Inside Track with John McIntyre
THE All-Ireland football championship finally kicks off on home soil this weekend and the big question is can Dublin complete the three-in-a-row for the first time since the early twenties? Also seeking a record-breaking seventh consecutive provincial title in 2017, Jim Gavin’s squad are undoubtedly the team to beat in a championship which barely has a handful of serious contenders.
If anything, Dublin’s surprise National League final defeat to Kerry in early April and the ending of the team’s incredible 36-match unbeaten run will only galvanise Ciaran Kilkenny and company for the challenges ahead. That wake-up call will surely serve them well over the months ahead even if a lot of their players have been a long time on the go.
Of course, it’s a huge help to Dublin’s championship ambitions that Leinster is so uncompetitive these days. Incredibly, eight of the province’s 11 contenders are currently campaigning between Divisions Three and Four of the National League, although there were signs of renewed life in both Kildare, beaten by Galway in the Division Two final, and Meath this spring.
Undoubtedly, Kerry remain the biggest threat to Dublin’s ongoing supremacy. Psychologically, it must have been a huge lift to them to get the better of their arch rivals in the league decider after coming out second best in a number of big matches. They have also unveiled some quality new talent, including midfielder Jack Barry, while Jonathan Lyne, Mike Geaney, Kevin McCarthy and Jack Savage are all attackers with the capacity to make it at the top level.
Naturally, there will again be a huge focus on the country’s hard-luck team Mayo. They have come desperately close to ending their near 70-year All-Ireland famine in recent years and while the squad’s resolve is admirable, their shocking misfortune in September of 2016 – conceding two own goals in the drawn final before the surprise axing of their goalkeeper David Clarke for the replay proved fatal – must still be haunting them.
They have Sligo, who were utterly professional in fending off New York’s challenge in Gaelic Park last Sunday week, up first in the Connacht championship and Mayo should come through that challenge comfortably enough to set up a big semi-final collision against Galway at Pearse Stadium. Not alone are the improving Tribesmen the reigning champions, but they are also heading into summer with a spring in their step after clinching league promotion to Division One in April.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.