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Who are the main pretenders to Tyrone's throne as we peer ahead to 2022?

We assess the lie of the football landscape next season.
Sep 14th 2021, 5:16 PM 35,626 26

AT SOME POINT down the line, when the celebrations die down, Tyrone will turn their attentions to 2022 and the defence of their All-Ireland title. 

conn-kilpatrick-celebrates-after-the-game Tyrone's Conn Kilpatrick celebrates after the final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Sam Maguire is hard enough won, so they’ll enjoy basking in the next couple of days and weeks in their new found status as All-Ireland champions. 

But before long, the club championships will conclude, the evenings will get darker and plans will be hatched for the new campaign. It’s never long coming around.

With two years left in the term of Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan, a strong case can be made that Tyrone will be right up there again next season. They’ve got a good age profile, quality players, a system that suits them and now the confidence that lifting the Sam Maguire brings. 

They could well add another All-Ireland or two over the next five years. 

Players like Niall Morgan, Conor Meyler, Kieran McGeary, Niall Sludden and Darren McCurry, who’ve been around for a while, reached new heights this season. Additions such as Conn Kilpatrick added energy and size.

Conor McKenna will continue to improve as he readjusts from Aussie Rules. Cathal McShane will be motivated to reestablish himself on the starting team. Darragh Canavan will only get better as he develops.

They beat Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan, Kerry and Mayo on the way to the title. They don’t appear to be a squad in danger of losing players to retirement, unlike in the 2000s when many veterans were nearing the end of their careers. 

Despite all that, Tyrone are rated as joint-third in the betting for the 2022 All-Ireland, behind Dublin and Kerry. At odds of 9/1 alongside Mayo, the Red Hand may feel slighted.  

Despite winning three All-Irelands over six years under Mickey Harte, Tyrone have never pulled off a successful title defence. That’s an obvious ambition to drive the group next season.

They didn’t cross paths with Dublin this season, so the opportunity to end a 13-year winless run in the championship against the Sky Blues would be a welcome one.

For any team that breaks through to win an All-Ireland, it can be difficult to back it up the following season. Yet this Tyrone team have become accustomed to competing at the latter stages of the All-Ireland series. They’ll be determined to may hay while the sun is shining.

We still don’t know what format the 2022 All-Ireland SFC will take. What’s certain is a split season will come into play, with inter-county going first. The All-Ireland football and hurling finals will take place in July.  

Three potential structures are on the table. One is maintaining the status quo, another involves switching the league to summer, and the final proposal would see the provinces adjusted to include eight teams each.

Noises coming from the GPA suggest the players prefer the second option, but it’s the county board delegates who’ll make the vote at a Special Congress in October. 

Whatever format the 2022 championship takes place, the contenders will look the same. 

Expect strong responses from Dublin and Kerry. How both counties bounce back from disappointing extra-time semi-final defeats with be among the fascinating subplots in 2022.

dessie-farrell Dublin manager Dessie Farrell enters the final year of his term. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Dessie Farrell arrived into a dressing room that hadn’t lost a championship game since 2014, so it was difficult to deviate too much from the system that had been so successful during the Jim Gavin-era. 

The loss to Mayo and the manner of Dublin’s slow attack gives Farrell the chance to put his own stamp on this team as he enters the final season of his three-year term.

Much like how Gavin spent the immediate hours after the defeat to Donegal hatching a plan that would lead to six All-Irelands in-a-row, it’s safe to assume Farrell was bunkered down somewhere plotting Dublin’s comeback. 

Farrell’s successful Dublin U21 teams were known for their flowing forward play. He’ll be determined to shed the Sky Blues of the ‘boring’ tag they picked up over the last 12 months. 

They’ve still got Brian Fenton, Ciaran Kilkenny, Con O’Callaghan, Brian Howard and John Small in their absolute primes, so won’t be far away. The break will invigorate the squad and add some hunger that may have been missing last year. 

The managerial situation in Kerry is still up in the air. What we know is Peter Keane’s three-year term is up, but he is expected to re-apply for the position. Jack O’Connor and a Seamus Moynihan-Donie Buckley ticket are also thought to be in the running. 

david-clifford David Clifford remains the most feared forward in the game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Whatever man dons the bainisteoir bib on the sideline next season, anything other than winning the All-Ireland will be seen as a failure. Kerry lost the semi-final to the eventual champions by a point after extra-time, so they can’t be far away. 

Sure, there are issues to be addressed in defence. However, the presence of David Clifford and Sean O’Shea up front means Kerry have two of the top handful of forwards in the game. 

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If Clifford hadn’t been forced off with injury, there’s every chance they would have been the team celebrating last weekend. 

The league-based championship would suit Kerry and give them a proper test heading into the All-Ireland series.

Mayo will bounce back because they have no other choice. This winter may see Colm Boyle depart given how little game-time he saw, with Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea and Lee Keegan the other long-serving players that fans will be hoping stay on, in addition to manager James Horan.

The return from injury of Cillian O’Connor and Eoghan McLaughlin will strengthen Mayo’s hand straight away. Horan could do with finding some scoring half-forwards, a midfield partner for Ruane and deciding what role O’Shea contributes best to the team. 

The feeling that this was Mayo’s great chance is a hard one to shake. Kerry and Dublin will come back stronger next year, while Tyrone are buoyed by finally getting over the line. 

Of the rest, Donegal are undoubtedly the best placed to challenge next year. If it wasn’t for a Michael Murphy red card and missed penalty in the Ulster semi-final, Declan Bonner’s men could have enjoyed an altogether different summer.

The lack of a backdoor system took away their second bite at the cherry.  

michael-murphy-dejected-after-the-game Michael Murphy endured an injury-disrupted season. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Bonner has signed up for a further two years and Stephen Rochford looks set to remain in place. Donegal felt they left the game behind them in Brewster Park and watched Tyrone go all the way afterwards. That will be motivation enough for this squad. 

Of the rest, Monaghan ran a Covid-hit Tyrone close in the Ulster final. However, Seamus ‘Banty’ McEneaney’s side and Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh don’t have all the pieces required for an assault on the All-Ireland.

Galway may also feel they’re in the running given how they had Mayo on the ropes at half-time in the Connacht final, but they badly need absentees like Ian Burke, Michael Daly and John Daly to return to compete with the top counties. 

Originally published at 15.56

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Kevin O'Brien

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