McCaffrey return might breathe life into champions
If management taught me anything, it was that you learn a hell of a lot more from a defeat than you do from a victory and Dublin’s league final loss to Kerry might be the catalyst for a third All-Ireland title on the trot.
When you lose a match, you tend to analyse things far more thoroughly than when you win and I have no doubt that Jim Gavin has left no stone unturned as he attempts to lift the Sam Maguire for a fourth time. This Dublin team is exceptional and it would be foolish to look beyond them. They deserve to be favourites so don’t be turned off by their price.
These Dublin players can no longer believe they are invincible. They needed two bites of the cherry to beat Mayo in last year’s All-Ireland final, struggled against Tyrone and Donegal in the league and could not contain Kerry in the Division 1 decider. They are not that far ahead of the pack but the return of Jack McCaffrey will inject new life into them and they have more natural scoring forwards than any other side in the country so they remain the team to beat.
It is hard to resist having a nibble on McCaffrey at 20-1 to win Footballer of the Year. He won the coveted gong in 2015 and missed last season through commitments outside football. He will be fresh and eager to show how good he is. Croke Park is tailormade for his acceleration too.
When I won the All-Ireland with Cork in 2010, we were hit with nasty injuries to Ciaran Sheehan and Daniel Goulding the following year and that made it extremely hard to retain the title. But the Dubs have managed to keep their key players injury-free and a full-strength Dublin side will be desperately hard to beat.
Dublin should stroll through Leinster and I feel they are a more balanced and experienced side than Kerry. If the two teams reach the All-Ireland decider, I am convinced you will see a different outcome from the league final.
Dublin have natural leaders, raw pace in every section of their team and a reliable free-taker in Dean Rock so it will take an unbelievable performance from Kerry to down them when it matters most. Kerry blooded a lot of talented new players during the league and they came up trumps. They have been hurt so many times by Dublin over the last few years that their motivation must be almost uncontrollable. They must be ravenous.
The Kingdom have won the All-Ireland title only once since 2009. For any other team, that would be acceptable. Not Kerry. They will be keen to add to their haul and are sure to be around at the business end but I have a suspicion that they will come up short.
Tyrone have come up short for the last few years and their scoring power up front has proved their downfall time and time again. Indeed, I fancy Monaghan to win Ulster and their price looks very generous.
When teams tackle Monaghan now, they don’t just have to concentrate on Conor McManus. They also have to try to nullify the influence of Jack McCarron who looked a real handful during the league. Those two sharpshooters could lead the Farney army to yet another provincial title.
Don’t forget that Monaghan were able to go toe-to-toe with Donegal when they were in their prime and the current Monaghan team is every bit as good as that one with McCarron coming into the mix.
The problem for Monaghan is when they come out of Ulster. It is an entirely different kettle of fish when it comes down to the last eight in Croke Park and they lack the speed to go from Ulster champions to All-Ireland champions.
I cannot emphasise enough how different the Munster, Ulster and Connacht champions are from the All-Ireland race. The wide-open spaces of Croke Park catch so many teams out. There is no hiding place. You might be able to hide in Clones and get away with it but not in Croke Park.
I expect Monaghan to be the only surprise packets in the provincial championships. Dublin will win Leinster, Kerry will come out of Munster and Mayo look good for Connacht for all that Galway could be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years with so much young talent coming through.
As for the main prize, that is Dublin’s for the taking once again. Sometimes the answer is obvious.
Dublin to win all-Ireland SFC
2pts 6-4 general
Monaghan to win Ulster SFC
1pt 11-2 bet365
Jack McCaffrey to win Footballer of the Year
1pt 20-1 Betfair, BoyleSports, Paddy Power