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Dublin: 17 °C Tuesday 23 July, 2019
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The big story for every Division 1 team as the Allianz football league gets underway

Competitive football is back and we check in with each county in the top-flight to assess their prospects for the coming year.

We detail the biggest storylines heading into opening weekend of the Allianz football league Division 1 – and what they mean going forward – for every county.

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Dublin

Diarmuid Connolly Diarmuid Connolly will miss the opening few rounds of the league due to his club commitments with St Vincent's Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Odds: 5/4
Manager: 
Jim Gavin (since 2013)
Last year:
 Champions (finished 1st in table)
NFL titles: 12 (last title 2016)

Jim Gavin freshened things up last month by deploying a developmental side in the O’Byrne Cup and he would have been pleasantly surprised at how they fared. The manner of their victory over Kildare served as a reminder of the strength in depth at his disposal. A number of players who impressed in the pre-season competition are expected to push for places in the Dublin squad, with Niall Scully leading the pack.

The back-to-back All-Ireland champions were late back to training after a January holiday in Jamaica, but they did fit in a training camp in the Carton House last week as they stepped up their preparations for the league. Denis Bastick is back for another year, Bernard Brogan is still away on his honeymoon, while Michael Fitzsimons will be hoping to pick up where he left off in last year’s All-Ireland final replay.

First game: vs Cavan (Kingspan Breffni Park, Sunday 2pm, live TG4)

Kerry

Conor Geaney Kerry's young sharpshooter Conor Geaney Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Odds: 7/2
Manager: 
Eamonn Fitzmaurice
Last year:
 Beaten finalists (finished 2nd in table)
NFL titles: 19 (last title 2009)

Eamonn Fitzmaurice has signalled his intent for the year by handing out starting debuts to three youngsters (Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan and Jack Savage) for Sunday’s trip to Donegal. The three-in-a-row winning minor crop are emerging at senior level and a number of exciting prospects will be blooded this spring, with Conor Geaney and Jack Barry expected to feature off the bench.

The return of James O’Donoghue for his first league campaign in a couple of years is a massive boost to the Kingdom, who are hoping to find form earlier than they have in recent seasons.

“Our season was a lot shorter last year and fellas were fresher earlier,” Paul Geaney said this week. “We had an extra month to be thinking about it, and in the winter that’s not a great thing. Without the injuries, we had a chance to hit the ground running.”

Kieran Donaghy has returned to the panel but isn’t part of the squad on Sunday, while Peter Crowley is stand-in captain until the Dr Crokes contingent returns.

First game: vs Donegal (Letterkenny, Sunday 2pm, deferred TG4)

Mayo

Cillian O’Connor Cillian O'Connor starts for Mayo tonight Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

Odds: 9/2
Manager: 
Stephen Rochford
Last year:
 5th
NFL titles: 11 (last title 2001)

Mayo will be glad to get back to action after a winter of discontent. The Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly interview in December is firmly in the rearview mirror, but there’s a sense that Mayo need a strong league campaign to kick-start their year. Finding an explosive inside forward is paramount to their chances of finally winning that All-Ireland and Stephen Rochford will be looking to Evan Regan to show he can cut it at the highest level.

Regan starts tonight against Monaghan, as does All-Star David Clarke who was dropped for last year’s All-Ireland final replay. Absent against Monaghan are Aidan O’Shea, who suffered an ankle injury playing basketball, and Lee Keegan, who’s preparing for an All-Ireland intermediate club final with Westport.

First game: vs Monaghan (Elverys MacHale Park, Castlebar, Saturday 7pm, Live eir Sport 2 HD)

Tyrone

Darren McCurry Tyrone will look to Darren McCurry to provide a consistent scoring threat in 2017 Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

Odds: 9/2
Manager: 
Mickey Harte
Last year:
 Division 2 champions (finished 1st in table)
NFL titles: 2 (last title 2003)

A few years ago Mickey Harte asserted that it’s “impossible” to win an All-Ireland from Division 2, and the Red Hand return to the top flight this year with Sam Maguire in their sights. Like Mayo, the addition of another scoring forward inside would really add to their All-Ireland prospects, but instead Tyrone have been badly hampered by the loss of Connor McAliskey to a cruciate injury.

It’s imperative that both Darren McCurry and Ronan O’Neill consistently start putting up scores of four or five points a game, and perform against the big teams. Harte’s young squad won an Ulster title last year, and winning a league title in 2017 would represent another step forward for this group.

Sean Cavanagh will likely spend the early part of the year featuring off the bench, while Peter Harte looks primed for his best campaign yet. Interestingly, Harte has selected Matty Donnelly to start at 6 against Roscommon in a strong half-back line.

First game: vs Roscommon (Omagh, Sunday 2pm)

Monaghan

Conor McCarthy Conor McCarthy could be set for a breakout year for the Farney Source: Presseye/John McIlwaine/INPHO

Odds: 16/1
Manager: 
Malachy O’Rourke
Last year:
 6th
NFL titles: 1 (last title 1985)

It’s been a quiet winter in Monaghan. Malachy O’Rourke is into his fifth year in charge of the Farney and it’s hard shake the notion that this Monaghan squad have already peaked.

They are carrying a number of injuries into the league campaign, with Dessie Mone set to miss the next two months with a broken wrist, while Vinny Corey, Dessie Ward and Jack McCarron are also carrying knocks. On a good note, Conor McManus got through the McKenna cup without any setbacks to his hip and starts against Mayo tonight.

O’Rourke has included six of the recent Ulster U21 champions in his panel, with exciting Scotstown forward Conor McCarthy starting at full-forward. If McCarthy can take some of the scoring burden off McManus, then Monaghan could surprise a few people.

First game: vs Mayo (Elverys MacHale Park, Castlebar, Saturday 7pm, Live eir Sport 2 HD)

Donegal

Patrick McBrearty Paddy McBrearty is a key man in attack for Donegal Source: Presseye/Matt Mackey/INPHO

Odds: 16/1
Manager:
Rory Gallagher
Last year: Beaten semi-finalists (finished 4th in table)
NFL titles: 1 (last title 2007)

There’s no doubt about it, Donegal are set for a year of transition. The retirements of Rory Kavanagh, Christy Toye, David Walsh, Eamon McGee and Colm McFadden have been well documented, but the real worry for Donegal fans will have been the departures of Leo McLoone (27) and Odhran MacNiallais (24).

After McHugh, MacNiallais was arguably Donegal’s best performer in 2016 and they’ll miss his energy and unique ability to ghost into dangerous scoring positions. More than ever, Donegal will be relying on big seasons from Ryan McHugh, Paddy McBrearty and Michael Murphy.

Gallagher has handed five players debuts for their opener against Kerry, with Caolon Ward, Jason McGee and Michael Langan operating in key positions in the middle third.

“We are very happy with what we have seen in training and challenge matches from all these new lads,” Gallagher said this week. Tomorrow will tell a lot.

First game: vs Kerry (Letterkenny, Sunday 2pm, deferred TG4)

Roscommon

Roscommon huddle after the game Roscommon have lost plenty of experience in the off-season Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Odds: 25/1
Manager:
Kevin McStay
Last year:
 Beaten semi-finalists (finished 3rd in table)
NFL titles: 1 (last title 1979)

Roscommon are another side who waved goodbye to some seasoned veterans in 2016 (Senan Kilbride, Geoffrey Claffey and Niall Carty), while Neil Collins, Donie Shine and Cathal Cregg aren’t part of Kevin McStay’s plans for various reasons.

They hit the league running last year due, in part, to high fitness levels before fading badly by the summer. McStay will be targeting survival again this year, although the Rossies will have an eye on peaking in the championship.

It’ll be interesting to see what style of play they opt for this year. Roscommon blew some teams away with a high level of kick-passing and score-taking early on last year before they retreated into a more defensive system in the championship.

Colm Lavin and Tadgh O’Rourke make their debuts against Tyrone tomorrow, but Ultan Harney is one worth watching. A talented forward, Harney has struggled with injury in recent seasons, but Roscommon will be looking to him to fill the void left by Cregg in attack.

First game: vs Tyrone (Omagh, Sunday 2pm)

Cavan

Mattie McGleenan Mattie McGleenan is expected to introduce a more direct style to Cavan this year Source: Presseye/Andrew Paton/INPHO

Odds: 25/1
Manager: 
Mattie McGleenan
Last year:
 Beaten Division 2 finalists (finished 2nd in table)
NFL titles: 1 (last title 1948)

Mattie McGleenan’s career as an inter-county manager officially gets underway tonight and Monaghan’s Darren Hughes, who played under McGleenan at Scotstown, said this week he expects Cavan to play a more direct style of football this year.

Operating in Division 1 is a huge boost to Cavan football, but they are aware of its danger too. Westmeath (2014) and Down (2016) have drowned in the deep end of the top flight – losing every game en-route to relegation. Neither side won a championship game those summers, and were knocked out in June.

Gearóid McKiernan, Cian Mackey and goalkeeper Ray Galligan will miss the game against Dublin tomorrow, while Eugene Keating, David Givney and Feargal Flanagan have all left the squad since the end of last year.

First game: vs Dublin (Kingspan Breffni Park, Sunday 2pm, live TG4)

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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