Monaghan have grown increasingly reliant on their star attacker though his shoulders appear broad enough to take the strain. The two-time All-Star top scored in each of Monaghan’s four Championship games last summer and played a central role in retaining their Division 1 status.
His dozen points against Dublin at Croke Park in February was ultimately in vain, as Monaghan lost, but underlined his unique ability. If he was born in Mayo there’s every chance he and the long-suffering westerners, who need just one more top talent alongside Cillian O’Connor, would have won an All-Ireland.
Dublin’s midfield had a giant question mark over it before Fenton hit the scene at the start of 2015. Cian O’Sullivan, Denis Bastick and Michael Darragh Macauley were all in and out as Jim Gavin sought to nail down an effective partnership. Now it’s simply a case of who is going to partner Fenton because the Raheny man has dominated the area.
Neil Gallagher and Rory Kavanagh used to do the same for Donegal but Kavanagh has retired and Gallagher is battling injury. Odhran MacNiallais starred there last year but is unavailable for 2017 so boss Rory Gallagher has a giant gap to fill in the middle third.
A little like Mayo, the nagging suspicion is Tyrone might be one marquee forward short of an All-Ireland winning team. Mickey Harte has always disputed that and their unbeaten run throughout 2016 until the All-Ireland quarter-finals against Mayo, allied to their spread of scorers in that period, suggested he might be right.
The lack of a Stephen O’Neill, a Peter Canavan or an Owen Mulligan was highlighted against Mayo. Tyrone scored just 12 points and their forwards converted only 0-3 from play. The loss of Connor McAliskey this season with knee trouble hardly helps. Kerry would feel the pinch if they lost O’Donoghue though and they need the Legion man to deliver if they’re to recapture the Allianz league title.
Meath’s big problem under Mick O’Dowd was their inability to shut down games that were there for the taking. They famously blew a 10-point lead against Westmeath in the 2015 Championship and coughed up a seven-point interval lead on Derry when crashing out of the 2016 qualifiers.
All Star centre-back Boyle is the sort of player they’re missing, someone to pull a defence together and lock it down when needs be. His incredible engine and ability to bomb forward and pick off a score, or at least create one, could be the difference in finally gaining Meath promoted back to Division 1. Mayo would need a blank cheque to make that transfer a reality though.
Donnelly is the beating heartbeat of the Tyrone midfield, doing for them (and perhaps more) what Michael Darragh Macauley did for Dublin in 2013. The Trillick man is powerful and mobile and inspires the Red Hands with his high fielding and lung bursting charges forward.
Dublin don’t lack much admittedly but they’re on the road a long time, with high mileage racked up, and adding Donnelly to the midfield or half-forward lines would have the affect of giving a potentially tired team a large shot of adrenaline. Tyrone simply couldn’t do without him though.