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Darragh Ó Sé: How each county is shaping up as race for Sam Maguire kicks off

Cork need to seize their moment, Louth will fancy second place in their group while Mayo and Galway will wonder if they might be better off losing the Connacht final

Kerry’s David Clifford and Dublin's Michael Fitzsimons. Favourable draw means the two big guns should progress without too much drama. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Now that the draw has been made, we can take a decent guess at what the All-Ireland series is going to look like. We’ll presume that Dublin will win Leinster and Kerry should take care of Clare in the Munster final.

So apart from the either/ors in Ulster and Connacht, we know what is facing most of the teams when it all gets really serious in a couple of weeks. It’s probably a good time to go through them all and take a look at what shape they’re in.

Dublin: Tipping away, doing their thing. The games themselves are probably the most comfortable part of their week – you can see that all their competition so far is coming from within. They look better than last year and their young lads aren’t young lads any more. I’d say there’s no chance they’ll make the same mistake as they did with Roscommon last year.

Derry: The defeat to Donegal has thrown everything up in the air – they’ll be delighted with the possibility that they might meet again now. It’s rare to see Mickey Harte get something so tactically wrong so I’d be surprised if they don’t learn from it. They’ve had time to turn it around and get the likes of Gareth McKinless back. They have the speed you need to be a force in Croke Park so the year should have plenty in it yet.


Kerry: Played well in patches against Cork and did well to come through it okay at the back even though they were missing Jason Foley. Midfield is still an area that has a bit of doubt around it. They can afford to time their run now – assuming they beat Clare, a group including Monaghan, Louth and Meath is realistically as good as you could hope for.

Mayo: Impressive against Roscommon, where they were a real physical force and just ground them down over time. They still struggle for scores a bit more than they’d like and they can sometimes overcomplicate the thing. Aidan O’Shea was doing well at full-forward the last day – why not leave him there?

Galway: They badly need their injuries to clear up and their main players to get back in sync together. If that doesn’t happen, they’re going to be in bother because it’s been middling enough stuff since they were in the 2022 final. Like Mayo, they might be slightly better off losing on Sunday – even with the Dubs in it, Group Two looks easier than Group One.

Tyrone: Probably should be in the Ulster final. They have a tendency to look a bit rudderless at times – Darragh Canavan, Mattie Donnelly and Niall Morgan are serious leaders but the supporting cast can kind of melt into each other. They’ll be happy enough with the draw – should be able to beat Clare at home to get into the knock-out stages at least.

Donegal's Patrick McBrearty with Tyrone's Matthew Donnelly and Colm Kilpatrick. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho

Donegal: You have to give Jim McGuinness credit – they were impressive in the league and they’ve made their way to the Ulster final. His first year is a success now, whatever happens. I feel anything else from here is a bonus. I’m not sure they have a lot of depth and we know that system they’re playing will get found out in Croke Park.

Armagh: They’ve made a lot of progress under Kieran McGeeney – they play some very nice football and have built up a huge bank of experience. But they’ve gone far too long without an Ulster title and they need to get it over the line now. The group stage can’t mean anything to them yet – it’s all about the Ulster final on Sunday week.

Roscommon: You can see they’re a team that will put in a pile of effort. They have some lovely forwards as well and fantastic scoring ability. But there’s something missing – they play with fear a bit too much and don’t let loose. That could end up costing them against a sticky team like Cavan if they don’t trust themselves to have a go.

Monaghan: They’ll be delighted with that draw. The league was a bust in the end – relying too much on a group of older players was always going to catch up with them somewhere along the way. But they’ll fancy their chances now – whatever about (probably) Kerry in Killarney, they should be well fit for Meath anyway and can take Louth in Clones. Need their young players to start stepping up.

Cavan's Niall Carolan with Monaghan's Ciaran McNulty and Jason Irwin. Monaghan have a great chance of emerging from their group. Photograph: John McVitty/Inpho

Cavan: Whatever hope they had has taken an awful hit with Paddy Lynch out for the season. They needed another two of him but instead they’ve lost the only one they had. Bringing the Dubs to Breffni Park will be a big occasion but this is a new level for them and it will probably all come down to the last day against Roscommon.

Cork: This is their time to kick on. It’s crucial that they get to Croke Park again. They have quality, size, pace and agility and they’re going to get two serious tests against Tyrone and either Donegal or Armagh. That’s the next step for them – to be able to figure out a way of imposing themselves on Ulster teams who will set out to frustrate them.

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Meath: They should be better than they are. The hiding from Dublin probably won’t affect them too much because it was expected. But I still wouldn’t be backing them to beat Louth or Monaghan.

Louth: Ger Brennan has done a seriously good job with them. It would have been very easy for them to disappear after Mickey Harte went to Derry but they’re a handful for anyone. They will have their eye on second place in Group Four.

Louth's Bevan Duffy and Sam Mulroy celebrate the victory over Kildare in the Leinster semi-final. Improvement has continued under new boss Ger Brennan. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Westmeath: They did very well in the group stage last year but I’d be a bit afraid for them this time around. They’re like the lad who sits down at the poker table looking for the sucker before realising that the sucker is him. They’ve done well to get out of Division Three but hard to see them going any further.

Clare: Mark Fitzgerald has done a great job taking over from Colm Collins and especially after losing so many experienced players. But they’re still a Division Three team and this will be tough going for them.