Championship 2017 Q&A: What do the experts say?

Darragh Ó’Sé, Seán Moran, Joanne Cantwell and more answer the key questions for 2017

Kerry’s Bryan Sheehan stood out for many as being the most reliable free-taker in the country. Photo: Inpho

Kerry’s Bryan Sheehan stood out for many as being the most reliable free-taker in the country. Photo: Inpho

 

SEÁN MORAN

1. Is it a case of the usual suspects or is there a chance of a springer this year? Who is that most likely to be?

I suspect Tipperary’s exploits last year have exhausted the springer potential for the next while. The same four counties – Dublin, Mayo, Kerry and Donegal – have featured in the last six All-Ireland finals and Tyrone look the only side you could imagine breaking into that set this year.

2. Ultimately, which team will lift Sam come September?

Dublin. Although I’m sceptical about teams surviving the mental pressures of winning three-in-a-row and the league final result will have given Kerry massive encouragement, Dublin have approached this year differently with a view to peaking this summer. Jim Gavin hasn’t been helped by the unavailability of some key players during the league but with the latitude of the Leinster championship to come, the champions can reboot and sustain a successful defence.

3. Which player is going to light up the championship?

James McCarthy has been close to staking a solid claim for Footballer of the Year but misfortune has intervened. With an uninterrupted run this summer, he can be the standout performer for a Dublin side within six matches or so of their first three-in-a-row in nearly a century.

4. What impact will the mark have during this campaign?

No more than intended, which was to reward a specific skill in the game. Teams are getting used to it and it can be useful – providing the platform for Dublin’s first goal in the under-21 final.

5. If you were to put your mortgage on someone to stand up and take a do-or-die free kick in the last action of a match, who would it be?

Cillian O’Connor and Dean Rock have been the outstanding dead-ball kickers in the game but both had recent glitches in just those circumstances. Given his form, albeit off Broadway in Division Four, there’s no more in-form free taker in the country than Westmeath’s John Heslin.

JOANNE CANTWELL (RTÉ)

1. Is it a case of the usual suspects or is there a chance of a springer this year? Who is that most likely to be?

I’d love to see Tipperary build on what they did last year, and they certainly have the talent to do it. Westmeath impressed in the league and it will be interesting to see if they can find those kind of performances against Division One teams. Will either contend for an All-Ireland, though? I don’t think so.

2. Ultimately, which team will lift Sam come September?

Mayo. Okay, perhaps not based purely on scientific reasoning. This group of players have forced one of the greatest teams of all time to a replay in each of the last two years, and they’ve done it while seriously lacking in the forward line. As opposed to underachieving, I think they continually overachieve – surely they deserve an All-Ireland at this stage.

3. Which player is going to light up the championship?

Paul Flynn. He’s played a different role for Dublin the past couple of years, but there were signs this spring that he may be let loose in summer. He may feel he has something to prove; he doesn’t, but I still expect big things.

4. What impact will the mark have during this campaign?

I’d be surprised if it makes a major impact across the board, but perhaps it might have a major say in one or two individual games.

5. If you were to put your mortgage on someone to stand up and take a do-or-die free kick in the last action of a match, who would it be?

Michael Murphy – to me, the best footballer in the country. Given the opportunity to choose any player to perform almost any skill, I’d go for the Donegal captain every time.

DARRAGH Ó SÉ

1. Is it a case of the usual suspects or is there a chance of a springer this year? Who is that most likely to be?

The usual suspects, really. In this order – Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone. I saw Tyrone in Killarney in the league and they were unrecognisable, like a crowd who’d never played together: they’re not that bad but have a lot to work on. Cork are still half asleep. Galway are the one team I’d have an eye on outside of the usual ones.

2. Ultimately, which team will lift Sam come September?

Kerry did very well against Dublin in the league final. They showed they can be beaten and how to get at them. Is it a case of poking the bear too early? There could be a wee bit of that as well. I think Dublin have a lot of guys to come into form. Some of the go-to players over the years are struggling a little, like Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn, but they have a wealth of experience. I could see Jim Gavin blooding a lot more younger guys, under-21s from the last few years, and if he marries that in with the older guys I’d be giving Dublin the nod.

3. Which player is going to light up the championship?

James McCarthy is going to have another big season. The fact that his club were knocked out of the championship early, he’ll be really tuned up. Ciarán Kilkenny can have a big year. From a Kerry perspective, I think David Moran is the one to look at. If he maintains any level close to his league form, he could be very important to Kerry’s chances.

4. What impact will the mark have during this campaign?

Even though I was on the committee, I think the mark needs the kickout to go beyond the ‘45’ to have any real impact on the championship. If it is a case where you take the mark and there’s a crowd around you, it’s effective then. Will it have a big impact? I’d have to wait and see.

5. If you were to put your mortgage on someone to stand up and take a do-or-die free kick in the last action of a match, who would it be?

I’d give Bryan Sheehan a squeeze, off the ground and a good distance out I think he could do it but I’d have to go back to Dean Rock. He’s done it more often in the championship in tight situations, so I’d have to say him.

EAMON DONOGHUE

1. Is it a case of the usual suspects or is there a chance of a springer this year? Who is that most likely to be?

Monaghan and Tyrone are the obvious choices. Monaghan have finally found a second go-to forward in Jack McCarron, but they still come up short around the middle and in terms of strength in depth. Mickey Harte tinkered away in the league to try to find an inside scorer, but that puzzle remains unsolved for Tyrone. For me, the team to watch out for are Cork. It’s a risky call as their confidence is so fragile, but if they have better fortune on the injury front than in recent years, the likes of Aidan Walsh, Alan O’Connor, Colm O’Neill and Paul Kerrigan still have the quality and experience that will allow their youngsters to thrive. Finding the right mix is key.

2. Ultimately, which team will lift Sam come September?

Mayo have been knocking and knocking and they keep coming up just short. Kerry have emerged from the league as Dublin’s biggest challengers, but for me Mayo remain the team most capable of physically matching them come September. Mayo haven’t uncovered any game winners so far in 2017, but the form of Danny Kirby and Fergal Boland adds to their squad – and we know how important the bench is in beating Dublin – while Stephen Coen and the other mainstays of last year’s under-21 team are a year older. They could struggle again in Connacht but if they are in the reckoning this time around, I fancy them.

3. Which player is going to light up the championship?

In terms of young talent, the classy Michael Daly of Galway is one who looks ready to make an immediate impact. But sticking to the theory that Mayo will be fighting for Sam again, I see Aidan O’Shea really taking off in this year’s championship. By his standards last year was low key, he’s been injured for much of the league and if Mayo can find the right role for him he will be fresh, and on his day he can be unstoppable.

4. What impact will the mark have during this campaign?

The mark drastically changes the approach of midfielders under kickouts, they can take that extra gamble to attack and catch the ball, knowing they will be awarded a free possession coming down. Whether on their arse, or surrounded. I can see a lot more fielding, and spectacular fielding at that. So if teams push up on the kickout expect more clean catching, but if they do not, the short kickout game will persist. Possession is key.

5. If you were to put your mortgage on someone to stand up and take a do-or-die free kick in the last action of a match, who would it be?

For me, the best all-round free-taker in the land is Bryan Sheehan. The Kerry stalwart oozes confidence and he strikes the ball off the ground as well as anyone has. Dean Rock is ice cool but when it comes to those from long distance but he often struggles and is far less reliable. Anywhere within 40 metres, however, and you’d back him all day long.

IAN O’RIORDAN

1. Is it a case of the usual suspects or is there a chance of a springer this year? Who is that most likely to be?

More usual suspects that springers, I fear, although Galway do seem to have gathered some momentum in the league, as indeed have Kildare, and maybe, just maybe, Tipperary again.

2. Ultimately, which team will lift Sam come September?

That league title for Kerry added up to more than the sum of its parts, and likewise inflicted more than a single defeat on Dublin. The tables have turned, and Kerry can keep it that way.

3. Which player is going to light up the championship?

He’s proved it in the league already and expect Jack Barry’s stock to rise further over the summer.

4. What impact will the mark have during this campaign?

Did it have any impact in the league? None, in other words.

5. If you were to put your mortgage on someone to stand up and take a do-or-die free kick in the last action of a match, who would it be?

Bryan Sheehan, especially with his old mentor Maurice Fitzgerald now watching on from the sideline.

KEITH DUGGAN

1. Is it a case of the usual suspects or is there a chance of a springer this year? Who is that most likely to be?

Dublin and Kerry are virtually certain to make the quarter-finals. Mayo, Tyrone and Donegal should do. But don’t be surprised if Monaghan arrive by virtue of winning the Ulster Championship or Galway in the west. Kildare, Tipperary, Armagh, Cork and Meath are among the counties who could make this a summer laden with surprises.

2. Ultimately, which team will lift Sam come September?

Kerry’s patient and persistent response to the Dublin revolution has been fascinating and has continued in the league this year. I wouldn’t apply too much significance to their league final win, other than as further evidence that they have gotten to grips with the type of challenge Dublin present. If the All-Ireland champions come back with the same game plan this summer, then Kerry will win the championship.

3. Which player is going to light up the championship?

Several, hopefully. If Galway have the summer that their following is anticipating, then we will see a lot of Shane Walsh. Tyrone’s Niall Sludden should be fun to watch on dry days. I think Kerry veteran Kieran Donaghy’s winter on the hard court will serve him well this summer and that he will have a big say. Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly and Mayo’s Lee Keegan squaring off is as good as it gets while Donegal’s Ryan McHugh can turn an unpromising situation into gold in the blink of an eye.

4. What impact will the mark have during this campaign?

Very little, hopefully. It still has the potential to disrupt the rhythm of the game and suggestions that it be introduced so that forwards can earn a free kick from a clean catch would be disastrous. But there should be enough examples of big lads cleaning all and sundry to assure the traditionalists that Ireland hasn’t gone completely to the dogs.

5. If you were to put your mortgage on someone to stand up and take a do-or-die free kick in the last action of a match, who would it be?

There are quite a few excellent free-takers. Cillian O’Connor may have missed that free last September but he shown incredible composure to bail out Mayo on so many big days. Dean Rock and Conor McManus are terrific. Bryan Sheehan and Michael Murphy have lower percentage rates mainly because they are tasked with taking frees from prodigious distances. All in all, you’d be happy to see the ball in the hands of Murphy.

GAVIN CUMMISKEY

1. Is it a case of the usual suspects or is there a chance of a springer this year? Who is that most likely to be?

No chance. Kerry or Dublin unless Mayo somehow pull themselves together.

2. Ultimately, which team will lift Sam come September?

Kerry because their need is greater than Dublin’s and because Diarmuid Connolly will get black-carded.

3. Which player is going to light up the championship?

Ciarán Kilkenny will dominate most games, Paul Flynn is nearing All Star form of old, surely James O’Donoghue can shake off injuries to reproduce a summer like 2014 but this might be the year Connolly cannot be denied (until he’s black-carded).

4. What impact will the mark have during this campaign?

When it really matters, little to none. It was conceived in a room far, far away from the reality of how modern football is played.

5. If you were to put your mortgage on someone to stand up and take a do-or-die free kick in the last action of a match, who would it be?

After Dean Rock missed in the league final, none of them.

MALACHY CLERKIN

1. Is it a case of the usual suspects or is there a chance of a springer this year? Who is that most likely to be?

Usual suspects. Dublin, Kerry and Mayo will be three of the final four, with either Tyrone or Monaghan alongside. For a springer, the B side of the draw looks the handier, so possibly Tipp again.

2. Ultimately, which team will lift Sam come September?

On the basis that the Dubs may have peaked and the Kerry glut is possibly a year or two away, we’ll chance Mayo. May have to beat Galway, Rossies, Kildare, Kerry and Dublin to do it but that’s the level they work best at.

3. Which player is going to light up the championship?

Kildare ought to have a decent summer and if that comes to pass, Niall Kelly will surely have played a key role. Brilliant playmaker and score-taker, he can unlock the potential of Cian O’Neill’s forward line.

4. What impact will the mark have during this campaign?

Depends how it is coached. The brief pause in play is a chance for smart teams to try set moves, like half-backs sprinting off both shoulders and spreading a retreating defence. This is the year to try novel things.

5. If you were to put your mortgage on someone to stand up and take a do-or-die free kick in the last action of a match, who would it be?

One man. Michael Murphy.

GER TREACY (TV3)

1. Is it a case of the usual suspects or is there a chance of a springer this year? Who is that most likely to be?

I’d expect Kerry and Dublin to be the last teams standing come September. If there is to be a springer near the business end of summer, it could come in the shape of Monaghan or Galway after impressing in the league.

2. Ultimately, which team will lift Sam come September?

It’s really hard to see past Dublin. They’ve so much strength in depth. They may have lost the league final but it’s hard to see them being caught again.

3. Which player is going to light up the championship?

Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny. He had an excellent championship last year and could go even better this year.

4. What impact will the mark have during this campaign?

I can’t see it having much of an impact at all. It wasn’t really a talking point after the league and I can’t see it being much of a talking point this summer.

5. If you were to put your mortgage on someone to stand up and take a do-or-die free kick in the last action of a match, who would it be?

Dean Rock.

CIARÁN MURPHY

1. Is it a case of the usual suspects or is there a chance of a springer this year? Who is that most likely to be?

I can’t see anyone outside of Dublin, Kerry or Mayo winning the All-Ireland this year. Tyrone don’t have the forwards, Donegal have too many gaps to fill. Monaghan might last longer than either of their Ulster counterparts

2. Ultimately, which team will lift Sam come September?

Mayo – because goddamnit the world has taken enough beatings over the last 12 months. The trapdoor is closing on this team, and if not this year, then it’ll be never. Galway in Salthill in June will tell a tale

3. Which player is going to light up the championship?

Kerry’s Jack Barry has had a great first couple of months. The way he’s handled Dublin’s Brian Fenton hints at a pretty tasty 10-year rivalry between those two.

4. What impact will the mark have during this campaign?

Negligible. It’s still a good idea, but it was never going to be a panacea

5. If you were to put your mortgage on someone to stand up and take a do-or-die free kick in the last action of a match, who would it be?

Dean Rock doesn’t have too many off-days, drawn All-Ireland final from last year aside. The league final last-minute free is not something that will bother him for too long.

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