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Ryan Byrne/INPHO Galway face Mayo in Castlebar on the opening weekend
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Connacht giants clash: Five unmissable matches to kick off the 2023 Allianz Leagues
With the Allianz Leagues around the corner, we look at five intriguing inter-county match-ups on the opening weekends.

A NEW YEAR brings with it new opportunities. Following an off-season of significant managerial change, inter-county GAA teams are back training with the Allianz Leagues on the horizon.

With not long to go until the first round of football games on 28/29 January, and hurling ties the following weekend, we look at five intriguing contests that will kick off the 2023 Allianz Leagues season.

Mayo vs Galway (F)

The Kevin McStay era gets underway in earnest with a rivalry which could well define his reign over the coming years.

Mayo host Galway for their first Allianz League game at MacHale Park since 2021, as they look to lay down an early marker, with the Connacht rivals drawn on the same side of the provincial championship for 2023.

There is national intrigue as to whether the new boss, with his star-studded backroom team, can get a tune from this Mayo group.

Pádraic Joyce’s charges, meanwhile, will be out to prove that 2022 was no flash in the pan. The county has not defended a Connacht title since 2003, and backing up last summer’s success is the next challenge.

This young Tribe panel still have scope for improvement, and will take heart from how they pushed Kerry all the way in the All-Ireland final.

But 2022 exploits will count for little in the new season, as they bid to come stronger once more.

Mayo vs Galway always packs an extra punch — and both teams will be gunning to make an early statement.

glenn-ryan-and-dessie-farrell-after-the-game Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO The Leinster rivals face off once more, but Division 2 is where neither side wants to be. Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Dublin vs Kildare (F)

Division 2 is not where either county wanted to be, but the two relegated top-tier sides from 2022 face off in the opener at Croke Park.

The Dubs’ torrid form last spring culminated in their demotion, but a strong Leinster title defence and a strong showing against Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final arrested the decline.

Dessie Farrell’s charges face into the new year looking to re-establish themselves as Gaelic football’s top dogs. But they begin that journey away from the bright lights of Division 1.

After the Sky Blues tasted a rare defeat in this fixture last year in Newbridge, they will be eager to get their Division 2 campaign off to the perfect start. 

The Lilywhites were left to ponder what might have been in recent months, suffering relegation despite going unbeaten at home in Division 1, and then falling to the Dubs and Mayo in the Championship.

But there are signs that Glenn Ryan’s charges are moving in the right direction, with underage talent continuing to emerge.

For Kildare, a swift return to Division 1 is crucial to the development of this team; for Dublin, anything other than promotion is unfathomable.

glenn-ryan-and-dessie-farrell-after-the-game Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO The Leinster rivals face off once more, but Division 2 is where neither side wants to be. Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Donegal vs Kerry (F)

The off-season retirements of Michael Murphy and Neil McGee mean that Paddy McBrearty is the sole member of the panel with a Celtic cross in his back pocket.

As the county steps into a new era under the stewardship of Paddy Carr, there are significant gaps to fill in terms of senior leadership roles.

Nonetheless, this is still a panel capable of greater heights than the ones scaled in recent years.

They kick off their campaign by welcoming the All-Ireland champions to town, and with little to prove but everything to defend, Kerry open their Allianz Football League campaign with the long trip to the north-west.

Jack O’Connor’s four All-Ireland titles as Kerry boss have all been preceded by Allianz League crowns, so you can be sure that the Kingdom will come into this season with all guns blazing once more.

jack-oconnor Ryan Byrne / INPHO Kerry get their title defence underway against Donegal. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Cork vs Limerick (H)

Perhaps it is not entirely accurate to label Limerick as any county’s bogey team, given how they have swept aside all in their path in recent years.

But the Rebels’ inability to lay a glove on the Treaty in the Championship ultimately defined Kieran Kingston’s second spell in charge.

Like every other manager in Munster — and, indeed, around Ireland — Pat Ryan will have spent the winter months pondering possible weaknesses in this ‘green machine’.

And the Leesiders get their first crack at the Munster and All-Ireland champs on the opening weekend of the Allianz Leagues at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

A victory over this Limerick team would be quite the statement with which to kick off a new era of Cork hurling.

After executing a perfect crescendo over the past two years, John Kiely’s juggernaut will be looking to use the early months of the year to build once more.

robert-downey-and-kyle-hayes Bryan Keane / INPHO Limerick have dominated the rivalry of late. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Wexford vs Galway (H)

Two second-year managers face off, out to build on promising maiden seasons.

Both Darragh Egan and Henry Shefflin had cause for optimism in the wake of their 2022 Championship exits, and will be using the Allianz Hurling League as a springboard this season.

The Model County were left to rue squandering a six-point lead late in their All-Ireland quarter-final against Clare, while the Tribesmen went toe-to-toe with Limerick in the last four before ultimately falling short.

“The group we have they are just immense. They’re really, really great fellas. We blooded a few players into that, we brought on a lot of our younger lads,” Egan said after the Banner defeat last June.

“We’ve 12 U20s in our 41-man panel and it’s now all about development. Development starts today for them. They need to be ready for when we go back training in December.”

brian-concannon-shoots-on-goal Ken Sutton / INPHO The counties have been well-matched in recent times. Ken Sutton / INPHO / INPHO

Similarly, Shefflin will be looking to further put his stamp on Galway as they map out a route back to the top.

The two Leinster Championship contenders will look to get the year off to a flying start under lights at Chadwicks Wexford Park.

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