In the last few years it has become customary to bemoan the state of gaelic football and, in particular, Dublin’s dominance of the game. But there’s one area in which the capital has been distinctly second best in recent years, and that’s the All-Ireland minor championship. In fact, it’s the old aristocrats Kerry who have held the upper hand at this level over the last few years with the likes of child prodigy David Clifford leading the Kingdom to an unprecedented four in a row.
This is already one of the most noteworthy championships in memory because of the change of the age grade. This will be the first year that the championship is for under 17’s, as opposed to the typical under 18’s tournament it was beforehand. It is a tough blow for those who would have been 18 this year as they have been denied their physical peak year at the age group. It also makes the championship even more difficult to predict than it already is.
The championship kicks off in Leinster this week where 11 teams (Kilkenny are not competing) will play in round robin groups of 5 and 6 respectively in order to determine who will reach the provincial semi-finals on 7th of July with the final being played the following weekend. In recent years Kildare have exerted some influence over the province, but the Dubs fought back to win the competition last year and may be the team to beat again this time.
In Munster Kerry are obviously favourites considering their recent success although they will be hampered by the loss of such a talent as Clifford to the senior game. There is a showdown of epic proportions lined up in Austin Stack Park Tralee this weekend where the old enemies of Cork and Kerry face off. Cork have already registered a big win in their opening game against Waterford and will fancy their chances of causing an upset. However, in what feels like a defacto provincial final, I just feel the likes of Paul Walsh and Jack Kennelly will have enough firepower to see the hosts through.
Out west the minor championship has taken on a different format with the competition now being played as a 5 team round robin rather than the traditional straight knockout. The championship has already kicked off with Mayo hammering Leitrim in their opening game and Galway facing Sligo this evening. It may come to pass that the old enemies of Mayo and Galway come to the fore again, to face off in the final on July 13 and while Galway have won 3 back to back, I fancy that their neighbours may just be able to spring an upset this time to redress the balance.
As it almost invariably is, Ulster seems like the most difficult province to predict for the coming season. In recent years Derry and Donegal seem to have obtained a stranglehold up north with the pair notching two titles each in the last 4 years. While the oak leaf men were soundly dismissed in the final last year there’s enough to suggest that there’s a talent pool big enough in the county to emerge from the province this year.
Picking a winner in an underage competition is a dicey business at the best of times, but given the change in structuring of the grade this year, there is even less confidence to be gleaned from your decision. On saying that Kerry’s record at underage in recent years has been superb, and while there’s reason to believe the loss of David Clifford, perhaps their best ever minor star, could seriously weaken them, they just may have enough about them and do what their seniors never did by landing that all elusive five in a row.