SFC PREVIEW: Ratoath on target to claim third title in four years
Throw the 16 names in contention for the Keegan Cup into a hat, take out the three or four teams that realistically have no chance, and then pull out a name - that might be the best way to predict a winner of this year's Meath SFC.
If the last few championship campaigns have proven anything it is that everything is possible.
Just look at last year's race for the Keegan Cup! No one gave Wolfe Tones a snowballs chance in hell when it came to serious consideration, yet they proved to be emphatically the best team in the championship.
In hindsight writing off Wolfe Tones last year was a major error. Their form hadn't been too bad, having reached two Feis Cup finals in quick succession in what we now refer to as Covid-times.
So while Wolfe Tones ascension to the throne was a surprise it wasn't totally unexpected. What was more surprising was how some of the more considered sides struggled when push came to shove.
Those same sides are once again amongst the main contenders for honours, but calling a winner with any degree of certainty is pure folly as on any given Sunday all of the top 10 or 12 sides in the running are capable of beating each other.
They might not like to hear it, but sides like Navan O'Mahonys, Curraha, Seneschalstown and possibly Ballinabrackey are unlikely to be in the final shake up.
Ballinabrackey are a possible exception to that contention because they managed to amass three points in their group campaign last year yet still found themselves in the relegation mire where as Donaghmore/Ashbourne, in a different group, advanced to the quarter-finals off the back of picking up just two points.
Such vagaries to the qualification process make predictions next to impossible, but on form, on championship credentials, on ability and on careful consideration anyone of up to 10 teams have a realistic chance of claiming overall honours.
The draws for the championship threw up some very difficult groups and undoubtedly some of those who would have been considered genuine contenders for top honours will inevitably find themselves in relegation trouble.
Group C involving Ratoath, Donaghmore/Ashbourne, Gaeil Colmcille and Simonstown instantly stands out as all four teams will harbour realistic and genuine Keegan Cup aspirations, but the reality of the group is that two of those four will find themselves embroiled in a relegation quarter-final.
All four of those teams have been in senior finals in the last six years and between Simonstown and Ratoath they have won four of those six finals yet there is the very real possibility that one of those teams could be relegated from the senior ranks.
While Gaeil Colmcille and Donaghmore/Ashbourne fell just short of getting over the line in recent senior finals, the Kells men can consider themselves desperately unlucky to have lost the 2020 final against Ratoath while the Moores will look back at their 2016 loss to Simonstown with plenty of regrets.
In last year's championship Ratoath and Donaghmore/Ashbourne qualified from the same group although Donaghmore/Ashbourne's progression was fortunate as they picked up just one win and advanced ahead of the two sides that contested the relegation final by scoring difference. Gaeil Colmcille and Simonstown competed in the same group last year with the Kells men topping the table while Simonstown went into the relegation play-offs where they survived at ease.
In this year's A FL Div 1A both Ratoath and Donaghmore/Ashbourne finished ahead of Gaeil Colmcille and Simonstown, so the indicators are that that might be the order they finish in this year's group.
However, Gaeil Colmcille are a seasoned championship outfit and they get the nod to join Ratoath in the knockout stages, and while Simonstown and Donaghmore/Ashbourne could end up in the relegation play-offs they are way too good to go down.
Group A and Group D also promise to be very exciting campaigns with three very major contenders in each group along with a significant potential dark horse.
Champions Wolfe Tones didn't exactly pull up trees in the A FL Div 1A, but they should be a different animal when it comes to defending their Keegan Cup crown, but who will join them from the group?
St Colmcille's are the young, up-and-coming club, tipped by many for huge things in the years ahead. Skryne have enjoyed a revival of fortunes under Davy Byrne and will be boosted by their win in the Kilmacud Crokes All-Ireland 7s.
Seneschalstown looked to have drawn the short straw in this group and they could be joined in the relegation mix by the seasiders who might be just a year or two off from hitting their peak at senior football.
In Group D it's anyone's guess who will take the top two spots!
Summerhill won A FL Div 1A and look to be back playing attacking football which suits them best. St Peter's are always considered genuine contenders and they will be eager to make amends for failing to perform in last year's final against Wolfe Tones.
Outside of those two Na Fianna and Ballinabrackey can also have genuine aspirations, but in the heat of championship football and with no room for error they could find themselves in relegation play-offs where they should be too strong.
The four teams in Group C must all have been licking their lips when the draw was made.
All four will hold genuine ambitions of making it out of their group and while none of them will be considered as serious Keegan Cup contenders All-Ireland IFC Club finalists Trim and a lively and strong Moynalvey side are just two of those dark horses who could make an impact.
The first round games in this group are crucial.
Navan O'Mahonys failed to win a game in A FL Div 1A, while Curraha managed just one victory from nine in Div 1B. However both sides will be different prospects in the championship and while they are tipped to be involved in the relegation scrap it would be no huge surprise either if they took a scalp or two.
O'Mahonys and Curraha met in the relegation semi-finals last year and they are both likely to find themselves back there again this year, but this time there looks to be no way out of their poor form for Curraha and they look the side most likely to suffer the drop down.
Just who will win overall honours is tough to call. It is so difficult to get out of the groups and then with an open draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals no team can plot their way to victory.
Ratoath will be fuming that they let their shot at three-in-a-row slip against Wolfe Tones in last year's semi-final and with such much strength and flair all over the field and the knowledge and know-how about how to win a championship they are fancied to claim their third title in four years.
Seneschalstown: 2021 SFC results - Summerhill 1-15, Seneschalstown 2-9; St Peter's 4-20, Seneschalstown 2-6; Skryne 4-9, Seneschalstown 1-7; relegation quarter-final - Seneschalstown 1-11, Dunshaughlin 1-9 manager - Ciaran Marks; key players - Cathal Finnegan, Cathal Hickey, Cormac Noonan; prediction - relegation play-offs.
St Colmcille's: 2021 SFC results - St Colmcille's 4-17, Ballinabrackey 2-10; Na Fianna 2-11, St Colmcille's 0-11; St Colmcille's 4-21, Curraha 2-8; quarter-final - St Peter's 2-14, St Colmcille's 0-12; manager - Sean Kelly & Sean Barry; key players - Graham Reilly, James Conlon, Ben Brennan; prediction - relegation play-offs.
Skryne: 2021 SFC results - Skryne 0-10, Dunboyne 0-1; Summerhill 1-18, Skryne 1-12; Skryne 4-9, Seneschalstown 1-7; relegation quarter-final - Skryne 0-16, Curraha 0-9; manager - Davy Byrne; key players - Niall Finnerty, Darragh Campion, Harry Rooney; prediction - knockout stages.
Wolfe Tones: 2021 SFC results - Wolfe Tones 1-7, Gaeil Colmcille 1-7; Wolfe Tones 2-14, Simonstown 0-10; Wolfe Tones 3-13, Moynalvey 2-11; quarter-final - Wolfe Tones 3-10, Na Fianna 1-13; semi-final - Wolfe Tones 0-13, Ratoath 1-8; final - Wolfe Tones 1-9, Dunboyne 0-9; manager - Micheal McDermott; key players - Shane Glynn, Cian Ward, Saran O Fionnagain; prediction - knockout stages.
Moynalvey: 2021 SFC results - Moynalvey 1-16, Simonstown 1-15; Gaeil Colmcille 3-15, Moynalvey 2-7; Wolfe Tones 3-13, Moynalvey 2-11; relegation quarter-final - Moynalvey 1-15, Navan O'Mahonys 0-7; manager - John Donoghue; key players - Cillian O'Sullivan, Mark O'Sullivan, David McLoughlin; prediction - knockout stages.
Trim: 2021 IFC results - Trim 2-18, Moylagh 0-7; Trim 2-16, Longwood 1-11; Trim 3-11; Clann na nGael 2-8; quarter-final - Trim 4-18, Dunderry 0-8; semi-final - Trim 1-14, Walterstown 2-6; final - Trim 3-12, Oldcastle 0-7; manager - Kevin Reilly; key players - Alan Douglas, James Toher, Aaron Lynch; prediction - knockout stages.
Curraha: 2021 SFC results - Na Fianna 3-18, Curraha 1-12; Ballinabrackey 1-13, Curraha 2-4; St Colmcille's 4-21, Curraha 2-8; relegation quarter-final - Skryne 0-16, Curraha 0-9; relegation semi-final - Curraha 0-12, Navan O'Mahonys 0-9; manager - Ruairi Murphy; key players - Diarmuid Moriarty, James McEntee, Conor Moriarty; prediction - relegation.
Navan O'Mahonys: 2021 SFC results - Navan O'Mahonys 1-11, Donaghmore/Ashbourne 0-13; Dunshaughlin 4-11, Navan O'Mahonys 2-8; Ratoath 1-15, Navan O'Mahonys 0-10; relegation quarter-final - Moynalvey 1-15, Navan O'Mahonys 0-7; relegation semi-final -Curraha 0-12, Navan O'Mahonys 0-9; relegation final Navan O'Mahonys 1-13, Dunshaughlin 0-4; manager - Darren Fay; key players - Jake Regan, Cormac Finnegan, Aodhan Mallon; prediction - relegation play-offs.
Ratoath: 2021 SFC results - Ratoath 1-18, Dunshaughlin 1-8; Ratoath 2-12, Donaghmore/Ashbourne 0-14; Ratoath 1-15, Navan O'Mahonys 0-10; quarter-final - Ratoath 0-14, Summerhill 0-11; semi-final - Wolfe Tones 0-13, Ratoath 1-8; manager - David Brady; key players - Conor McGill, Bryan McMahon, Joey Wallace; prediction - champions.
Donaghmore/Ashbourne: 2021 SFC results - Navan O'Mahonys 1-11, Donaghmore/Ashbourne 0-13; Ratoath 2-12, Donaghmore/Ashbourne 0-14; Donaghmore/Ashbourne 2-16, Dunshaughlin 1-8; quarter-final - Donaghmore/Ashbourne 1-15, Gaeil Colmcille 1-11; Dunboyne 0-9, Donaghmore/Ashbourne 0-5; manager - Mick Deegan; key players - Bryan Menton, Michael Deegan, Sean Curran; prediction - relegation play-offs.
Gaeil Colmcille: 2021 SFC results - Gaeil Colmcille 1-7, Wolfe Tones 1-7; Gaeil Colmcille 3-15, Moynalvey 2-7; Gaeil Colmcille 1-19, Simonstown 2-11; quarter-final - Donaghmore/Ashbourne 1-15, Gaeil Colmcille 1-11; manager - Luke Dempsey; key players - Seamus Mattimoe, Brian Hanlon, Jordan Muldoon; prediction - knockout stages.
Simonstown: 2021 SFC results - Moynalvey 1-16, Simonstown 1-15; Wolfe Tones 2-14, Simonstown 0-10; Gaeil Colmcille 1-19, Simonstown 2-11; relegation quarter-final - Simonstown 2-14, Ballinabrackey 1-8; manager - Colm O'Rourke; key players - Sean Tobin, Brian Conlon, Niall Kane; prediction - relegation play-offs.
Ballinabrackey: 2021 SFC results - St Colmcille's 4-17, Ballinabrackey 2-10; Ballinabrackey 1-13, Curraha 2-4; Na Fianna 3-11, Ballinabrackey 3-11; relegation quarter-final - Simonstown 2-14, Ballinabrackey 1-8; relegation semi-final - Ballinabrackey 1-13, Dunshaughlin 1-7; manager - Aidan Coffey; key players - Danny Quinn, Damien Carroll, Chris O'Connor; prediction - relegation play-offs.
Na Fianna: 2021 SFC results - Na Fianna 3-18, Curraha 1-12; Na Fianna 2-11, St Colmcille's 0-11; Na Fianna 3-11, Ballinabrackey 3-11; quarter-final - Wolfe Tones 3-10, Na Fianna 1-13; manager - Cormac Davey; key players - Ethan Devine, Shane Walsh, Oisin McCloskey; prediction - relegation play-offs.
Summerhill: 2021 SFC results - Summerhill 1-15, Seneschalstown 2-9; Summerhill 1-18, Skryne 1-12; St Peter's 1-13, Summerhill 1-6; quarter-final - Ratoath 0-14, Summerhill 0-11; manager - Conor Gillespie; key players - Ronan Ryan, Adam Flanagan, Eoghan Frayne; prediction - knockout stages.
St Peter's: 2021 SFC results - St Peter's 0-10, Skryne 0-10; St Peter's 4-20, Seneschalstown 2-6; St Peter's 1-13, Summerhill 1-6; quarter-final - St Peter's 2-14, St Colmcille's 0-12; semi-final - St Peter's 0-9, Donaghmore/Ashbourne 0-5; final - Wolfe Tones 1-9, Dunboyne 0-9; manager - Trevor O'Sullivan; key players - Donal Lenihan, Gavin McCoy, Ronan Jones; prediction - knockout stages.
Knockout stages are an open draw.