There’s no doubt that Ireland retains a rich sporting history across a number of disciplines, although it’s fair to say that Gaelic football has dominated the attention of fans ever since its inception in 1885.
The sport has undoubtedly been popularised by the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, which was launched just two years later in 1887 and typically sees the country’s 33 best sides compete for the ultimate prize.
The 134th instalment of the championship is set to commence on June 26th, and in this post, we’ll provide a brief guide while asking which sides are the favourites to prevail.
A brief history of the Championships
There are few sporting tournaments in the world that boasts the same heritage and rich traditions as the All-Ireland Championship, with this remaining one of the most widely watched events to this day.
To this end, the inaugural championship was contested by the Commercials of Limerick and Young Irelands of Louth, with the former prevailing by 1-4 to 0-3 on April 29th, 1888.
Interestingly, it was teams from the southern province of Munster that shared the early titles, with Tipperary and Cork joining Limerick in their initial dominance.
This trend continued with Kerry’s first All-Ireland title in 1903, with this county side having since emerged as the single most successful force in the sport. To this end, it has contested a total of 60 finals, claiming 37 championships and a further 21 National Football League crowns.
However, Kerry’s last All-Ireland triumph came in 2014, with Dublin having won the subsequent six tournaments through 2020. Last year’s victory also took Dublin to a total of 30 titles overall, while the side from the Irish capital has also finished as runner-up on 13 different occasions.
Dublin have also defeated Kerry in the last three finals contested by the two sides (2011, 2015 and 2019), with the former having won eight of the last 10 All-Ireland Championships overall.
Galway have the third largest number of championship wins, although they trail way behind their rivals with nine titles overall.
However, Galway were the first ever side from the Western province of Connacht to win the All-Ireland Championship in 1925, while Cavan (who have lifted the trophy five times overall) were the first to prevail from the Northern province of Ulster in 1933.
Why the 2021 Championships will be slightly different
There’s no doubt that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is impacting on this year’s championships, with just 31 teams competing to earn accreditation as Ireland’s best side.
More specifically, Kilkenny have already confirmed that they won’t be competing in 2021, while London and New York have also withdrawn as a result of public health restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.
With this in mind, it should also come as no surprise that this year’s tournament will feature considerably less games, with the qualifying matches that have historically followed the Provision Championships (which involves four separate leagues that are organised by Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster) having been cancelled.
The so-called “Super 8” quarter-finals have also been paired back by organisers, with most sides eliminated following their first defeat in a far more dramatic knockout format.
The four Provincial Championships will commence nationwide on June 26th and June 27th, with the Connacht and Munster Senior Football Championships hosting their respective finals on July 25th.
Conversely, the finals of the Leinster and Ulster Championships will be played out on August 1st, with the All-Ireland semi-finals formally scheduled for August 14th and August 15th. The final then follows on August 29th, with the final three matches hosted at the iconic Croke Park in Dublin.
The draw will also pit the Connacht Provincial champions against their Leinster counterparts in the first semi, while the sides representing Munster and Ulster will compete for the final place in the showpiece event.
So, who are the favourites to prevail in 2021?
The question that remains, of course, is which teams are the favourites to prevail and ultimately lift the Sam Maguire Cup in 2021?
Betinireland’s www.betinireland.ie/sports-betting/gaelic-football/all-ireland-football-championship/ page offers a little more insight into the championship and the teams involved, with defending champions Dublin tipped by many to win a seventh-consecutive crown this year.
The bookmakers have also made Dublin odds-on favourites for the 2021 title, with an average price of 4/6 available in the current market.
They certainly have the tournament experience and quality players required to achieve success, while former Donegal boss Jim McGuiness has also labelled them as “the most defensive team in the country” ahead of the championship.
McGuiness, who masterminded the last victory over the Dubs in championship football before losing to Kerry in the 2014 final, believes that Dublin don’t get enough credit for their rearguard abilities, particularly at a time when scoring tallies have increased significantly throughout Gaelic football.
This ability is absolutely central to Dublin’s recent success, as it lays the foundation for their outstanding attacking play and enables them to transition superbly against aggressive, attack-oriented teams.
But which teams are likely to challenge Dublin’s dominance this time around? Unsurprisingly, Kerry are second favourites with the bookies at a price of around 5/2, while former Gaelic footballer and All-Star winner Seán Cavanagh also believes that ‘The Kingdom’ are best-placed to beat the Dubs to the title.
Kerry were certainly impressive in firing six goals past Tyrone last weekend, as they shared the Division One football title with Dublin and laid down a marker ahead of the All-Ireland Championships.
What was most impressive about this win was the freedom with which Kerry played, with the side one of the few championship teams that boasts the firepower to overcome Dublin’s incredibly tight defence.
Elsewhere, Connacht champions Mayo offer a viable outside bet, with the side beginning the defence of their provincial crown in Sligo on June 26th.
Currently, Mayo can be backed around 10/1 to win what would be their fourth All-Ireland championship win and first since 1951. However, Mayo’s completely attack-oriented and high-intensity approach is capable of overwhelming any side, with consistency the single biggest issue facing manager James Horan.