Last year: Won vs Down, All-Ireland final
First game: vs Clare, May 22
What the manager says: “It’s certainly great that we have new blood coming through to the panel and they all want to get action. But there has been a high standard in terms of commitment and effort set by those who have left the squad. The challenge is for new guys to get up to that level and see if they can make an impact.” – Conor Counihan
What’s on the dressing room iPod? Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now – Starship
Supporters are most likely to say? “We’re taking nothing for granted, but…”
Verdict: Conor Counihan’s charges are worthy favourites to retain their All-Ireland crown – one they collected last year by doing just enough to get over the line in a number of matches en route to Croke Park on the third Sunday in September.
The Rebels have won the last three national titles on offer and their display against Pat Gilroy’s previously undefeated Dublin in the Allianz Football League final on Easter Sunday showed that their hunger for more silverware has not diminished.
However, more crucially, they have now perfected the ability to edge tight games and their ability to remain calm when under pressure is something that served them well throughout last year’s campaign and will do so this year again.
A year ago Cork were the great pretenders but winning is a habit and with the likes of Jamie O’Sullivan, Pearse O’Neill, Daniel Goulding and Ciaran Sheehan coming right at the right time the habit could be hard to break.
Last year: Lost vs Down, All-Ireland quarter-final
First game: vs Tipperary, May 22
What the manager says: “The thing that has given me heart is that there is a lot of energy in the team and a lot of hunger. That always helps. I think the lads will be looking forward to this championship because they felt we didn’t do ourselves justice last year. There is great togetherness in the camp. I’m very happy with where we are.” – Jack O’Connor
What’s on the dressing room iPod? Let’s Stick Together – Roxy Music
Supporters are most likely to say? “€37 from Killarney to Heuston. That’s only one-way though!”
Verdict: This Kerry side are in a period of transition but writing them off as potential All-Ireland contenders would be folly. Kerry were ambushed by a fearless Down outfit in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final and the men from the Kingdom will be determined to set the record straight – first in their beloved Munster where they will be hellbent on stopping Cork getting their hands on the provincial title and then, later in the championship, where they will be keen to put the memory of the crushing defeat to James McCartan’s Mourne men to bed.
Tipperary are first up for Jack O’Connor’s troops this weekend and they should be accounted for in picturesque Fitzgerald Stadium, even without the presence of former Footballer of the Year, Paul Galvin.
That will be followed by a much tougher test against Limerick, whose hearts they broken in last year’s Munster final, in the semi-final. Get over those two hurdles and the men from Ireland’s real capital will surely be waiting for them on 3 July.
Last year: Lost vs Cork, All-Ireland Qualifiers 4th Round
First game: vs Kerry/Tipperary, June 4
What the manager says: “”He just went over on it in a collision with a player in a challenge match. A player hit him on the inside of his leg and forced his leg out.” – Maurice Horan on John Galvin’s cruciate injury, which rules him out for the season.
What’s on the dressing room iPod? (You Got It) The Right Stuff – New Kids On The Block
Supporters are most likely to say? “Who’s Paul Galvin?”
Verdict: This year’s Allianz Football League did not pan out as planned for new Limerick boss Horan. Relegation to Division Four is not the ideal preparation for the Munster championship. Not ideal at all.
Limerick could have and should have defeated Kerry in the provincial decider last year but they didn’t. Pushing eventual champions Cork all the way in the qualifiers before bowing out was no consolation either. Always the bridesmaid etc.
A Munster title is what Limerick are after and to their credit the Treaty footballers have been extremely competitive by the time the championship has rolled around in recent years. Midfielder John Galvin, nothing short of colossal in last year’s Munster final, is the key man for Limerick but his potential unavailability, due to injury, for the semi-final clash with Kerry or Tipperary could end Limerick’s interest in the provincial championship. A good run in the qualifiers is not out of the question though.
Last year: Lost vs. Dublin, All-Ireland Qualifiers 2nd Round
First game: vs Kerry, May 22
What the manager says: “I don’t buy into that theory (that Kerry are a team on the way down). No. In fact they are my tip for this year to win the All-Ireland. There is a cutting edge to them. While Cork certainly have an edge also, I definitely think Kerry have an edge on them. Through one thing or another, the gods didn’t go with them last year and they certainly feel that they owe this one to themselves and to everyone else. I certainly think Kerry are coming in a lot fresher this year.” – John Evans
What’s on the dressing room iPod? Another One Bites The Dust – Queen
Supporters are most likely to say? “I’m telling you they’re the MacGillicuddy Reeks!”
Verdict: Tipperary struggled for scores throughout the Allianz Football League and scores are the very thing they will need if they are to trouble Kerry in their Munster championship opener. Manager John Evans, a Kerry native, insists that the Kingdom’s footballers “are coming in a lot fresher this year” and if that’s the case Tipperary’s 12-point defeat to the aristocrats of Munster football might seem like a decent result come Sunday evening in Killarney. Tipperary’s best hope of football throughout the summer lies in the qualifiers where they stunned Laois last year while captain Barry Grogan continues to be their shining light.
Last year: Lost vs Offaly, first round of the qualifiers
First game: vs Cork, 22 May
What the manager says: “Everyone in the country will expect them (Cork) to beat us comfortably but we’ll go down there and give it a real go. We have nothing to lose going into this game.” – Michael McDermott
What’s on the dressing room iPod? Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand
Supporters are most likely to say? “It’s a long, long way from Clare to here.”
Verdict: It’s 19 years since Clare’s historic victory over Kerry in the Munster decider. With All-Ireland champions Cork first up for the Banner County in 2011 it is verging on the impossible, no it is impossible, that Clare will be in another provincial final this year. Like four out of the six teams in Munster, Clare will be hoping to land a home draw in the qualifiers and go from there but a short summer beckons.
Last year: Lost vs Offaly, All-Ireland qualifiers second round
First game: vs Cork/Clare, June 5
What the manager says: “Well I’ve worked in Ballymacarbery for many years and during that time I’ve done a bit of coaching with teams around that area, so when the call came to offer me the job I didn’t have to think about it at all. I knew how well the team had done over recent years and how close they’ve been to promotion and also how well the county champions have done when they go on to represent the county in the Munster championship over the last decade or even longer and knowing a lot of the players and their capabilities, it was a very easy choice really.” – John Owens, February 2010
What’s on the dressing room iPod? Three Is A Magic Number – Schoolhouse Rock
Supporters are most likely to say? “If only we had Gary Hurney and Shane Walsh?!?”
Verdict: Waterford, like Limerick, will ply their trade in Division Four of the Allianz Football League in 2012. Unlike their Munster counterparts, Waterford are not considered a dark horse in Munster. In fact, they are as near to a non-runner as it comes. Former boss John Kiely did as much as he could with the county’s footballers and now John Owens has continued on where the bearded one left off. Cork will put the Deise to the sword in the provincial semi-final if they get over the challenge of Clare so the minefield that is the qualifiers is all that awaits Waterford.