Early speed wobbles for Sam busters
We assess our football top-ten after a bumpy start on the road to September
Last month, as part of The Herald's football championship preview magazine, we ranked all the heavyweights and wannabes and minnows in ascending order.
By 6pm last Sunday, our top-ten picks had already completed at least one match on a road paved, they hope, with All-Ireland glory.
Several of them have already hit early speed wobbles, none more hazardous than Mayo's Salthill skid as they crashed out of the Connacht SFC race - for the second consecutive June - to Galway. But they aren't alone among the top contenders with early-summer issues. Here's our top ten, as rated in May ...
SO FAR: Dublin 0-19 Carlow 0-7.
NEXT UP: Leinster semi-final v Westmeath or Offaly, Croke Park, June 25.
POSITIVES: Jack McCaffrey's seamless return, coupled with summer game-time for a handful of 'newbies' who could yet be key in keeping Dublin fresh.
NEGATIVES: Diarmuid Connolly's proposed 12-week ban, now being contested, with all the media circus trappings entailed.
REVISED RATING: 1
SO FAR: Kerry 1-18 Clare 1-12.
NEXT UP: Munster final v Cork, venue TBC, July 2.
POSITIVES: James O'Donoghue. Imperious second half in Ennis on Sunday. Keep him fit and the O'Donoghue/Geaney axis could make all the difference.
NEGATIVES: That first half against Clare was not the stuff of champions-elect. Was it merely dirty petrol?
SO FAR: Mayo 2-14 Sligo 0-11; Galway 0-15 Mayo 1-11.
NEXT UP: Round 2A Qualifier, July 1.
POSITIVES: Whoever they draw in the 2A hat, the fixtures looks eminently winnable - even without the banned Keith Higgins.
NEGATIVES: Beyond that, this back door road is laden with booby-traps for a team that has passed its peak, that mightn't have the stomach for it, and that hasn't unearthed the marquee forward it clearly needs.
SO FAR: Tyrone 0-22 Derry 0-11.
NEXT UP: Ulster semi-final v Donegal, Clones, next Sunday.
POSITIVES: So far, so straight-forward. The bench is getting stronger and deeper, based on the admittedly facile evidence of Celtic Park.
NEGATIVES: Their Donegal showdown screams danger, and a back door detour might not suit Tyrone as this point in their evolution.
SO FAR: Monaghan 1-20 Fermanagh 1-11; Monaghan 1-15 Cavan 0-15.
NEXT UP: Ulster semi-final v Down, Athletic Grounds, June 24.
POSITIVES: Back-to-back wins, survived a stern derby test in Cavan, and Conor McManus is in the zone.
NEGATIVES: A long road, even through the front door.
SO FAR: Donegal 3-19 Antrim 1-9.
NEXT UP: Ulster semi-final v Tyrone.
POSITIVES: Michael Murphy's recent knee injury scare was only that, a scare. Their handful of SFC first-timers enjoyed an untroubled baptism against Antrim.
NEGATIVES: We've yet to discover if the young guns are ready for the real step-up. Sunday will tell us loads more.
SO FAR: Galway 0-15 Mayo 1-11.
NEXT UP: Connacht final v Roscommon or Leitrim, venue TBC, July 9.
POSITIVES: Confidence must be soaring. A year older and wiser than 2016, tougher to crack and more consistent.
NEGATIVES: Red-hot favourites now to retain the JJ Nestor Cup ... but Kevin Walsh's men are yet to fully convince they can step up from last-eight to last-four.
SO FAR: Meath 0-27 Louth 3-9.
NEXT UP: Leinster semi-final v Kildare, Tullamore, next Saturday.
POSITIVES: Twenty-seven points! Graham Reilly's prolific leadership.
NEGATIVES: Can you trust that porous defence?
SO FAR: Kildare 1-21 Laois 1-7.
NEXT UP: Leinster semi-final v Meath.
POSITIVES: Young, gifted and back in the mix; stronger and more cohesive.
NEGATIVES: The fear that a loss to Meath could stall progress.
SO FAR: Cork 1-12 Waterford 1-11; Cork 1-10 Tipp 1-9.
NEXT UP: Munster final v Kerry, venue TBC, July 2.
POSITIVES: Eh, the second half against Tipp.
NEGATIVES: The three previous halves.