Ewan MacKenna was a sports writer with the Sunday Tribune.
He now writes for the Eircom Sports Hub.
He has recently posted his list of counties in Championship pecking order.
I am posting his top ten here and the full list can be found at:http://eircomsports.eircom.net/News/news/gaa/football/power-rankings-22-aug.aspx
Anyone care to comment?
1. Kerry (-)
Remember that 1997 All Ireland they captured by beating no more than Tipperary, Clare, Cavan and Mayo. Well this one is beginning to have that peaceful, easy feeling to it as well. The hardest part is yet to come but it says a lot about their route so far that they are in the last two and we still know so little about where they are at as a team, particularly down the spine of their defence where they look susceptible to being run at. In fact the only indication of their standing was a month ago, and even at that we suspected the Munster final was more shadow boxing than an all-out brawl.
At least that day, and on Sunday, they hinted at answers to the many questions surrounding them, particularly at midfield where Bryan Sheehan and Anthony Maher have been sensational, while they are still blessed with the best group of forwards in the country, what with Paul Galvin back to fitness and with a lot of people on his back, Declan O’Sullivan and Kieran Donaghy with so much room for improvement, Gooch slowly coming to boil at the right time of the year as he’s done so many times before and Darran O’Sullivan having a career-defining season capped by that most remarkable of goals against Limerick.
There have been better Kerry teams over the last decade that didn't win All Irelands. But that won't bother this group if and when they take that final step.
2. Dublin (-)
How much of that quarter-final was down to Dublin’s brilliance and how much was down to Tyrone’s dire display would give an indication of their capability of winning it all. That the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle keeps them at number two, but so many of the doubts have been dispelled. Their hunger and physicality was huge, their pace phenomenal, their distribution excellent and their finishing, for points at least, awesome. Tactically Pat Gilroy got it right against a slow side on their last legs but he needed a lot of players to stand up to make it work. So many players did just that.
The defence was packed tight, Michael Dara MacAuley was imposing, Diarmuid Connolly couldn’t miss, Alan Brogan remains Dublin’s best attacker when taking the championship as a whole, Bernard Brogan showed glimpses of his best, even if he’s not there yet, and Paul Flynn’s distribution was that of an All Star. But maybe most impressive of all was the way they forgot so many disappoints at this stage in previous seasons, forgot all the pressure and hype, and got on with beating a team they are far superior too with little fuss.
There’s two ways it can go now. There can be the boom and bust scenario where everything that went right could go wrong next day, or a performance like that could inspire enough confidence to continue playing with such a swagger. If it’s the latter they’ll be on Kerry’s tails not just here and now, but right up to the final whistle in late September.
3. Cork (-)
That they went down without much fighting was the most disappointing aspect of their exit but there are valid excuses, not least a myriad of missed goal chances against Mayo, and a thin squad of forwards, unable to recover from the loss of Ciarán Sheehan, Colm O’Neill and Daniel Goulding. But perhaps the greatest blow to this group of players was the removal of all that desperation to succeed that came along with so many near misses over the years. In the end when they came across a team that wanted it more, they couldn’t respond or match their hunger and that was their downfall.
As much as being All Ireland champions improved them, it also raised a question and a nagging doubt that a league title and facile wins over Clare, Waterford and Down just couldn’t answer. The pain of losing initially brought Noel O’Leary and Michael Shields to Rylane Boxing Club in winter and last season the whole side danced on the canvas. But without pain, we wondered how they would react. Now we know and we wonder if that pain will return next season because they are still a serious side and watching someone else win a relatively easy All Ireland that should have been theirs is bound to hurt.
4. Donegal (+1)
Despite reaching the last four against all odds, we still aren’t sure if they are a very good team or simply a solid team. They’ve a system that is so hard to beat and that might even take them to an All Ireland final and in Neil McGee, Karl Lacey and Michael Murphy they have All Stars. But then what? There will come a day when they are actually called up for some really cynical off-the-ball hitting and their midfield can’t keep losing out as they did against Kildare. This is not a shot at Donegal, rather an honest assessment because while it’s not pretty, it’s plenty effective and they are there to win, not to entertain.
Under Jimmy McGuinness the county has its most dedicated team in an age and their hassling and harrying at the back shows as much. That they gave up their pre-championship night out, instead taking in the Scottish League Cup final back in March is another example of the unity and organisation in the group. Question now is do they have a Plan B, because if a side start kicking scores from distance, do Donegal know how to play less negatively and go toe-to-toe in a shootout with a top-class county? On Sunday we’ll find out.
5. Mayo (-1)
Another hammering by Kerry that could have been similar to those which went before had Darran O’Sullivan goaled a couple of times in the early stages. Their midfield just wasn’t mobile enough to compete with Kerry and while the defence kept tabs on some of the opposition forward line, they couldn’t contain them all. But there is no shame in that and the real story here is not the fact they lost the semi-final heavily, it was the fact that they made it that far while turning Andy Moran into an All Star and turning Cillian O’Connor into an All Star nominee. They are easily the best team in Connacht and while they are nowhere near good enough to make it to the top in a countywide sense, they are at least back as a force and moving rapidly in the right direction.
While their ultimate exit will come to mind initially when we think of their 2011, the Cork win shouldn’t be forgotten. For a while we’ve said James Horan was the right person to resurrect Mayo football but we didn’t think it would happen so soon. Year one of his time in charge has been spectacular, now for that difficult second album.
6. Kildare (-)
What now? Four years in and after Kieran McGeeney gave himself and his great footballing mind as well as everything the players needed to succeed, this is where Kildare end up. What’s most irritating is that they are losing to teams they should be beating at a stage they should be getting past. In short they are underachieving and as much as they talk about decisions going against them (how can a referee 40 yards away tell an umpire waving a green flag that it was a square ball?), they still should have won the quarter-final and won well. They showed guts to get to extra-time against Donegal but then they needed to show ruthlessness and with a three-point lead and Daryl Flynn dominating in the middle, they froze and then melted in the most horrific of mental collapses.
They do need McGeeney to stay though because while he and everyone else must be questioning the players' ability to get over the line, without him they won’t even see that line. The only positive is considering how long it took McGeeney himself to become a champion but judging by this latest collapse, that Armagh side had far more mental strength than this group.
7. Tyrone (-)
That’s all folks. The end of an era as there won’t, and should not, be any coming back from this for a lot of the panel. There were rightly many nice things written about so many players that thrilled us for the last decade but to look at the Dublin game on its own, that was simply pathetic from all concerned. Yes, the opposition were bigger, stronger and faster and it would have taken a miracle to beat that, but all it needed was hunger and some tactics to make it a lot more respectable.
On several occasions Dublin won ball in their own defence where they had five men to spare, and kicked it long to where they were in a three-on-three situation. Tyrone’s extra bodies were floating around the middle throughout as the ball went way over their heads and towards their full-back line which just couldn’t compete with basic man-marking. Dublin were good, but they weren’t that good. Tyrone meanwhile were that bad. The end of an era. Time for the next generation to step up and begin to blossom.
8. Down (-)
Not really a crash landing because their season never took off. On the surface Cork may have knocked them out of the championship, but their 2011 was effectively ended by Armagh all those weeks ago. They had to show this year they could win an Ulster title and go from there but lost their confidence that day and never recovered. But strangely, despite the scoreline against Cork, they showed for long spells of the first half they still have the ability to be the best in their province and one of the better sides in the country. However the likes of Kevin McKernan, Peter Fitzpatrick, Danny Hughes, Kalum King and Mark Poland never reached last season’s highs while Marty Clarke looked a shadow of his former self. There’s something to work with going forward, sure, but they need to start next summer on the right foot and get off the ground early.
9. Meath (-)
Better. Much better. They may have beaten Louth and Galway but their loss to Kildare strangely was the greatest cause for optimism. They stuck with a very good team all night in Navan, Kevin Reilly and the half-back line were superb, Joe Sheridan dictated a lot of play from deep and Shane O’Rourke was decent in a midfield role. There are a couple of problems though. Firstly, the forwards should be scoring more, and Graham Reilly should be in the half-forward line. Secondly, there was no sense of responsibility during their exit because with the game on the line they lacked leaders and a real will to win, something most un-Meath. But hey, they did enough to make sure Banty is around next season to try and rectify those situations, although we aren't sure how many of their followers will be pleased by that.
10. Derry (-)
So often with Derry we’ve seen sunshine followed rapidly by rain. Against Armagh it was all sunshine as their midfield cleaned up, Eoin Bradley was unmarkable with the supply of ball that was aimed at him and the defence was crowded and chaotic. In essence, John Brennan got every little thing right that day. But completely outclassed by Donegal and Kildare and while any side would struggle without the Bradley brothers, it was the way they dissipated in the qualifiers that was most disappointing. Their long-ball gameplan was flawed and predictable and their actions when the game got away from them were sour. They hit late consistently in the second-half in Croke Park, were cynical and dirty and gave an awful impression of a side that had looked so good just weeks before.