Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Numbers game puts Ulster duo on the front footing for glory

Jim McGuinness 8/9/2012...Donegal Football Open Training Session, MacCumhail Park, Ballybofey, Co. Donegal 8/9/2012 Manager Jim McGuinness Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Kieran Murray

Four rounds of the Allianz Football League have been played and there is a discernible pattern to the results.

And even though the competition still has some way to go, I believe there is compelling evidence that Tyrone and Dublin will remain very much in the title frame.

What's more, even though they were beaten by the Red Hands on Sunday week last, I would not dismiss the suggestion that Donegal might just retain their All-Ireland title.

One of the main reasons why I believe these two Ulster counties will figure strongly in the hunt for silverware is that they have considerable strength on the bench.

Tyrone, indeed, could field a shadow team that would be more than capable of beating many full-strength county teams while, with his full complement of players available to him, Donegal manager Jim McGuinness could put out a side that would take a lot of stopping.

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte believes in taking one match at a time and is not particularly enamoured with crystal-ball gazing.

He still harbours ambitions of course but he nonetheless prefers to take life as it comes.

He has a number of players now back from injury including Colm Cavanagh and Kyle Coney and his biggest problem as I see it then will be just who to omit from his starting line-ups.

Donegal, too, have rich resources and I expect that McGuinness will very shortly have a power-packed side on duty for the latter stages of the league so that suitable momentum can be built up in advance of the championship.

While the prospects of a major national trophy coming to Ulster could be said to be promising, it would be foolish to overlook the claims of Dublin in particular.

New manager Jim Gavin has reconstructed the metropolitan outfit, introducing fresh faces who have made a considerable impact.

The manner in which they left Kieran McGeeney's Kildare shell-shocked last Sunday suggests that Dublin have retained their killer instinct and this could prove a vital element in their armoury.

I'm not forgetting about Mayo either. They may have lost to Dublin and Down recently but manager James Horan has added steel and a strong work ethic to a side that up until quite recently was considered fragile and vulnerable, particularly when it came to the matches that really matter.

I think the league semi-final pairings will also give us an indicator as to just who might be left standing at the penultimate stage of the journey to 'Sam' – this despite the often-expressed fear that it can be 'dangerous' for teams to peak too soon.

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