-17, Mayo 1-16 Dublin 1-17
ON the evidence of the semi-finals (draw and replay) against Mayo, this Kerry team needs an injection of five quality players to break Dublin’s stranglehold on the Sam Maguire.
There was no shortage of effort in the team, but the Kingdom struggled in defence and need to find a reliable full-back and centre-back, another midfielder to play alongside David Moran and a couple of forwards to take the scoring strain off Paul Geaney.
Kerry completed four in-a-row at minor level, so there is plenty of talent coming through although the pick of the bunch, David Clifford, could be bound for Aussie Rules. Manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice looks set to continue at the helm for another two years.
NFL Division One: Donegal 1-17 Kerry 2-17, Kerry 0-13 Dublin 0-13, Kerry 1-10 Mayo 0-15, Kerry 1-10 Monaghan 2-8, Roscommon 1-13 Kerry 1-19, Cavan 1-10 Kerry 0-13, Kerry 1-21 Tyrone 2-11
Munster SFC: Clare 1-12 Kerry 1-18, Kerry 1-23 Cork 0-15
All-Ireland SFC: Kerry 1-18 Galway 0-13, Mayo 2-14 Kerry 2-14, Replay: Mayo 2-16 Kerry 0-17
THE Red Hands are head and shoulders above their provincial neighbours, but once again they came up short outside Ulster.
McKenna Cups and Ulster Championships remain sought after and Tyrone retained both in 2017, but the Sam Maguire that has eluded the county since 2008 seems no closer after Dublin romped to a confidence-shattering victory in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Without the retired Sean Cavanagh next year, Mickey Harte must surely have to find a way to get talented forwards like Connor McAlliskey, David Mulgrew and Ronan O’Neill into his team from the start if Tyrone are to make the jump from the chasing pack to top dogs.
NFL Division One: Tyrone 0-18 Roscommon 1-9, Dublin 0-10 Tyrone 1-7, Tyrone 0-12 Mayo 1-10, Kerry 1-21 Tyrone 2-11, Tyrone 0-19 Cavan 1-9, Donegal 0-12 Tyrone 0-6
Ulster SFC: Derry 0-11 Tyrone 0-22, Donegal 1-12 Tyrone 1-21, Down 0-15 Tyrone 2-17
All-Ireland SFC: Tyrone 3-17 Armagh 0-8, Tyrone 0-11 Dublin 2-17
ON Championship form, the Rossies are top of the second tier, but still some distance short of the top four.
Connacht champions for the first time since 2010, Roscommon gave Mayo a torrid time of it at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage when they held the eventual All-Ireland finalists to a draw.
However, they couldn’t raise a gallop in the replay though and that will have disappointed manager Kevin McStay.
Relegation from Division One was not unexpected, but it was another blow for the former Mayo star and RTE pundit and he will hope for more consistency from his side next year.
NFL Division One: Tyrone 0-18 Roscommon 1-9, Roscommon 2-9 Donegal 0-16, Mayo 1-19 Roscommon 0-14, Roscommon 1-13 Kerry 1-19, Monaghan 2-17 Roscommon 1-13, Dublin 2-29 Roscommon 0-14, Roscommon 1-13 Cavan 1-10
Connacht SFC: Roscommon 2-23 Leitrim 1-9, Galway 0-12 Roscommon 2-15
All-Ireland SFC: Roscommon 2-9 Mayo 1-12, replay: Roscommon 0-9 Mayo 4-19
DIVISION Two champions last season and playing top flight football next year will assist the development of a side that showed some promising signs in their 2017 campaigns.
Lost just once in the League (by a point against Meath) and began the Connacht SFC by beating Mayo in Salthill.
Lost the final to Roscommon though, but rebounded impressively to hammer Donegal only to dip once again at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage when they finished a distant second to Kerry.
They will be anxious to repeat the success of the county’s hurlers who were crowned All-Ireland champions at minor and senior level in 2017.
NFL Division 2: Galway 0-14 1-11 Cork, Fermanagh 0-10 1-13 Galway, Galway 3-13 1-11 Clare, Meath 1-13 0-15 Galway, Galway 5-15 2-15 Derry, Down 1-13 3-15 Galway, Galway 0-14 0-13 Kildare, final: Galway 0-18 0-16 Kildare
Connacht SFC: Galway 0-15 Mayo 1-11, Galway 0-12 Roscommon 2-15; Qualifiers: Galway 4-17 0-14 Donegal
All-Ireland SFC: Kerry 1-18 Galway 0-13
A SHOCK loss to Down sent them tumbling out of Ulster but the Farneymen recovered in the Qualifiers to beat the Mournemen and make it to the All-Ireland quarter-final stage. That, not for the first time, was that for Monaghan, but at least they had a go against Dublin.
It didn’t come off for them, but when on song their full-forward line – Conor McManus, Jack McCarron and Conor McCarthy – is as good as many and better than most.
Beat Mayo and Kerry to secure Division One status and manager Malachy O’Rourke is staying put for next season.
NFL Division One: Mayo 0-12 Monaghan 1-11, Monaghan 0-7 Cavan 0-7, Kerry 1-10 Monaghan 2-8, Tyrone 0-14 Monaghan 0-10, Monaghan 2-17 Roscommon 1-13, Donegal 1-11 Monaghan 1-11, Monaghan 1-15 Dublin 2-15
Ulster SFC: Monaghan 1-20 Fermanagh 1-11, Cavan 0-15 Monaghan 1-15, Down 1-14 Monaghan 0-15; Qualifiers: Wexford 1-11 3-23 Monaghan, Carlow 1-7 1-12 Monaghan, Down 1-16 1-24 Monaghan
All-Ireland SFC: Dublin 1-19 Monaghan 0-12
PROMISED a lot at times, but ultimately failed to make a definitive breakthrough. Inconsistency prevented the Rebels from pushing for promotion to Division One and in the Championship there were losses to Kerry (in the Munster final) and Mayo (after extra-time).
Cork were given a serious scare in their Munster opener against Waterford but they squeaked through by a point and were also one-point winners against Tipperary.
Cork were hammered by Kerry in the final, but recovered sufficiently to push Mayo all the way in round four of the Qualifiers.
Goals from Sean Powter and Luke Connolly established a winning position for the Munstermen but Cillian O’Connor’s nerveless ‘45’ in the second period of added time sent Mayo into the All-Ireland quarter-final.
NFL Division Two: Galway 0-14 1-11 Cork, Kildare 1-14 1-08 Cork, Cork 1-14 0-09 Fermanagh, Clare 2-11 0-09 Cork, Cork 0-18 1-15 Meath, Derry 2-10 0-20 Cork, Cork 1-10 0-13 Down
Munster SFC: Waterford 1-11 Cork 1-12, Cork 1-10 Tipperary 1-9, Kerry 1-23 Cork 0-15
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers: Cork 2-20 0-27 Mayo
ORCHARD fans would have taken an All-Ireland quarter-final appearance at the start of the campaign, so 2017 has to be seen as a successful season for Armagh. The highlight was the round four Qualifier win over Kildare in one of the games of the season, but three high-profile matches were lost.
Tipperary nicked the promotion decider at the Athletic Grounds meaning that Armagh, probably the best team in Division Three, will be there again in 2018. Then, with manager Kieran McGeeney serving a touchline ban, Down won the Ulster derby battle in Newry when Armagh failed to show up for the second half and, finally, Tyrone blitzed McGeeney’s side at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage. That loss will have been a reality check for Armagh.
NFL Division Three: Sligo 1-14 2-11 Armagh, Armagh 0-16 2-11 Laois, Longford 3-09 3-11 Armagh, Armagh 6-22 0-10 Offaly, Louth 0-10 3-15 Armagh, Armagh 1-12 0-13 Antrim, Armagh 0-16 3-8 Tipperary
Ulster SFC: Down 0-15 Armagh 2-7; Qualifiers: Armagh 0-20 0-11 Fermanagh, Westmeath 1-7 1-12 Armagh, Tipperary 1-15 1-17 Armagh, Armagh 1-17 0-17 Kildare
All-Ireland SFC: Tyrone 3-17 Armagh 0-8
THE Mournemen certainly have something to build on after a morale-boosting 2017.
The year began with expectations approaching an all-time low but a horror run of 14 League and Championship games without a win finally came to an end when Eamonn Burns’ side beat Meath and the resurgence didn’t end there. The Mournemen beat Derry at Celtic Park and drew with Cork in their final game to preserve their Division Two status.
They followed that up with a deserved Championship win over auld enemy Armagh and then caused an upset by beating Monaghan to make it to the Ulster final. Tyrone won with a bit to spare and Monaghan’s bench strength enabled them to recover from a first half mauling from Connaire Harrison to take revenge in round four of the Qualifiers. Progress was made and Down need to build on it now.
NFL Division Two: Down 0-10 1-16 Fermanagh, Clare 2-11 0-11 Down, Down 1-13 0-14 Meath, Derry 1-07 1-15 Down, Down 0-10 2-09 Kildare, Down 1-13 3-15 Galway, Cork 1-10 0-13 Down
Ulster SFC: Down 0-15 Armagh 2-7, Down 1-14 Monaghan 0-1, Down 0-15 Tyrone 2-17
All-Ireland SFC: Qualifiers: Down 1-16 1-24 Monaghan
LOSING to Armagh in round four of the Qualifiers was a reality check for Cian O’Neill’s emerging young side.
Playing an attractive brand of attacking football, the Lilywhites clinched promotion to Division One and reached the Leinster final, giving a good account of themselves against Dublin without ever really threatening to cause a shock.
Kildare lost a see-saw encounter with Armagh in round four of the Qualifiers, but the emergence of a clutch of talented youngsters including midfielder Kevin Feely suggests there are better days to come.
NFL Division Two: Meath 0-16 3-17 Kildare, Kildare 1-14 1-08 Cork, Derry 1-18 1-17 Kildare, Kildare 4-14 0-14 Fermanagh, Down 0-10 2-09 Kildare, Kildare 0-18 1-14 Clare, Galway 0-14 0-13 Kildare, final: Galway 0-18 0-16 Kildare
Leinster SFC: Kildare 1-21 1-7 Laois, Meath 0-13 2-16 Kildare, Dublin 2-23 1-17 Kildare
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers: Armagh 1-17 0-17 Kildare
ALL-in-all, last season was a disappointing one for the Tir Chonaill men who failed to make the progress expected of them, particularly after their encouraging League form.
The emergence of talented youngsters like Jason McGee, Caolan Ward and Michael Carroll and a comfortable win over Antrim at the Ulster quarter-final stage hinted at another lengthy Championship run, but Tyrone put Donegal to the sword at the provincial semi-final stage.
Tried and tested performers Michael Murphy, Paddy McBrearty and Ryan McHugh stood tall to seal a morale-boosting win over Meath in the Qualifiers, but Donegal were well beaten by Galway next time out
Rory Gallagher walked away after that loss and has been replaced by Ulster U21-winning manager Declan Bonner. Bonner has more rebuilding to do after veteran wing-back Karl Lacey joined the long list of recent retirements.
NFL Division One: Donegal 1-17 Kerry 2-17; Roscommon 2-9 Donegal 0-16; Donegal 2-5Dublin 1-8; Cavan 0-11 Donegal 1-16; Donegal 0-12 Tyrone 0-6; Donegal 1-11Monaghan 1-11; Mayo 1-12 Donegal 0-13
Ulster SFC: Donegal 3-19 Antrim 1-9, Donegal 1-12 Tyrone 1-21
All-Ireland SFC: Qualifiers: Donegal 0-12 Longford 0-7, Meath 1-14 1-15 Donegal, Galway 4-17 0-14 Donegal
THE Royals are now an established and solid Division Two outfit, but they haven’t been unable to kick on to the next level. Always a tough nut to crack; Meath were competitive but ultimately lacked the quality to turn tight games their way.
Finished third in Division Two for the third time in the last four seasons and were well beaten by Kildare in the Leinster Championship.
Recovered to get the better of Sligo in the Qualifiers, but lost a thriller against Donegal in the next round.
NFL Division Two: Meath 0-16 3-17 Kildare, Meath 3-15 0-09 Derry, Down 1-13 0-14 Meath, Meath 1-13 0-15 Galway, Cork 0-18 1-15 Meath, Meath 3-15 0-6 Fermanagh, Clare 1-13 3-19 Meath
Leinster SFC: Meath 0-27 3-9 Louth, Meath 0-13 2-16 Kildare
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers: Meath 0-14 1-9 Sligo, Meath 1-14 1-15 Donegal
UNABLE to repeat their All-Ireland semi-final appearance of the previous year and sorely missed Peter Acheson in midfield, but there were still reasons to be cheerful in Tipperary.
A late smash-and-grab raid left Armagh dazed and confused in the final moments of the NFL Division Three series and Michael Quinlivan’s goal meant Tipp were promoted instead of the Orchardmen.
Cork edged them out of Munster by a point before Liam Kearns’ men staged a dramatic comeback at Breffni Park to beat Cavan.
Led Armagh at half-time in the next round and another Quinlivan goal briefly had them in control, but Kieran McGeeney’s side finished strongly to take avenge the League loss and progress to round four of the Qualifiers.
NFL Division Three: Tipperary 2-12 0-13 Antrim, Tipperary 1-16 2-14 Sligo, Laois 1-10 1-16 Tipperary, Tipperary 3-17 0-18 Longford, Offaly 2-11 2-15 Tipperary, Tipperary 0-12 0-16 Louth, Armagh 0-16 3-8 Tipperary, final: Tipperary 3-19 0-19 Louth
Munster SFC: Cork 1-10 Tipperary 1-9
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers: Cavan 0-18 2-15 Tipperary, Tipperary 1-15 1-17 Armagh
THE Breffnimen were competitive, but couldn’t turn enough narrow losses into draws, or draws into wins last season.
Cavan took points off neighbours Monaghan and eventual League champions Kerry in Division One and also beat All-Ireland finalists Mayo but they were relegated despite those good performances.
Monaghan’s extra scoring power saw them off in a close battle in Ulster and Cavan beat Offaly in the Qualifiers and then had
Tipperary on the rack at Breffni Park, but couldn’t finish the job. A frustrating first season for Mattie McGleenan and he will hope for better next year.
NFL Division One: Cavan 0-11 Dublin 0-18, Monaghan 0-7 Cavan 0-7, Monaghan 0-7 Cavan 0-7, Cavan 0-11 Donegal 1-16, Mayo 0-15 Cavan 1-14, Cavan 1-10 Kerry 0-13, Roscommon 1-13 Cavan 1-10
Ulster SFC: Cavan 0-15 Monaghan 1-15
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers: Offaly 0-16 0-17 Cavan, Cavan 0-18 2-15 Tipperary
DAMIAN Barton was never able to get the best footballers in the county out on the field. Between the ones who wouldn’t play and those who couldn’t (the contingent from All-Ireland club finalists Slaughtneil and the county U21s) he was without an entire squad at one stage during the League.
So relegation wasn’t a shock and neither was losing to Tyrone at the Ulster quarter-final stage, but taking Mayo to extra-time in the Qualifiers was.
James Kielt had a very difficult late chance to win that game after Derry had confounded their critics in Castlebar. However, Mayo held on for a draw and Derry faded in extra-time and Barton went on his way despite being keen to stay on for a third season.
Damian McErlain has come in fresh from taking the talented Oak Leaf minors to the All-Ireland final and, if he gets the buy-in, he will certainly hope to turn things around in football-mad Derry.
NFL Division Two: Derry 0-11 1-8 Clare, Meath 3-15 0-09 Derry, Derry 1-18 1-17 Kildare, Derry 1-07 1-15 Down, Galway 5-15 2-15 Derry, Derry 2-10 0-20 Cork, Fermanagh 0-13 2-8 Derry
Ulster SFC: Derry 0-11 Tyrone 0-22
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers: Waterford 0-13 1-17 Derry, Mayo 2-21 1-13 Derry (AET)