Football rankings: Connolly-less Dubs remain the benchmark

June 14, 2017

Kerry's Gavin Crowley celebrates after his side's Allianz FL Division 1 final victory over Dublin at Croke Park.
©INPHO/James Crombie.

It's the return of our football rankings as we rate all of the counties from 1 to 33. 


Things may not have gone exactly according to script for the All-Ireland champions since the final round of the National League, but Jim Gavin's men still remain the team to beat this summer hands down. A narrow loss to Kerry in the Division 1 final preceded a far from convincing opening 35 minutes against Carlow on June 3rd, before handing the Leinster minnows a 12-point trouncing in Portlaoise. Diarmuid Connolly's 12-week suspension from the latter game will see him ruled out until the All-Ireland semi-final should the Dubs get there, and even without their St Vincent's star it's still hard to picture the talent-laden holders being upset along the way.


The Division 1 champions were given a genuine test by Clare in Ennis last Sunday but in the end their quality firmly shone through to advance towards a fifth Munster SFC final in-a-row. The Kingdom are now 1/7 favourites to dispatch Cork in the southern province decider on July 2nd, with home advantage to boot over their old rivals. Eamonn Fitzmaurice and his players will surely have designs on bigger things than a 79th Munster title and the general feeling once more is that a 'big meet' between them and Dublin will likely decide where Sam Maguire rests in 2017.


Mickey Harte's men faced a potentially tricky assignment last month in travelling to Celtic Park to take on Derry for a second consecutive Ulster SFC quarter-final. The visitors delivered a convincing 0-22 to 0-11 win over their neighbours though and now face a crunch encounter against Donegal on Sunday. The Red Hands defeated Rory Gallagher's side in the northern province's final last year and the victors in Clones this weekend will be returning to same stage as favourites next month. It should be one hell of a battle.


The loss of so many veterans at the end of last season left question marks over Donegal for 2017 but they delivered consistency throughout the National League, missing out on a final berth by a whisker. After that Rory Gallagher's side dismantled Antrim in the second-half of their Ulster SFC opener and plenty will fancy them to reverse the result from last year's provincial final when they meet Tyrone on Sunday. U21 stars Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Michael Carroll and Jamie Brennan have come of age quickly for the team and it could see the Tir Chonaill men in for another extended summer.


Similar to Donegal, only score difference denied Monaghan of a place in the Division 1 final against Dublin. Malachy O'Rourke's men impressed throughout the spring, recording wins over both Mayo and Kerry, and regained the services of fit again full-forward Jack McCarron in the process. Thus far the championship has gone according to plan for the Farney men, with Conor McManus' goal helping them past Cavan in another tight battle with their neighbours at the weekend. It's interesting to note that the previous two times they edged past Cavan in an Ulster SFC quarter-final an Anglo-Celt Cup success was waiting for them in July.


The Tribesmen have had a terrific season so far, capturing the Division 2 title in April before advancing past Mayo for a third Connacht SFC final place in four years. Kevin Walsh's side will be firm favourites to retain the JJ Nestor Cup next month, but, either way, it'll be interesting to see how they progress in this All-Ireland series after last year's disastrous quarter-final defeat to Tipperary. No doubt many neutrals will be hoping for another rematch with Mayo somewhere along the way.


Last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists will need to keep their dream alive in the qualifiers this summer after losing out to Galway last Sunday. Stephen Rochford's men were in the same dilemma 12 months ago and came agonisingly close to doing it the hard way. Keith Higgins' first-half sending-off against the Tribesmen may well have cost his county a 47th JJ Nestor Cup and the character of this much talked about team will once again be tested in the backdoor, where no one will want to meet them.


Having fallen short in recent years, Kildare now look to be in a decent rhythm after achieving promotion from Division 2 and beginning the championship with a bang. The Lilywhites made up for a below par showing against Galway on league final day at Croke Park by hammering Laois with 14 points to spare in their Leinster SFC quarter-final. Cian O'Neill's team had 13 different scorers that day and are now gearing up for what should be a fascinating battle with Meath in Tullamore on Saturday. 


The Rebels were far from impressive throughout the league and an off-colour performance against Waterford nearly saw them inflicted with a shock defeat which would have been the story of the championship thus far. Nonetheless, Peader Healy's men showed some character to come from behind to defeat Tipperary last Saturday and become the first side in the country to book their slot into a provincial final. 1/7 favourites Kerry are in the wait now and even if the men from Leeside can't produce a shock they still possess the talent to test any side in the qualifiers.


Cavan can count themselves unlucky not to have salvaged a draw against Monaghan last Sunday but their wait for a 40th Ulster SFC title continues nonetheless. The Breffni men's long-awaited return to Division 1 ended in relegation in the spring and the feeling was that the experience of top-flight league football could see them put it up to their neighbours in a championship opener, which they dually did. Had Ryan Connolly's last-gasp effort hit the net rather than the post then they'd be preparing for a rematch this weekend. Instead it's a tricky qualifier against either Westmeath or Offaly away from home.


The Royals knocked on the door when it came to a return to Division 1 in the spring, falling short by a mere point, and put up an impressive 0-27 against Louth in their championship opener earlier this month. In his first year at the helm, Andy McEntee has added some steel to this Meath team which is being led up front by their in-form captain Graham Reilly. The St Colmcille's man struck 0-7 from play against the Wee County and they'll likely need another huge contribution from him on Saturday against Kildare in Tullamore.


The Rossies are 70 minutes away from another Connacht SFC final despite not having played a competitive game in 12 weeks. Kevin McStay's side's only victory in Division 1 this season came in the final round against Cavan, after having already been relegated, and they enter the fray for the 2017 championship as 1/16 favourites against Leitrim at Dr Hyde Park, where a win for the hosts is obviously expected and a loss would be nothing less than disastrous.


The Division 3 champions are now lining themselves up for a qualifier run after losing out to Cork by the narrowest of margins last weekend. Manager Liam Kearns has claimed that the Premier men are "destroyed with injuries" at present, with talismanic attacker Michael Quinlivan (ankle) the latest to go down, but they still possess plenty of quality all over the pitch with Conor Sweeney the cream of the crop for them.

14. DOWN

The past 12 months have seen a huge turn around for Eamonn Burns and his players, having secured their Division 2 status and scored a huge first round championship win over Armagh. Next up is a mammoth task against Monaghan in the Ulster semi-finals and it's safe to say that the same margin won't exist between the sides as the one which did when they met in last year's competition.


Back-to-back promotions were an impressive feat for Colin Kelly's side in the spring but they've lost a couple of key players since that time and it showed in the closing 15 minutes of their defeat to Meath this month. The Wee County must now negotiate a tough qualifier at home to Longford on Saturday to keep their summer hopes alive and they should do so if inside forwards Ryan Burns and Eoin O'Connor are on form.


Having lost to them twice heavily in last year's championship, Clare put up one hell of a battle against Kerry last Sunday with manager Colm Collins stating afterwards that he was "proud" of his players' performance. The Banner men's deadly front pairing of David Tubridy and Eoin Cleary, which combined for 1-9 against the Kingdom, could well see them mounting another qualifier run.


Westmeath cruised to the Division 4 league title back in early April but they got nothing easy against Offaly in Tullamore last Sunday. John Heslin's late free secured a home replay for the Lake County and should they get the win in Mullingar a Leinster semi-final against Dublin - a side which conquered them in the last two eastern provincial finals - awaits them.


The frustration for Kieran McGeeney and his players continues after being dumped out of the Ulster championship by rivals Down this month. The Orchard County were cruelly denied a return to Division 2 by Tipperary thanks to a last-gasp Michael Quinlivan goal in the final round of the league and they now face another battle against Ulster opposition in the form of Fermanagh to try and extend their campaign.


The Yeats County weren't all that far off promotion from Division 3 in the spring and pushed Mayo for long stages in their championship opener in Castlebar. The form would suggest that Niall Carew's men have enough to dispatch Antrim in the qualifiers but they'll need the likes of Adrian Marren and long-time servant Mark Breheny to be on song for them.


Ace attacker James Kielt will be back for the Oak Leafers this weekend, after missing the defeat to Tyrone, when they head for Dungarvan where they should have enough to oust Waterford. However, all things considered, 2017 has been a season to forget thus far for Damian Barton and his players having suffered relegation from Division 2 after reaching the last 12 of the All-Ireland series last year.


Relegation from Division 2 and a nine-point defeat to Monaghan isn't how Fermanagh boss Pete McGrath will have envisioned 2017 going thus far, but his charges have the potential to turn things around against Armagh on Sunday week.


The O'Moore men may have discovered their goal touch against Longford last month but they were ripped apart by Kildare in the Leinster SFC quarter-finals. The 14-point loss marked Peter Creedon's sixth defeat in nine competitive games as Laois manager, having already unexpectedly suffered relegation from Division 3 two months ago.


Pat Flanagan felt that nerves cost his side the win against Westmeath last Sunday but it's safe to say that the second-half sending offs for Michael Brazil and Ruairi Allen certainly didn't help their cause in Tullamore. Saturday sees the Faithful men heading for Mullingar looking to go one better against the hosts in what should be another tight affair.


Carlow backed up a deserved victory over Wexford with a spirited showing against Dublin earlier this month, earning Turlough O'Brien's men many plaudits across the country in the meantime. Next Sunday week sees the Barrowsiders head for London, where midfield star Brendan Murphy will be free to play after having one of his two yellow cards against the Dubs rescinded.


The Midlanders' defence fell apart last month against Laois, conceding four goals in six minutes either side of half-time, and they'll no doubt be looking to redeem themselves against Louth in the qualifiers this weekend.


Seamus McEnaney's championship bow as Wexford manager was a disastrous one which saw the Slayneysiders inflicted with a shock defeat against Carlow. The Model men will need a win in Limerick on Saturday week to get things back on track.


The Saffrons were crushed by Donegal in the preliminary round of the Ulster championship and head for Markievicz Park as 9/4 underdogs on Saturday in a bid to end Sligo's season.


Brendan Guckian's men required two goals from substitute Ronan Kennedy to get over the line against London in the Connacht SFC quarter-finals and they travel to Roscommon on Sunday as 8/1 outsiders.


The Deise County very nearly landed the shock of the championship thus far against Cork last month and will have home advantage on Saturday against Derry in Dungarvan.


The Shannonsiders took the battle to Clare in Ennis at the end of May and could potentially make it a short summer for Seamus McEnaney's Wexford when the latter visit the Gaelic Grounds on June 24th.


Wicklow only managed one win in seven games in the league but they put it up to Division 3 promotion winners Louth last month and with Seanie Furlong in form for them they should do the same when Laois come to Aughrim. 


Battled it out with Leitrim in the Connacht SFC quarter-final only to go down by a single score and should give Carlow a test when the Barrowsiders to come Ruislip.


The Exiles gave Sligo nothing easy in the Bronx in May's championship opener. However, in the end, it as the Yeats men's fitness that shone through in a 1-21 to 1-13 win.

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