The majority of the All-Ireland Club Football Championship might be played out in the mud of November and December, but it’s still one of the best competitions in the country in any sport and keeps GAA fans ticking over until the intercounty season kicks off the following year.
Any GAA man dreams of seeing their club lift the Andy Merrigan Cup, but the reality is that there’s only a handful of clubs capable of achieving this in any given year.
The recent trends would suggest that you’d need a base of five or so players with intercounty experience coupled with a supporting cast made up of former county underage players, who are just off the level required to get themselves into Coppers for free.
However, despite eight or so teams in the competition meeting this criteria we can’t for the life of us look beyond Dublin aristocrats St Vincent’s.
The ace in the Vinny’s pack is undoubtedly Diarmuid Connolly, a man who’s arguably the best footballer in the country at the minute and who at times looks a different species amongst his opponents at club level.
He’s flanked by experienced intercounty campaigners in Ger Brennan, Tomás Quinn, Brendan Egan (Sligo) and Enda Varley (Mayo), while another former Dub Eamonn Fennell should return from injury in time for the business end of the championship.
Elsewhere on the park they have players such as Michael Concarr, Jarlath Curley and Gavin Burke who would likely be eligible for GPA membership had they not been born in Dublin. Their bench is also stacked with a ridiculous quality, such as former Galway man Fiachra Breathnach and Westmeath’s Lorcan Smyth.
In their Dublin SFC semi-final they squared off against an equally star-studded Ballymun side that is capable of accounting for a third of the Boys in Blue’s starting line-up on any given day. They edged a closely contested tie and it’s difficult to see them facing a sterner test before St Patrick’s Day.
Stradbally did them a big favour by vanquishing potential hazard Portlaoise in the Laois final, and while Offaly’s Rhode or Kildare’s Sarsfields may give them some nervous moments, they just don’t have the quality or depth to match the three time All-Ireland winners.
Kilcoo or Slaughtneill would their most likely opponents at the semi-final stage, and while both teams have experience in this competition – neither side have the look of a Crossmaglen that would have the ability to press a side like Vincent’s for 60 minutes.
Where the main threat lies is on the other side of the draw in Castlebar, Corofin and Dr Crokes, three sides who could beat any team if things go their way.
Castlebar (), like many a Mayo team, have had the unfortunate infamy of looking like the champions in wait for the 2 of the last 3 before collapsing in the final. They’ve beaten the likes of St. Brigid’s, Corofin, Dr Crokes and Crossmaglen in recent years so they won’t lack belief against anyone but there are concerns.
Having contested the final earlier in the year, they’ve been on the go since January 2015 without a break. That’s something that can take its toll and the uncertainty surrounding Tom Cunniffe’s availability for the Connacht Championship could leave them shorn of one of their talisman.
The other western threat is 2015 All-Ireland champions Corofin at . The Galway side are one of the few in the country who can match St Vincent’s for depth, with almost the entirety of their panel having lined out for the Tribesmen at some level.
They coasted their way to the title in 2015 with a five point win over Vincent’s being their tightest contest. This year however – while they’ve won Galway championship comfortably – they haven’t been laying waste to their opponents as they have in recent years, it may be that Corofin have their minds on a bigger prize, but it can be argued that they don’t look the force of 18 months ago.
That leaves us with Dr Crokes who have Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper, and when you have the Gooch there’s always a chance. However, as this year’s championship showed he’s not the devastating force that he once was.
They do have plenty of quality in Fionn Fitzgerald, Johnny Buckley, Kieran O’Leary and the still brilliant Eoin Brosnan, but they’ve always struggled against quality side who bring a high level of intensity over 60 minutes which is something that they will run into.
This is despite being the most skillful side in the country over the last half decade.
Their collapse in last year’s Dublin SFC final against Ballyboden showed that Vincent’s aren’t infallible, but there’s no denying that their route to the final is by far the easiest amongst the short prices and their potential conquerors may not be at their best level in recent years.
Therefore for us the only option is to grab the short price of for Diarmuid Connolly to have another medal on his broad shoulders come St Paddy’s Day.