We are now in the first week of January, and the Christmas and New Year celebrations feel like a lifetime ago.
For GAA players, both intercounty and club, it will be back to the grind this week as they gear up for a big 2017.
Most teams will have their management teams in place by now, and those who don’t will be starting to get worried, and will be keen to nail down their bainisteoir.
Players will be setting bold targets this week, claiming that they will go off the drink for January, and how they’re really going to take the Strength and Conditioning seriously this year.
Gym memberships will be renewed, and spinning classes and bootcamps and the likes will all be fully booked out for the next couple of weeks. We’ll see how long that lasts!
January does bring fresh enthusiasm and I find people are prepared to push themselves hard at this time of the year, even if the thought of pre-season training gives them the shivers.
Of course, most of the intercounty teams are already back at it, apart from the ones that enjoyed good success last year and are now enjoying themselves out foreign.
I know the Dubs are in Jamaica this week, and there will be county players thinking that if they can find that extra ten per cent this season, then they could be sunning themselves in Buenos Aires or Dubai in 12 months time.
We’re coming into the pre-season competitions this weekend, and it’s just a case of blowing out the cobwebs ahead of the league and championship.
For the bigger counties, survival in the league will suffice and they will be putting all their eggs in the championship basket.
Ulster is going to be ultra competitive once again, but I do feel that Donegal will be in contention for the Anglo Celt Cup.
There’s no doubt that the big game is going to be the semi-final between Rory Gallagher’s team and Tyrone, presuming they both come through their quarter-final ties as expected.
I think the Ulster champions are going to come from that semi-final clash.
Cavan are under new management in Mattie McGlennan and he will bring a freshness to the set-up. However, the talk is that they will be without David Givney, Cian Mackey, Fergal Flanagan, and Eugene Keating next season, and they were four key players for the Breffni side in 2016.
Monaghan will be without the retired Dick Clerkin and Paul Finlay next season, and I’m not sure if they have the panel depth to get their hands on the Ulster crown again.
If you look at the rest of the teams, I don’t know if Derry have progressed under Damien Barton, and while Jamie Clarke is back from Armagh, they’re still a long way off the force they were in the noughties.
Naturally with Ulster Football, there will be competitive games, but I still would rank Tyrone and Donegal ahead of the rest, and I would make it a two-horse race.
The loss of Eamon McGee and Colm McFadden will leave Donegal short of two good players, while Leo McLoone’s decision to stay off the panel is a big blow, because he is in the prime of his career.
However, we have young talent coming through and there are lads that are willing to take up the mantle.
We’ve lost two provincial finals in-a-row, and it would be great if we could get the silverware this year, but Ulster Championships are never easy won.
Connacht is going to be very competitive after Galway reigned supreme last season, yet Mayo went on to reach the All-Ireland Final.
It will be interesting to see how the Mayo players deal with that Connelly/Holmes article from before Christmas.
I would think if they have their eyes fully set on winning back the Connacht title then they will get it, but there’s no doubt their aim will be to peak for September.
There might be an argument to say that the real Leinster Championship takes place over the next few weeks with the O’Byrne Cup taking centre stage.
That’s because Dublin won’t be playing their recognised players as they are given an extra break.
Instead, it will be essentially Dublin’s third team and some would fancy them to put it up to any of the other counties in the province.
The All-Ireland Champions are miles ahead of everybody in Leinster, and the only team that I could see potentially giving them a game is Meath under Andy McEntee.
Going back to the nineties, Meath football was based on pure hardness, and teams were nearly beat by just looking at them in the warm up.
The Mick Lyons’, and Liam Harnans, and Colm Coyles aren’t there any more, and Meath need to get those physical players back in the team.
Andy and Gerry McEntee are now in charge, and it would be great to see them competitive again in Leinster. But Dublin will more than likely win it at a canter.
Kerry are still leading the way in Munster, and it will be interesting to see if Eamonn Fitzmaurice places trust in some of those talented young players the Kingdom boasts.
Cork won the All-Ireland back in 2010, but they have gone down considerably since that.
Tipperary made big strides forward in 2016, but I still don’t think they can upset Kerry in Munster.
In terms of the All-Ireland, I would have Dublin, Mayo, and Kerry in the top rung, with Tyrone and Donegal slightly below them.
Dublin are not invincible, but they will have Jack McCaffrey back this year, and they have young players like Con O’Callaghan and Colm Basquel ready to step up.
However, both Kerry and Mayo ran them very close last year, and they will think they can go one better in 2017.
Dr McKenna Cup
I find myself involved in the Dr McKenna Cup once again this year as I’m managing the Under 21 county team and we are representing Donegal in the competition.
We have 16 of our panel involved with the senior squad, and the goal has always been to develop them through and get them ready to play senior football for Donegal.
However, it has been a frustrating time trying to prepare for the McKenna Cup, as we haven’t seen enough of our players.
We will also be short a couple of our players as they are tied up with their colleges.
To compound matters, we have been handed a very difficult group, and you probably couldn’t have hand-picked a tougher one.
Tyrone always take the McKenna cup very seriously, and Cavan are under new management, so they’re going to want to get things off on the right footing.
University of Ulster, Jordanstown have a fantastic panel, and they will be very hard to stop. If they were a county team they would be in contention to win the Ulster Championship. That’s the challenge we face.
We’re basically in at the deep end, but it will be an opportunity for some lads to put their hand up, and show that they can raise their game when needed.
The ‘mark’ will also be in action in Sunday’s game and it will be interesting to see if there’s any high fielding.