Media coverage, television and column inches will begin to be centred around GAA as new players and management begin to show their credentials for the season ahead. Here at Pundit Arena, we begin our previews. Here are five teams to watch out for in the 2015 National Football League.
There has been very little hype or talk about Down. They may be on a downward spiral since their 2010 All-Ireland final appearance, coming ever so close to beating Cork, but 2015 has the potential to be a new year and a new beginning for Down.
The main reason for this is the return from Australia of Martin Clarke and Caolan Mooney. Clarke only had two years as a senior footballer for Down but in those two seasons he demonstrated the potential to be a top class player.
His loss was felt throughout the county, but his return may propel them back to the highs of coming within a point of winning the All-Ireland.
Caolan Mooney made his Down senior debut in 2011 when he was still a minor but followed Clarke to the AFL later that year. He has a big underage pedigree and is now about to showcase his talent on the intercounty stage. If he can have a similar impact to Clarke, then who knows, Down could become a force again.
They play in Division 2 where they start a new era under Jim McCorry who replaces James McCartan after five years in charge. There is no guarantee that it will be a successful year for Down but they are definitely a team worth looking out for.
They were one of the counties at the middle of the infamous ‘dual player’ debate last season and people will find it strange that Clare footballers came out on the more positive side of things. As a result of the 2014 dispute, Clare footballers look to be a lot stronger going into 2015.
Three former hurlers, Padraic Collins, Sean Collins and Cathal McInernery have committed solely to the Clare footballers this year making them a team to keep an eye on. They were promoted from Division 4 of the league last year and had a relatively good championship campaign.
Their squad for 2015 now looks stronger and it will be interesting to see how they compete in Division 3. They gave a Kerry a good game in last year’s championship and missed a big opportunity to beat Kildare. There were clear signs of progress, now people will be watching to see if this progress continues.
Their league form should be a good barometer for their summer ahead and the Banner should be aiming to do well in Division 3.
Armagh were another side who made strides in 2014 and they will be watched closely in 2015. On Pundit Arena, they were recently referred to as one of football’s greatest underachievers during the 2000s. They had been going backwards, but 2014 was a real sign of a turnaround.
They defeated Tyrone, Meath and only fell to Donegal by a point having led by a point going into stoppage time. They now have one of their all-time greats, Kieran McGeeney, in charge and it has the potential to be a good fit. It will be an interesting year for the Orchard men.
Reports are going around that they were training twice a day over Chrsitmas and have been putting in huge hours on the training ground. From the outside it is hard to know what to believe. Are they doing too much? Or will they be so well drilled that they become a major force?
They are in Division 3 of the league and should be aiming for promotion. They should be looking to beat every team in the Division and make a mark ahead of the summer.
The All-Ireland champions are an obvious team to watch particularly since their league form has been so indifferent in recent times. In certain ways, Kerry have shown the limitations of the league. They have targeted the championship without worrying about league position and reaped the benefits last year in Croker.
For the last two seasons, Kerry have been relegation contenders after the early rounds of the league but have finished strongly to stay in the top division. They have also performed well in the championship, where it counts.
They enter this league campaign without James O’Donoghue who is recovering from shoulder surgery. He was their main man last year in the league and championship and it will be interesting to see how they compensate for his loss. They also have the return of Tommy Walsh and Colm Cooper to look forward to, and everybody will be eager to see how they perform on their respective returns.
The Kingdom have shown in the last few years that league form is no longer of utmost importance heading into Championship. But as defending All-Ireland champions and with a few new faces in the side, they will be watched closely from the off.
For Donegal the question is how will they adapt to life after Jim McGuinness?
‘Jimmy’ took over for the 2011 season and turned Donegal from potential whipping boys to All-Ireland champions in 2012. Some people criticised his methods, but results are results and McGuinness ‘brought Sammy back to Donegal again’.
McGuinness has now vacated his position as Donegal manager and is replaced by his former backroom member, Rory Gallagher. Gallagher’s previous departure from McGuinness’ backroom team sparked talk of trouble in the camp, but Donegal’s All-Ireland final appearance may suggest otherwise.
Gallagher is now the main man in charge and Donegal will be looked at closely in the league. Will they stick with their defensive set-up? Or will they evolve and look to play a more attacking game? Will he find some new players and will it be more of the same from Donegal?
These are just a number of questions that will be asked. It will be very interesting to see how they get on with McGuinness in charge. Will they fall backwards? Or will they remain contenders?
We will find out over the next few months.
by Sean Cremin