GAA Football

Six Ulster sides make the top 12 in review of the 2018 season

Tyrone and Monaghan clashed in the All-Ireland semi-finals this year. Picture Seamus Loughran
Andy Watters

1 Dublin

NUMBER one again and who’s going to shift them? The Dubs made it eight in-a-row in Leinster and, much more significantly, four in-a-row on the national stage by beating Tyrone in this year’s All-Ireland final.

They were without Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan wasn’t considered fit enough to make the match day squad and Tyrone got off to a flier in the first 15 minutes, but the Dubs still won by six points.

Optimists outside Dublin point to their defence and say that the likes of Philly McMahon, Stephen Cluxton and Cian O’Sullivan are getting on a bit but the emergence of baby-faced Eoin Murchan and the outstanding Brian Howard this year shows that manager Jim Gavin is steadily building for the future.

Yes there are sponsored cars and meals delivered but the commitment the Dubs show and their pride in the jersey is what makes them stand out.

After winning Division One, the Dubs cantered through Leinster but were pushed to an extent by Tyrone (twice), Donegal and Galway in the Championship but did they really have to go to the extra gear that Mayo forced them to find in previous years? No. And there is no real evidence that they will fade as a force any time soon. It’s up to the chasing pack to reel them in.

NFL Division One: Dublin 2-17 Kildare 2-10, Tyrone 1-11 Dublin 2-13, Dublin 0-20 Donegal 0-15, Mayo 0-12 Dublin 2-10, Dublin 2-17 Kerry 0-11, Galway 0-13 Dublin 0-13, Dublin 0-17 Monaghan 2-12; Division 1 Final: Dublin 0-18 Galway 0-14; Leinster SFC: Dublin 4-25 Wicklow 1-11, Dublin 2-25 Longford 0-12, Dublin 2-25 Longford 0-12, Dublin 2-15 Donegal 0-16, Tyrone 0-14 Dublin 1-14¸ Dublin 2-17 Tyrone 1-14; Dublin 1-24 Galway 2-12, Dublin 2-17 Tyrone 1-14

Down, Derry and Antrim all fail to make the top 12 in review of the 2018 season

2 Tyrone

THE Red Hands were beaten three times in the 2018 Championship – once by Monaghan (in Ulster) and twice by Dublin (in the Super8s and the All-Ireland final) - but when all is said and done they can justifiably claim to be the second best team in the country.

After a mid-table finish in Division One, Mickey Harte’s men set their focus on hosting Monaghan in a hum-dinger of an Ulster quarter-final in Omagh. The Farneymen were smarter at times and quicker to the punch and they carved out a deserved two-point win that sent Tyrone off to the Qualifiers.

The Red Hands’ form improved steadily as they picked their way through the backdoor route

Extra-time was required against Meath, then saw off plucky Carlow and Cavan before hammering Cork to reach the Super8s.

Tyrone’s bench strength became increasingly evident and the Red Hands challenged Dublin before sweeping past Donegal down the home straight in Ballybofey to make the semi-finals. They avenged their earlier loss to Monaghan with another strong finish. Niall Sludden’s goal saw them through to a first All-Ireland final in a decade but the Dubs were too strong on the day.

Six points was the margin and to close the gap further Mickey Harte needs to put his faith in his full-forwards and commit to a kicking game strategy to supply them with possession.

NFL Division One: Galway 1-9 Tyrone 0-8, Tyrone 1-11 Dublin 2-13, Kildare 0-18 Tyrone 1-16, Monaghan 0-15 Tyrone 0-14, Tyrone 2-13 Donegal 1-10, Mayo 0-8 Tyrone 2-14, Tyrone 1-16 Kerry 0-14; Ulster SFC: Tyrone 1-16 Monaghan 1-18; Meath 0-19 Tyrone 2-14, Carlow 1-10 Tyrone 3-14, Cavan 1-12 Tyrone 0-18, Cork 0-13 Tyrone 3-20, Tyrone 4-24 Roscommon 2-12, Tyrone 0-14 Dublin 1-14, Donegal 1-13 Tyrone 2-17, Tyrone 0-14 Dublin 1-14¸ Dublin 2-17 Tyrone 1-14


3 Galway

THE Tribesmen were Connacht champions and Division One finalists, so 2018 will go down as a very successful season for Kevin Walsh’s side. Holding Dublin to a draw in the League was an early indication that Walsh had replaced some of Galway’s style with an extra layer of steel.

Spearheaded by skipper Damien Comer, the Tribesmen gave the Dubs another test in the League final before turning their attention to the Connacht title race. A late Johnny Heaney goal saw them past Mayo, Sligo were no match for them in the semi-final and Galway avenged the previous year’s loss by beating Roscommon in the decider.

A first win over Kerry in 53 years followed in the Super8s and Galway beat Kildare to book a semi-final spot. However their lacklustre showing at home against Monaghan meant they faced Dublin in the last four and, despite an early goal from Comer, the Dubs came out on top. They’ll be in the chasing pack again next year.

NFL Division One: Galway 1-9 Tyrone 0-8, Donegal 0-14 Galway 1-12, Galway 1-13 Mayo 0-11, Kerry 0-14 Galway 1-14, Galway 0-17 Monaghan 1-10, Galway 0-13 Dublin 0-13, Kildare 0-10 Galway 0-16; Division 1 Final: Dublin 0-18 Galway 0-14; Connacht SFC: Mayo 0-12 Galway 1-12, Roscommon 2-6 Galway 0-16; All-Ireland SFC: Kerry 1-10 Galway 1-13, Kildare 0-16 Galway 0-19, Galway 0-8 Monaghan 0-16; Dublin 1-24 Galway 2-12


4 Monaghan

DEEP in the second half at Croke Park, Monaghan had an All-Ireland final appearance was in their grasp but a characteristic Tyrone fightback tipped the balance of a see-saw encounter and the Farneymen ended a season of rich promise frustrated at falling just short - again.

They had beaten the Red Hands in the League and in Ulster until to fall to a sucker punch from Fermanagh’s Eoin Donnelly at the semi-final stage. Manager Malachy O’Rourke was inconsolable after that loss but he rallied his men through the Qualifiers and they recovered from letting Kerry slip off the hook in the Super8s to beat Galway in Salthill and make the semi-final stage.

The canny O’Rourke will be at the helm again next year and with the likes of Niall Kearns and Ryan McAnespie emerging alongside tried and tested performers like Conor McManus, he will hope for better in 2019.

NFL Division One: Monaghan 0-12 Mayo 0-13, Kildare 0-12 Monaghan 1-10, Monaghan 1-13 Kerry 0-14, Monaghan 0-15 Tyrone 0-14, Galway 0-17 Monaghan 1-10, Monaghan 1-16 Donegal 1-10, Dublin 0-17 Monaghan 2-12; Ulster SFC: Tyrone 1-16 Monaghan 1-18, Fermanagh 1-8 Monaghan 0-10; All-Ireland SFC: Waterford 0-9 Monaghan 5-21, Leitrim 0-9 Monaghan 1-19, Laois 1-11 Monaghan 0-19, Kildare 1-10 Monaghan 0-15, Monaghan 1-17 Kerry 1-17, Galway 0-8 Monaghan 0-16, Monaghan 0-15 Tyrone 1-13


5 Kerry

THE men from the Kingdom set yet another record last season – they were the first team to exit the All-Ireland Championship after a win! That victory was over Kildare in the Super 8s but it wasn’t enough to get inconsistent Kerry into the semi-finals.

The county will hope for better next year and talent is coming through the system. The Kerry minors made it five in-a-row in 2018 and when experience and conditioning is added to the undoubted skill, the Kingdom should be a force in the not-too-distant future.

Mid-table in Division One, Kerry barely broke sweat in winning the Munster title but losing to Galway in the first round of the Super8s was a setback. Monaghan looked to have them beaten Clones next time out but David Clifford’s eye-of-a-needle finish saw Kerry claim a remarkable draw.

However, Monaghan went on to beat Galway and Kerry bowed out despite beating Kildare. Eamonn Fitzmaurice stepped down at the end of the season and Anthony Maher and Kieran Donaghy have retired. Three in-a-row All-Ireland minor-winning boss Peter Keane is expected to be named as the new senior manager on Monday night. He has work to do when he comes in but will have plenty of tools at his disposal.

NFL Division One: Kerry 2-18 Donegal 3-14, Mayo 2-9 Kerry 1-15, Monaghan 1-13 Kerry 0-14, Kerry 0-14 Galway 1-14, Dublin 2-17 Kerry 0-11, Kerry 0-19 Kildare 0-14, Tyrone 1-16 Kerry 0-14; Munster SFC: Munster SFC: Kerry 0-32 Clare 0-10, Cork 2-4 Kerry 3-18; All-Ireland SFC: Kerry 1-10 Galway 1-13, Monaghan 1-17 Kerry 1-17, Kerry 3-25 Kildare 2-16

6 Donegal

THE Ulster champions responded well to a change in management after Declan Bonner replaced Rory Gallagher in the dugout and who knows what they would have achieved if injury hadn’t robbed them off the outstanding Paddy McBrearty.

The sight of the Kilcar man limping off St Tiernach’s Park was the saddest of the summer and, without his scores, Donegal were always up against it.

Relegated from Division One despite playing an attractive brand of attacking football, the jury was out on Donegal’s Championship potential, but the Tir Chonaill men proved their doubters wrong with an emphatic march through Ulster. Cavan, Derry, Down and Fermanagh were put to the sword as Donegal captured a ninth Anglo-Celt Cup.

Without McBrearty they were unable to get under Dublin’s skin in the first round of the Super8s, they pushed the reigning champions hard though and beating Kildare set up a winner-takes-all rumble in Ballybofey against Tyrone.

Donegal were in control until the final third when the Red Hands’ bench strength turned the tide and the home side faded and crashed out.

NFL Division One: Kerry 2-18 Donegal 3-14, Donegal 0-14 Galway 1-12, Dublin 0-20 Donegal 0-15, Donegal 1-15 Kildare 3-7, Tyrone 2-13 Donegal 1-10, Monaghan 1-16 Donegal 1-10, Donegal 0-13 Mayo 0-13; Ulster SFC: Donegal 2-20 Cavan 1-15, Derry 0-16 Donegal 2-16, Donegal 2-22 Down 1-12, Donegal 2-18 Fermanagh 0-12; All-Ireland SFC: Dublin 2-15 Donegal 0-16, Roscommon 0-13 Donegal 0-20, Donegal 1-13 Tyrone 2-17


7 Kildare

MANAGER Cian O’Neill stuck to his guns by defying Croke Park and insisting that Kildare’s ‘home’ Super8 fixture with Galway was played at Newbridge. He won the argument and his side won the game.

Reaching the Super8s came as a surprise after the Lilywhites had been relegated from Division One with nothing to show from their seven games. Things went from bad to worse when they lost Carlow in Leinster but O’Neill’s men rallied in the Qualifiers and beat Derry, Longford, Mayo and then Fermanagh to force their way into the last eight.

NFL Division One: Dublin 2-17 Kildare 2-10, Kildare 0-12 Monaghan 1-10, Kildare 0-18 Tyrone 1-16, Donegal 1-15 Kildare 3-7, Kildare 1-12 Mayo 1-19, Kerry 0-19 Kildare 0-14, Kildare 0-10 Galway 0-16; Leinster SFC: Kildare 1-10 Carlow 2-14; All-Ireland SFC: Derry 2-14 Kildare 2-22, Longford1-13 Kildare 1-16, Kildare 0-21 Mayo 0-19, Fermanagh 0-8 Kildare 3-20, Kildare 1-10 Monaghan 0-15, Kildare 0-16 Galway 0-19, Kerry 3-25 Kildare 2-16


8 Mayo

PUT them up against most of the counties above them on this list in a one-ff game and you’d give them every chance of winning yet Mayo’s relatively low ranking this year is based on their results in 2018.

After the thrills and spills of the previous seven years – which included four All-Ireland finals and three semi-finals – the past season was a damp squib for the westerners as Mayo failed to find the consistency that has made them such a force throughout this decade. A so-so Division One campaign was followed by defeat to Galway in Connacht. Mayo reacted by hammering Limerick and beating Tipperary but Kildare had too much for them in Newbridge and Mayo were out of the Championship before the end of June.

Since then Stephen Rochford and his management team, including Tony McEntee, has departed and James Horan has returned for a second spell as manager of his native county.

NFL Division One: Monaghan 0-12 Mayo 0-13, Mayo 2-9 Kerry 1-15, Galway 1-13 Mayo 0-11, Mayo 0-12 Dublin 2-10, Kildare 1-12 Mayo 1-19, Mayo 0-8 Tyrone 2-14, Donegal 0-13 Mayo 0-13

Connacht SFC: Mayo 0-12 Galway 1-12; All-Ireland SFC: Limerick 3-7 Mayo 5-19, Tipperary 1-11 Mayo 1-19, Kildare 0-21 Mayo 0-19

9 Roscommon

BE careful what you wish for. Roscommon targeted a place in the Super8s but looked way out of their depth against the big boys and they took hidings from Donegal, Tyrone and Dublin before their season came to a merciful end.

Roscommon recorded six victories on-the-trot to win Division Two and they began the defence of their Connacht crown by beating Leitrim. In the final the Rossies bossed the first half but failed to score from play in the second and Galway took the title.

They saw off Armagh in a high-scoring game-of-the-season contender to make the Super8s which resulted in one-sided losses against Tyrone, Donegal and Dublin.

Seanie McDermott and Ian Kilbride retired at the end of the campaign and manager Kevin McStay did likewise having delivered a Connacht title in 2017. Considerable ground was made during his tenure but the Rossies will have to fight tooth-and-nail to hang on to it.

NFL Div 2: Roscommon 2-12 Meath 2-12, Roscommon 0-7 Down 0-12, Tipperary 3-9 Roscommon 1-17, Louth 0-12 Roscommon 1-21, Clare 2-12 Roscommon 2-19, Roscommon 0-15 Cavan 0-13, Roscommon 0-17 Cork 1-11, Final Roscommon 4-16 Cavan 4-12; Connacht SFC: Leitrim 0-10 Roscommon 0-24 Roscommon 2-6 Galway 0-16; All-Ireland SFC: Roscommon 2-22 Armagh 1-19, Tyrone 4-24 Roscommon 2-12, Roscommon 0-13 Donegal 0-20, Dublin 4-24 Roscommon 2-16

10 Armagh

THE Division Three champions froze in the bright lights of the Ulster Championship once again. They were well beaten by a Fermanagh side that was no match for them in the third tier final but bullied them into submission in Enniskillen.

After being touted as dark horses for Ulster, Armagh were written off after that defeat but they regrouped to get past Sligo and Westmeath in the Qualifiers. The Orchardmen looked dead and buried in round three against Clare but produced a superb comeback to win the game and then came within a whisker of beating Roscommon to a place in the Super 8s. The Rossies went through but were hammered three times while Armagh, better off out of it, finished the season on a positive note.

With quality players indicating that they will return to the fold, if Armagh can find their feet in Division Two and get that elusive win in the Ulster under their belts next season they’ll fancy their chances of making a real challenge for the Anglo-Celt Cup.

NFL Div 3: Armagh 2-17 Sligo 0-9, Westmeath 1-11 Armagh 2-17, Armagh 1-11 Longford 1-10, Offaly 1-9 Armagh 1-15, Armagh 1-15 Derry 0-14, Fermanagh 0-7 Armagh 0-7, Wexford 0-12 Armagh 1-8, Final Armagh 1-16 Fermanagh 0-17; Ulster SFC: Fermanagh 0-12 Armagh 0-7; All-Ireland SFC: Westmeath 1-11 Armagh 3-16, Sligo 1-13 Armagh 1-19, Armagh 2-16 Clare 1-15, Roscommon 2-22 Armagh 1-19

11 Cavan

PROMOTION to the top flight was achieved and, with manager Mattie McGleenan at his inspirational best, the Breffnimen looked forward to an Ulster SFC preliminary round clash in Ballybofey against relegated Donegal with genuine optimism.

But the Tir Chonaill side displayed their Championship pedigree with a commanding win and Cavan were sent off to lick their wounds in the Qualifiers.

There was a win over Wicklow, then Down allowed them to wriggle off the hook in round two and Tyrone were hot favourites in round three. But Cavan showed the potential in their ranks with a battling performance in a fiercely-contested all-Ulster clash. In sweltering conditions, Martin Reilly’s goal had put the Breffnimen in the driving seat but Tyrone finished strongly to progress. 

McGleenan stood down in the wake of the loss and Cavan native Mickey Graham has replaced him. 

NFL Division Two: Clare 1-12 Cavan 2-9, Cavan 3-17 Louth 0-13, Cavan 2-14 Meath 1-12, Cork 0-11 0-14 Cavan, Cavan 0-17 Down 0-14, Roscommon 0-15 Cavan 0-13, Cavan 0-17 Tipperary 2-10 

Division Two final: Roscommon 4-16 Cavan 4-12 

Ulster SFC: Donegal 2-20 Cavan 1-15; 

All-Ireland SFC: Wicklow 1-5 Cavan 2-16, Cavan 1-14 Down 0-15, Cavan 1-12 Tyrone 0-18

12 Fermanagh

EOIN Donnelly’s last-minute goal against Monaghan (who had beaten Tyrone in their previous outing) will live long in the memory of the Fermanagh fans that were in Omagh to see it.

That victory had come hot on the heels of the Ernemen’s win over Armagh which itself followed on from promotion back up to Division Two.

The Erne county faithful made their way to Clones for the Ulster final in optimistic mood but they were no match for Donegal on the day.

Still, manager Rory Gallagher did make progress in his first season at the helm of his native county.

Stabilisation in Division Two is required next year before they take another crack at the elusive Anglo-Celt Cup.

NFL Division Three: Fermanagh 3-7 Wexford 2-5, Fermanagh 2-11 Offaly 1-6, Sligo 0-8 Fermanagh 0-13, Fermanagh 1-16 Derry 3-8, Westmeath 0-14 Fermanagh 1-9, Fermanagh 0-7 Armagh 0-7, Longford 1-9 Fermanagh 1-10 Division Three final: Armagh 1-16 Fermanagh 0-17 Ulster SFC: Fermanagh 0-12 Armagh 0-7, Fermanagh 1-8 Monaghan 0-10, Donegal 2-18 Fermanagh 0-12; All-Ireland SFC: Fermanagh 0-18 Kildare 3-20 

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