Provincial predictions

Injury worries to pivotal players like Dessie Dolan may prove too much for Westmeath's championship hopes this summer. Photo: John O'Brien.

Injury worries to pivotal players like Dessie Dolan may prove too much for Westmeath's championship hopes this summer. Photo: John O'Brien.

With both club and county championships up and running for the past few weeks, it is an opportune time to cast an eye over the likely winners and losers for the year ahead. Whether you like a small flutter or just a fantasy bet, here are my predictions, for what they’re worth. It’s worth bearing in mind that I’ll probably put the blight on my chosen teams.

In Leinster, Dublin are the hot favourites to make it five in a row. They are worthy favourites and the most likely winners. Yet at such a short price (11/10 ) and the fact that they are starting with a new-look team on Sunday, I think it may pay to look elsewhere.

Meath love nothing better than playing the sky blues and even if they have under-performed in recent years I think they might catch Dublin on the hop this weekend. Everyone is talking Dublin up, while Meath have slipped completely under the radar. They say a barking dog never bites. The Royals haven’t as much as growled in the past few months and I expect Dublin to feel their bite in Croker on Sunday. 5/1 to win Leinster might look short at this stage for Meath, but if they perform against Pat Gilroy’s men, it will look good value come Sunday evening.

Kildare are also worth close attention. Kieran McWeeney is making his mark on the Lilly Whites, and their opening half performance against Offaly gave an indication of their potential. Serious contenders at about 7/2.

Westmeath at 10/1 are a decent price but I won’t be rushing in to grab it. With a lot of injuries at present, including serious concerns regarding Dessie Dolan’s knee, I think a Leinster title might just be out of reach this year. Without a fit Dessie and with Martin Flanagan and Damien Healy both low on match practice going into championship, the omens are not good.

Meath can do the likes of Kildare and Westmeath a massive favour on Sunday if they manage a win. The longer Dublin stay in the championship the harder they will be to beat.

My verdict in Leinster: Likely winners Dublin - next best Kildare.

Ulster is always a tough province to call but having seen Tyrone in action against Armagh last weekend I can’t look beyond the reigning all-Ireland champions. Hunger won’t be a problem for Mickey Harte’s men, and given their strength in depth and versatility, they seem to hold all of the aces.

Derry are Tyrone’s greatest danger. While Eoin Bradley and Kielt are two good forwards, Derry still rely very heavily on Paddy Bradley for scores.

My verdict in Ulster: Likely winners Tyrone – next best Derry.

Connacht boils down to the usual suspects, Galway and Mayo. Early in the year I would have been strong on Galway’s chances but I’m beginning at this stage to side more with Mayo. Yes Galway have better forwards but Mayo are strong in midfield, an area where Galway have problems. If Mayo control midfield and Keith Higgins manages to keep tabs on Michael Meehan, then I think they are in with a great chance.

My verdict in Connacht: Likely winners Mayo - next best Galway.

In Munster it all boils down to who comes out on top in this weekend’s clash between Cork and Kerry. Cork are the reigning provincial champions and while I expect them to give Kerry a run for their money this Sunday, it’s Kerry all the way for me.

There is a belief that Kerry might be happy to lose in Munster and progress to an All-Ireland final via the back door but I don’t buy into that. Having lost three finals last year (league, Munster, and All-Ireland ) and with Jack O’Connor back on board, motivation must be at an all-time high to collect silverware this year.

My verdict in Munster: Likely winners Kerry - next best Cork.

 

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