All-Ireland Football Championship: The ones to watch
The time is once again upon us. Summer is here, technically, which means that the Road to Croker begins in earnest.
The usual suspects of Dublin, Cork and Kerry are being touted as front-runners for the Sam Maguire Cup and here is a good place to start for a look 20 players to keep an eye on this season:
Bernard Brogan (Dublin): The one man goal machine. The younger Brogan has not had much game time at all this season but is a formidable opponent for any defender to cope with on his day. A supremely gifted passer of the ball and a ruthless goal scorer, the Dubs will be looking to him for leadership.
Colm Cooper (Kerry): What hasn’t been said about the “Gooch”? Four All-Ireland, four Leagues and seven All-Stars define one of the greatest players of the modern era. Expect more exquisite passes, intricate forward play and the heart of a champion.
Pádraig Fogarty (Kildare): A young man with no fear is exactly what Kildare need if they are to mount a serious challenge. Three points in the Lilywhites Division 2 final win showed his ability. May be sprung from the bench initially but expect more to come.
Patrick Kelly: (Cork): The Ballincollig man has been in superb form for the Rebel County and will look to continue in this rich vein all the way to the All-Ireland final. His incisive passes combined with lethal accuracy may be Cork’s way to first, Munster glory and then more.
Ciaran Kilkenny (Dublin): Not the first person that crosses the mind but his exploits with the minors this year have been spectacular. A two-footed forward, equally adept on either side of the forward line, could cause opposition defenders real problems. Impact sub berth likely but could win matches.
Michael Murphy (Donegal): The Glenswilly man, appointed captain last season, will look again to lead from the front. Six goals in 14 appearances suggest he is no slouch in front of the target. If they get the ball to him again, it may be another profitable summer.
Pádraic Joyce (Galway): So often labelled the go-to guy for the Tribesmen doesn’t make it any less true. Despite his advancing years, he is still the integral cog in the Galway wheel. Free-taking will be key. A Connacht title will be the aim, anything more a bonus.
Darren Clarke (Louth): A lot of Wee County hopes lie with this man. Louth will have to beat Dublin to reach the Leinster final but if they can disrupt the Dubs defence, this is the man that will punish them.
Kieran Donaghy (Kerry): The big man of Kerry football. A no-nonsense, uber-physical powerhouse selected to win ball and brush aside defences. If Gooch scores goals, it will be because this man puts in the hard work. No slouch in front of goal either.
Dan Goulding (Cork): 2-15 in the Munster Championship last season and unlucky to be on the losing side against Kerry in the final, Goulding will be looking to reverse last year’s form. An excellent League campaign holds them in good stead.
Michael Darragh MacAuley (Dublin): The lynchpin of the Dublin side. Imperious in midfield, a hard grafter and will link defence with attack meticulously.
James Morgan (Armagh): The man from Crossmaglen is your typical no-nonsense hard grafting defender. He is a corner-back who will not let his man go and possesses a nice touch with ball in hand.
John Doyle (Kildare): Tough, physical, intense player for the Lilywhites. Not afraid to get his hands dirty in midfield and will get forward at will. An all-rounder and the heartbeat of the Kildare side. He plays well and Kildare play well.
Bryan Sheehan (Kerry): It seems the Kingdom don’t know how to make bad players. Alongside O’Sullivan in midfield, Sheehan will be a rock of certainty allowing the flair forwards play as only they know how.
Karl Lacey (Donegal): Part of the stout defence that got Donegal to an All-Ireland semi-final. Dependable at half-back, Lacey will once again be asked for a Trojan effort this summer in a bid to retain their Ulster crown.
Rory O’Carroll (Dublin): A young man that seems to have been around forever. Will not give opposition forwards an easy day and superb with ball in hand.
Michael Foley (Kildare): Any Kildare assault on a Leinster title will need a good base. Foley was excellent and has continued where he left off this year. Will lead from the back.
Barry Owens (Fermanagh): Has been impressive in Division 4 of the League this year. Will encourage team not to be disheartened over final loss to Wicklow. Will lead Peter Canavan’s men from the back and provide staunch cover behind the midfield.
Brendan Kealy (Kerry): It’s not all about the forwards in the Kingdom. Kealy has shown, especially last season, how good a goalkeeper he really is. The Kilcummin man pulled out many match-winning saves last year and his side will look for more of the same if they are to re-capture Sam.
Stephen Cluxton (Dublin): Last year’s All-Ireland final hero. Undoubtedly, one of the best goalkeepers of the modern era, Cluxton has it all. Shot-stopping, a keen eye for passing and very accurate with the 45’s. If Dublin retain Sam, a lot of credit will once again go to the Parnells man.