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'When my money's on the line, I'll be backing Kerry for the All-Ireland once again'

Jamie Wall runs the rule over the contenders for the Sam Maguire this year.

Brian Cuthbert Cork boss Brian Cuthbert.

MY HEART SAYS Cork. Naturally enough. Brian Cuthbert’s charges shipped a lot of heavy criticism after their Munster final drubbing at the hands of neighbours Kerry, a lot of it from their own supporters.

However, a closer look at 2014 would suggest that Cork football is in a much healthier place than the hysteria would suggest. Cork finished top of the league with 11 points from a potential 14, posting an average of 20 points a game.

Yes there were defensive frailties (Cork conceded an average of 17 per game) but some teething issues were surely to be expected following the retirements of leaders such as Kissane, Canty, and O’Leary in defence, as well as O’Connor in midfield.

Detractors will point to Kerry’s total Munster final dominance but it is worth noting that the Rebels, rather than fold up the tent and go home for the year, pulled themselves together and if not for an unpunished ‘hook’ on Colm O Neill that JJ Delaney himself would have been proud of, could well have found themselves back in an All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry.

They top the scoring charts at the end of this league, but will look to shore things up at the back, as only Kerry have conceded more scores in Division One. Last year’s full injury free season will only enhance Colm O’Neill’s status as one of the top forwards in the country (The league’s joint top marksman with 5-40 to his name).

The lack of a natural fielder at midfield is still clearly a cause of concern, with Ian Maguire’s injury a monumental loss to both U21 and Senior panel but the return of Alan O’Connor, allied to Eoin Cadogan’s relocation to that engine room has provided a new lease of life for both the team, and the man himself, who is playing some of his best football of late. Their league final collapse notwithstanding, they can still be expected to feature at the business end.

The Dubs. meanwhile, have maintained their free flowing football, but, worryingly for the rest of pack, they have currently the meanest defence in Gaelic football, conceding an average of just 12 points a game. Jack McCaffrey’s return to form bodes well for boys in the blue going forward, and while a Sigerson Cup campaign at centre forward for UCD embellished his already menacing attacking prowess (he’s the Dubs’ third top scorer with 1-7 to his name), the 2013 Young Footballer of the Year has also added more defensive surety to his game.

Brian Cuthbert and Jim Gavin shake hands after the game Cork and Dublin managers Brian Cuthbert and Jim Gavin shake hands after the league final. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

Jim Gavin’s charges will look to atone for last season’s defeat to Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final. To say that they were caught on the hop — as has been touted — is to ignore the fact that they conceded 3-14 to a counter attacking team, a direct result of their own defensive indiscipline, continuously push their half back line too far up the pitch. Having conceded just two goals in this year’s seven league games (one in their facile final day defeat of Monaghan) one suspects that such a scenario won’t arise again this year.

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Such is the strength in depth of the Dubs that it remains to be seen whether their top scorer, Dean Rock, will even start come summer. One thing is certain, that with three of the best players in the country in Connolly, Flynn, and the indomitable Michael Darragh MacAuley all returning from spells away from the first 15, Jim Gavin has a team and panel capable of not just beating, but dismantling all those who come before them, a fact that was in evidence in their league final display.

Which brings us to Kerry. All Ireland champions 2014. As a general rule the National League provides a good indicator of who will be in the shake-up come September. Kerry ’04, ’06, ’09, Cork 2010, Dublin 2013. Needless to say, Kerry were not at the forefront of anyone’s mind this time last season, and at first viewing wouldn’t be this season either.

Johnny Buckley, Barry John Keane and Colm Cooper arrive Kerry's Johnny Buckley, Barry John Keane and Colm Cooper. Source: Presseye/Andrew Paton/INPHO

 

The stats show that only Kildare, bottom of Division Two, have conceded more than Kerry (9-90) in the top two divisions of the league this year. But as Pat Spillane once quipped, ‘Statistics will tell you that if you have one hand in a bucket of ice, and the other in a bucket of boiling water, you will be comfortable.’

There is no asterisk beside Kerry’s sixth place position in the league table to account for the fact that they played their first league game just three weeks after running from their team holiday. There is no acknowledgement beside their total points scored that they have yet to fully introduce Colm Cooper to action, or that James O Donoghue had a spell on the sidelines due to injury. The All-Ireland champions, will be boosted by veteran defender Aidan O Mahony’s decision to put his shoulder to the wheel once more, as well as the continued push for a starting position from last season’s super-sub Jonathan Lyne, while adding Tommy Walsh, Colm Cooper, and potentially Paul Galvin to a forward line already burgeoning with talent and options means that Kerry now boast perhaps even more options up front than Dublin.

My heart says Cork, my head says Dublin, but when I make my annual trip to Mr Power at the start of the season, something in my head is nagging me, and it says Kerry.

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About the author:

Jamie Wall

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