2015 All Ireland Football Championship Preview

Lonesharkoy previews the 2015 All Ireland Football Championship contenders and sees the main value lying in the leading Munster challengers.

Advised Bets:

Kerry to win the 2015 All Ireland Football Championship: 3 Points win @ 3/1 generally.

Cork to win the 2015 All Ireland Football Championship: 1 Point each-way @ 12/1 with Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and Boylesports.

 

The list of potential winners of the Sam Maguire Cup in four months’ time may be short but with the exception of the decade from 1991 onwards, the question could be asked – was it ever any other way?

Perhaps the most unique aspect to the footballing landscape in 2015 is the geographical spread of the likely contenders, which means that we’re unlikely to see anything other than shadow boxing up until August.

Even at the height of Kerry’s powers under Mick O’Dwyer’s management, Cork were able to cause them problems on occasion, while in Leinster, Dublin usually met with resistance from either Meath or Offaly. The four front runners in the race for the Sam Maguire come from four different provinces right now and while it’s easy to imagine Cork and Monaghan offering some resistance in Munster and Ulster, we’re still dependent on someone raising their game out West, or on an absolute miracle if Dublin are to be asked to break a sweat in Leinster.

What this also means is that while there are teams that might cause an upset in a one-off situation, teams like Monaghan, Armagh, Roscommon, Tyrone and possibly even Meath (this writer’s hunch), any notion that these teams could come from nowhere and win the All Ireland is blown out of the water by the strong likelihood that they’d have to pull off at least two and possibly three upsets to do so.

In the world of betting, there is a correct price for everything – yet any one of these sides should arguably be 66/1 or better to justify an outright bet, simply because the match prices multiplied out are likely to come up to a level somewhere in that ball park, barring a very fortunate draw for one of these sides.

Consequently, the market can realistically be viewed as a five horse race, led by an 11/8 favourite that has time and again looked like a machine against weaker opposition but struggled to compete when asked the toughest of questions.

If the All Ireland was decided by which team could run a gauntlet of middling teams and accumulate the most scores along the way, Dublin would win at a canter. Their problem is that when it comes to head-to-head records against the top sides, they fall way short of the level we’d expect from short priced favourites. Donegal, Kerry and Mayo would all fancy their chances against the Dubs and while it’s easy to point to the handful of new players that have impressed in the league, that’s missing the point to some degree.

After all, did Dublin really fail to win the All Ireland in 2012 or 2014 because of the lack of quality in the squad? The answer is of course no; they failed because they met with opposition who asked them to pick a lock rather than break the door down with brute force. Jim Gavin doesn’t need more selection options, he needs a blueprint for how his team is going to break down a blanket, or how they’re going to cope with falling behind in a tie against an opponent that isn’t just filling time waiting to be over-run. They haven’t demonstrated that they have addressed this shortfall and so they are far, far from good value at the prices on offer.

The contrast with Kerry is stark, to say the least of it. Of all the characteristics possessed by the Kingdom - and there are many - perhaps their most under-rated talent is their ability to shapeshift as required. In 2014 alone they played masterful counterattacking football against Cork, they happily slipped back into an old-fashioned long ball game when it was needed against Mayo, and they went on to beat Donegal at their own game in the final. Who else could change their approach so fluidly and carry on without missing a step?

Now take their 2014 team, and reintroduce Colm Cooper. Restore Darran O’Sullivan to full fitness, and throw in Tommy Walsh as a second long ball option instead of Kieran Donaghy. For the hell of it, why not give Eamon Fitzmaurice the option of throwing in Paul Galvin for a fifteen minute cameo appearance, plus give him a team of All Ireland winning minors, so that he can spring a dark horse or two if he really needs to.

3/1 Kerry and 11/8 Dublin is laughable. Joint favourites at around 2/1 would be far closer to the mark.

There are those who have been quick to write off Mayo entirely but be assured this columnist isn’t one of them. That said, it would be nice to see something from them before we go to invest, even if that means missing top price.

James Horan took on a county that was on the back of crashing out of the All Ireland race to Longford, and he brought them right up to the highest level almost instantly. He connected with his players, there was incredible harmony and unity of purpose in the camp, and he showed a level of poise on the side line and in his dealings with the public that translated through to the players.

To blindly assume that the joint ticket of Noel Connolly and Pat Holmes will replicate that level of performance requires a huge leap of faith. Neither can they do as Horan did and look to peak in August, since there are plenty of pitfalls in Connacht this year. Roscommon are a year older and further advanced after winning division two of the league, while if history has taught us nothing else, it’s that no Mayo team can afford to travel to Galway in a complacent state of mind.

Galway didn’t show us anything against Leitrim a little over a week ago but they didn’t have to, as Leitrim were utterly abject, bereft of ideas. Galway will be competitive, and they weren’t miles off the pace in last year’s Connacht Final at Castlebar. Give them a home field and a scent of blood, and a quick trip into the qualifiers is not out of the question for Mayo.

Similar to Mayo, Donegal have been handed a somewhat arduous route of their province and while they’ll expect to make it, you don’t come through a route of Tyrone / Armagh / Down or Derry / Monaghan without collecting a few scars. The odds on offer reflect this to a certain extent, however it’s hard to see them being laid at less than 6/1 or so, even if they make it that far, so there’s no real value to be had.

Finally we come to the conundrum that is Cork – clearly immensely talented, but not entirely clear how to covert that somewhat ethereal quality into the hard currency of Croke Park success. The gambling instinct that dwells within us would say that there is plenty of upside in the Rebels, and that there is something alluring about getting in behind a team that has the potential for huge dollops of improvement. They beat the top four sides above during the Allianz League and while it all went horribly wrong in the final, that’s not a track record that we’d be quick to dismiss. They’ve a bit to find in terms of game management, but they tick a lot of boxes and probably deserve inclusion, if only as an each way shout.

Recap - Advised Bets:

Kerry to win the 2015 All Ireland Football Championship: 3 Points win @ 3/1 generally.

Cork to win the 2015 All Ireland Football Championship: 1 Point each-way @ 12/1 with Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and Boylesports.



 

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