previews Division 1 of the Allianz Football League.
Division 2 champions.
Declan Bonner (3rd year of 2nd term).
1st year in Division 1 since 2018.
Having turned 30 last August, Murphy enters his third decade as a Donegal senior player. A 10th senior season for Paddy McBrearty.
Peadar Mogan. Captain of the county’s U20 side last year, Bonner had a look at him before but he’s set to make a breakthrough this year.
Advanced mark but for Murphy and McBrearty’s long-range kicking more than marks captured close to goal.
"Michael can’t keep doing everything for us.”
A toss-up between the final home game against Tyrone, their Ulster SFC opponents, and the last day trip to Kerry in light of recent close battles with the Kingdom in Kerry and Croke Park.
Third. A lack of ruthlessness has hurt Donegal these past two seasons. There have to be indications from early on that they can make amends.
Dessie Farrell (1st year).
12th consecutive season in Division 1.
Likely Stephen Cluxton.
The currency was the punt when Cluxton began his senior career with Dublin. As he told James McCarthy, what’s the point in going anywhere when for years he was on a losing team?
Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne. The Cuala midfielder could turn out to be a long-term partner for Brian Fenton.
The 20-metre kick-out. We might not see Cluxton until the end of March but Evan Comerford will have to move fast to kick the ball out with Dublin’s usual haste.
“Young players are going to ensure we stay hungry.”
The Kerry game is an obvious one but by the time they travel to Omagh Farrell should know more about his group. Jim Gavin took a lot from such trips and Farrell will hope for the same.
Finalists. Farrell will see the League as more of an exercise than anything else but he’ll be all too aware that the expectations level will not wane. Four home games will be beneficial.
Pádraic Joyce (1st year).
5th consecutive season in Division 1.
Gary O’Donnell just turned 32 and it was interesting to see him repositioned to full-back during the Connacht League.
Liam Costello. The Milltown tyro could add a spark to the attack after impressing for the U20s last year.
Damien Comer won’t look to take advanced marks anyway so perhaps the 20m kick-out with their array of goalkeepers.
“I’m looking for performances this spring, not results per se.”
Mayo occupy the minds of this new management team as much as the previous one. Like Dessie Farrell, Joyce will have a clearer picture by March.
Fourth. Galway do need to change the way they play but it should come easy enough to players like Walsh, Comer and the Corofin crew.
Peter Keane (2nd year).
18th consecutive season in Division 1.
After Killian Young's retirement, David Moran at 31 is now the oldest in the panel. This will be his third decade playing senior football for Kerry.
Paudie Clifford. David's older brother has done plenty with college and division to earn a panel spot and could be a real option in the half-forward line.
Advanced mark. Tommy Walsh, how are ya?
“Yerra, we're further away from Dublin than ever before."
Dublin, of course. Up to last year's All-Ireland semi-final, Kerry's recent record in Croke Park was poor and it remains that way in relation to Dublin who they failed to beat at GAA HQ for all of Jim Gavin's seven years in charge.
Winners. Dublin will challenge as always but their spring will be partly transitional and Kerry are looking to itch a scratch by beating them in Croke Park on Saturday. Four away games shouldn't blunt the challenge of a panel hurt and hungry after last August.
James Horan (2nd year of 2nd term).
22nd consecutive season in Division 1.
Looking like Diarmuid O’Connor again.
Keith Higgins turns 35 next month and he will likely be used sparingly this spring but he remains a vital group member with little loss of pace.
Oisín Mullin. The promising and pacy Kilmaine man could stake a claim in defence this spring.
Advanced mark. Aidan O’Shea may spend more time at the edge of the square
“Look it, things are never as good as they seem or as bad as they appear."
Either Dublin or Kerry. Both games are in Castlebar, which is hardly a happy home for Mayo based on recent League results. Mayo can look on making MacHale Park a fortress as a building block for 2020.
Fifth. Some running repairs have to be made to the Mayo team as much as Horan introduced a lot of fresh faces last year. The introduction of Ciarán McDonald to the management team is timely.
Division 2 finalists.
Andy McEntee (4th year).
First season in Division 1 since 2006.
Bryan Menton and Donal Keogan.
Twelve years on from his debut, Graham Reilly is committing for another season. He turns 31 in June.
Shane Walsh. The real deal and he may be pushed into the spotlight quicker than expected with the amount of injuries Meath are suffering.
Conor McGill is the type of defender you think would love the advanced mark.
“The advanced mark has changed the game we once knew.”
Dublin will be well and truly up and running by the time Meath take them on a couple of days before St Patrick’s Day. McEntee will hope to have a cleaner bill of health by then.
Eighth. The amount of operations key players have had in recent time could hurt Meath’s return to the top flight. Two away games to finish off is tough.
Seamus McEnaney (1st year of 2nd term).
Sixth consecutive season in Division 1.
McEnaney lost Vinny Corey and Dessie Mone to retirement but Conor McManus, 33 this year, remains the talisman for the Farney County.
James Mealiff is no spring chicken but is only reaching his mid-20s and could be a nice attacking addition in defence.
You can be sure McManus will work the advanced rule to great advantage.
“We’re only getting started, hey, but we’ll be ready when it matters most.”
The Ulster clashes will mean a lot and were Donegal to be felled at home it could be the platform for the rest of the season.
Sixth. In recruiting Conor Laverty and Peter Donnelly in his backroom team, McEnaney has done well but this spring is all about survival.
Mickey Harte (18th season).
Fourth consecutive season in Division 1.
Turning 33 this year and the last link to an All-Ireland title, it’s once more into the breach for Colm Cavanagh.
Darragh Canavan. Not exactly in the same mould as his father Peter in that he is a playmaker but just as skilful and exciting.
As well as Shaun Patton, Niall Morgan should be able to boom the ball from the 20m line.
“Our relationship with Australian Rules will be the ruination of our game.”
A mighty difficult end to the campaign. Mayo’s home record is nothing special but taking something from Donegal will be onerous.
Seventh. Like Meath, injuries to key players could jeopardise Tyrone’s position in Division 1. A case of coping until such time as those injuries clear up.