Arguably the strongest team Eamonn Fitzmaurice has named in a league opener, this being his fourth term as Kerry manager. With little in the way of training done on pitches nowhere near close to the excellent condition of the Croke Park sod, he’ll be largely relying on motivation among the 10 starters who saw action last September to fuel them here. When it’s Dublin who have the edge in the depth of their panel, that initiative may be the leveller.
In their three years in Division 1 between 2011 and ’13, Down never lost on their first day out, securing a win over their rivals this evening in 2012 and drawing with Mayo and Tyrone on the two other occasions. They’ll hope to start as they mean to go on but their attack is the poorer with Conor Laverty and Donegal have rested well over the winter.
Dublin’s young guns have impressed Ger Cunningham so far this month particularly in the forward line where on paper they look slightly superior to the visitors, the majority of whom have never played in Croke Park before.
Bearing in mind Cork have lost just once on opening weekend since they returned to Division 1 in 2010, Stephen Rochford’s determination this week to play down Mayo’s league prospects was well founded at least for this fixture. Because of injury and number of games, Peadar Healy has learned more about his team this month than Rochford and that advantage should manifest itself.
Six is the magic number of points Kevin McStay and Fergie O’Donnell will be aiming for. Moving the game away from Dr Hyde Park was a necessity because of playing conditions but Monaghan in the past would have taken advantage of staging Division 1 games in more obscure club venues. Roscommon can expect a battle but may squeeze a win.
Derry lost more than a McKenna Cup final last weekend. Injured players Brendan Rogers and Enda Lynn are key players but they have built up a nice head of steam. Fermanagh have played four games this month but Derry are more battle-hardened.
The numbers at Meath’s home games this month have been decent and to lose here would be a serious knock to the goodwill generated by their O’Byrne Cup success. If Graham Reilly is fully fit, they can prosper against an Armagh side missing key figures.
Cavan shouldn’t be intimidated by the visit to Omagh considering how poor Tyrone have been there in recent times. Tyrone have stumbled a little after their last two McKenna Cup successes too but it’s an impressive team Mickey Harte has named, full of vim and vigour.
It was a surprising home defeat to Laois last year that popped the balloon in Galway’s promotion hopes. Mick Lillis is still feeling his way into his new role with the O’Moore County and if Galway can curtail Donie Kingston’s influence the two points are theirs.
No David Kelly for Sligo but the Connacht men look a top four team at least even if Clare’s home comforts should come to bear here.
It’s a little surprising Tipperary are so fancied here when they are missing so many players. Limerick can take something from it.
Denis Connerton held a long meeting with his players after their disappointing O’Byrne Cup final defeat last weekend. A reaction will be expected.
The pick of the Division 3 games with both set-ups fancied to make an immediate return to Division 2. The traditional “new manager bounce” can give the Lilywhites two valuable away points.
Early indications are Louth look set to put a disappointing 2015 season behind them.
A disappointing O’Byrne Cup for Carlow doesn’t bode well but at least Brendan Murphy is back.
News of Graeme Molloy’s retirement earlier this week was a blow but there’s a win for them here.
The decision by the Stradbally players not to play for Waterford is the last thing Tom McGlinchey needed.
St Patrick’s/Mater Dei.
It is unknown territory for this legendary Cork side who go into a season for the first time without Eamonn Ryan at the helm. Uncertainty still surrounds some of their big names but there is no sign of the talent conveyor belt slowing down. Mayo received the boost of Cora Staunton confirming another championship season, her 22nd, but the trip to Cork is long and has tended to be a fruitless one in recent years for the Westerners.
Tyrone will fear that this is the beginning of a long season. They survived in Division 1 last year by virtue of a final round shoot out victory over Laois, the arrival of Armagh to the top division means that the overall quality is even higher than ever. Galway have a new manager but retain most of the very impressive squad they had last year. They will want to hit the ground running and have an opening fixture that should see them get off to the best start.
Paula Cunningham has taken over in Monaghan with a very difficult job on her hands as she takes over a side that is shorn of some of their biggest names from years gone by. Armagh welcome Ronan Clarke as their new manager and have a depth of talent that make them a formidable foe. This could be a tough season for Monaghan but there is still plenty of quality in their ranks but a more settled squad and the Clarke effect should see the Orchard win away from home.
An enormous weight has been lifted off the shoulders of Gregory McGonigle who sees his old foe, Eamonn Ryan, leave Cork. The departure of Ryan and the return of ace attacker, Sinead Aherne, saw the Jackeens installed as League and Championship favourites and with the talent laden squad at their disposal they will take beating. Kerry are a side that will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season but this trip to the capital for their opener comes a little too soon for the Kingdom.
Westmeath v Donegal, 2pm, St. Loman’s Mullingar (K. Phelan); Meath v Sligo, 2.00pm, Drumree (C. Dourneen); Cavan v Kildare, 2pm, Kingspan Breffni Park (D. McEnery); Laois v Clare, 2pm, Annanough (J. Murphy).
Waterford v Tipperary, 2pm, Piltown (C. Forde); Fermanagh v Leitrim, 2.00pm, Bawnacre Centre, Irvinestown (Y. Duffy); Roscommon v Offaly, 2pm, Rathcline Lanesboro (M. Kenny); Down v Wexford, 2pm, Abbey Grammar School (K. McKeever).
Limerick v Carlow (postponed to February 21); Derry v Louth, 2.00pm, Owenbeg 4G Pitch (D. Callaghan); Wicklow v Antrim, 2pm, Bray Emmets GAA (A. Gallagher).