GAA Editor @BrianGBarry
All-Ireland Championship contenders: Ranking the counties challenging for the Sam Maguire Cup
Last Updated: 14/06/20 12:38pm
White smoke came from Croke Park last week; there will be All-Ireland Championships in 2020.
With the competitions now confirmed, focus can return from pondering their likelihood to debating the upcoming on-field action.
After sealing a record fifth consecutive All-Ireland title last year, Dublin will be looking to stretch their dominance even further.
But who are the teams best equipped to challenge Dessie Farrell's side? Here, we look at the main contenders.
They will be hoping on Leeside the break in play did not halt their momentum. The year 2019 brought with it a new wave of optimism for Cork football. Despite relegation from Division 2 of the National League, they enjoyed a promising summer, reaching the Super 8s and asking serious questions of both Kerry and Dublin along the way. This progress was underlined by All-Ireland titles at both minor and U20 levels.
Ronan McCarthy's team then picked up where they had left off earlier this year, blasting their way through the third tier of the league with five wins from five.
Ten years on from their last All-Ireland title, are they making sufficient strides to suggest they are capable of making a big splash this summer?
Malachy O'Rourke's departure as manager led many to suggest the Farney County would be entering a transition period. But the early indications in 2020 suggested this was far from the case.
The 2018 All-Ireland semi-finalists picked up two wins as well as a draw in Croke Park during the National League, as Seamus McEnaney looked to inject new talent into the side.
The senior members of the side still have much to offer, while 'Banty' will be looking to bolster the side by incorporating some of the younger players who are breaking through, including DCU Sigerson Cup-winning duo Micheál Bannigan and David Garland.
As always, it would be foolish to write Monaghan off.
Not much was learned from Mayo's truncated National League campaign. It has not exactly been a rarity for the Connacht side to struggle in the springtime before peaking in the summer over the last decade.
Having claimed the league title last year, James Horan's side were perhaps fully focused on the championship for 2020.
They faced the Dubs in last year's All-Ireland semi-final, and led by two points at half-time before being hit by a 12-minute blitzkrieg by the Boys in Blue.
They have had a long winter to mull things over, and will be raring for the action to recommence.
If they are to challenge for top honours in 2020, first up must be a first Connacht title since 2015. That may well be on the only route, should the championship be held over a straight knockout format. That could well suit them, given how this group has thrived in do-or-die scenarios in recent years.
This Tyrone side has met Dublin on several occasions in the white heat of championship, and come up short on each occasion. Perhaps no game summed this up better than the 2018 All-Ireland decider.
The Red Hands hit their opponent with their best shots, but were not able to send them tumbling to the canvas.
Nonetheless, Mickey Harte's side will come again stronger. Bolstered by Cathal McShane rejecting a professional sports career in Australia, the pause in action came with a silver lining in that the 2019 championship top-scorer is given a chance to recover from the serious ankle injury sustained against Galway.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the team remain in the peak of their careers - and Harte will be quietly hopeful of sealing a fourth All-Ireland triumph.
A tsunami of optimism hit Galway football this year, as Padraic Joyce took the reins and went about his business straight away. In the five National League games, the Tribesmen played with abandon and an attacking approach not seen in the previous regime.
Crucially, they were able to get the best out of their top forwards, while still maintaining the defensive rigidness developed under Kevin Walsh. The addition of Corofin's Ronan Steede in midfield added to their attacking options, while Shane Walsh was thriving with the captaincy.
They sat at the summit of the Division 1 table before the pandemic hit, and they will be hoping to pick up right from where they left off.
Joyce made no secret of his ambition to bring Sam Maguire back across the Shannon for the first time since 2001. Judging by what we have seen from the men in maroon in 2020, it's far from a ludicrous ambition.
The last two years have yielded Ulster titles for Donegal, leading to much speculation if this group could challenge for national honours. However, on both occasions they were decimated with injuries, and limped through the Super 8s far from their full complement.
That's the key for Tír Chonaill right now - to keep their protagonists fit and firing.
Having drawn with Kerry in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final group stage, they were unable to get a result in Castlebar on the final day.
Nonetheless, Declan Bonner's side are stacked with talent and potential. It's been six years since the O'Donnell County have last reached an All-Ireland semi-final, but ending ending that particular run should be the minimum target for this group.
As always, Ulster could be fraught with danger.
The Kingdom know they are not far off Dublin. The two sides could not be separated in last year's All-Ireland final on the first day out, and it was level at half-time in the replay before Eoin Murchan's goal tipped the balance.
Fast-forward four months and little has changed. Their National League opener produced fireworks but not a winner, as a late David Clifford free sealed another draw.
Peter Keane's side have room to improve, with the last two winners of the Young Footballer of the Year gong - David Clifford and Seán O'Shea - entering just their third season as senior intercounty footballers.
Perhaps the main concerns surround the defence, and the shock departure of coach Donie Buckley just before the lockdown was announced remains a talking point. But the Kingdom will be hoping to improve their rearguard in the coming season, and the break in play is likely to have come at an ideal time for Peter Crowley as he returns to full fitness.
The Munster kingpins remain the greatest threat to Dublin right now, but it remains to be seen if they get a shot at the Sky Blues this season.
The big questions: how much of their success was down to Jim Gavin? Can they maintain their high levels under Farrell?
The Na Fianna man still boasts the most talented squad in the country, and they are proven winners. As it stands, they remain the favourites for the All-Ireland and justifiably so.
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Should the provincial championships be retained, the men from the capital will likely have a relatively stress-free path to the All-Ireland series compared with their main challengers. So great is their dominance in Leinster their hunt for a 10th consecutive Delaney Cup seems a mere procession.
From there, it remains to be seen. But on all available evidence right now, the reigning champions are still very much the team to catch.