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5 reasons why this weekend is the biggest of the Gaelic football calendar so far

Kerry, Mayo and Cork enter the championship while Geezer’s Armagh side will get the ultimate test

THIS WEEKEND WILL provide the most intriguing games of the football championship so far. Here’s five reasons why it’s building up to be something special.

1. We get our first glimpse of Kerry

James OÕDonoghue 21/9/2014 James O'Donoghue is in line to make his return from injury. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Without doubt, this is the most exciting looking Kerry side of recent years. Eamon Fitzmaurice’s squad has been hit by a few injuries since their pre-championship trip to the Algarve, with Kieran O’Leary and Paul Murphy definitely ruled out for Sunday.

Marc Ó Sé and Killian Young are both carrying knocks so it increases the possibility of seeing Paul Galvin playing in defence this weekend.

The Kingdom also have the luxury of welcoming back the best footballer of the last 20 year’s to partner last year’s Player of the Year. The prospect of watching a now fully matured James O’Donoghue linking up with the genius of Gooch is frightening, especially when you include the threat of Kieran Donaghy and Paul Geaney to that forward line too.

Although Tipperary are rightly considered a threat, it would be some task to turn this Kerry side over.

2. Mayo are back in action in Connacht

Ross Wherity and Diarmuid O'Connor Diarmuid O'Connor has established himself in the Mayo side. Source: Andy Marlin/INPHO

Under the new regime of Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes, Mayo set out on the same quest as they do every other year. We’ve seen a sensible approach from the new management duo so far.

The question about whether or not last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat would finish this team has been well debated, but it is worth noting that this side came within a point of the All-Ireland champions.

Not a whole lot has changed in Mayo football since their defeat to Kerry in Limerick last year, aside from the new management and a few small tweaks regarding personnel.

Patrick Durcan has been brought in to compete with Donal Vaughan and Colm Boyle in the half-back line, while fellow U21 player Diarmuid O’Connor has settled into the half-forward line.

The one big move has been to place Aidan O’Shea at the edge of the square in the latter stages of the league. The Breaffy giant looked dangerous at full-forward and with his older brother Seamus, Tom Parsons and Barry Moran all fine options at midfield, he could remain there.

3. We’ll see McGeeney’s Armagh being tested

Kieran McGeeney 28/6/2014 McGeeney will be tactically prepared for Donegal. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Winning Division 3 was the minimum expected in Geezer’s first year in charge and now it’s onto championship football, where McGeeney would really like to lay down a marker against Donegal. Despite winning Division 3, Armagh were only the fourth highest scorers in the league, averaging just about 14 points per game.

There is a strong unit of players coming to the fore again in Armagh, spearheaded by Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell. Expect them to be extremely physically fit and ready to do anything necessary for the win on Sunday.

The blanket system deployed by Armagh almost paid dividends when the two sides met in Croke Park last summer, and with Jim McGuinness no longer steering the Donegal ship, McGeeney must fancy his sides chances of overturning them.

4. Cork are trying to recover from league final meltdown

Conor Dorman 21-year-old Conor Dorman had a good league campaign. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Cork were embarrassed by Dublin in the league final at the end of April, and will surely be on a mission to evaporate the memories of such a defeat. The only player to really come out of that loss in Croke Park with any credit was Colm O’Neill, who is one of the top forwards in the country at the moment.

There’s no doubting that in the likes of O’Neill, Brian Hurley, Paul Kerrigan and Conor Dorman, the Rebels have the players to breeze by Clare in Pairc Ui Rinn on Sunday afternoon, but questions remain as to how Brian Cuthbert’s side will play.

They should have enough to ease to a big win and qualify for the Munster final, but it is all about getting mentally prepared for the prospect of facing Kerry, should they beat Tipperary.

5. Emerging challengers are in action

Damien Comer Damien Comer struck 1-4 from play against New York Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It’s the turn of Tipperary and Galway to try and overturn the traditional kingpins of their respective provinces this weekend. Tipperary have come a long way since their minor All-Ireland win in 2011 and are now comfortably the third best side in Munster. They have a monumental task ahead of them but will have to beat Kerry at some stage in Munster, so why not start now?

Galway’s preparations have been dealt a blow with the loss of their marquee forward Shane Walsh but they will still fancy their chances against Mayo in Salthill. In all likelihood an away trip to Galway represents the biggest obstacle preventing Mayo from making it five Connacht titles in a row, and it should prove to be a tight affair.

Damien Comer and Peadar Óg Gríofa will be the go to men in the forward line while Tom Flynn and Fiontán Ó Curraoin will be more than a match for the Mayo midfield.

Laois and Kildare will also lock horns for the second week in succession. Kildare got off the hook last weekend, and the manner in which Laois let the game slip by them may be hanging over their heads. Donie Kingston and John O’Loughlin will need to be curtailed better than they were last Saturday if the Lilywhites are going to make it through to a Leinster semi-final.

Meath also get their campaign underway at home to Wicklow. Mick O’Dowd has plenty of injury concerns heading into this one yet anything but a decent win for Meath would constitute a major shock.

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