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LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION

YOU wouldn't get it in a lucky bag.

Winners of the last 10 All-Irelands. All of the current provincial champions, five of the eight finalists and seven of the eight teams that were still alive and kicking ball on the Bank Holiday weekend of last August.

Spring is in the air and the Allianz Football League is itching to re-emerge and we have, at first glance, the toughest, most high-quality grouping of teams to occupy the same table in any era.

The annual May moan about the All-Ireland SFC failing to provide a worthy battle to christen its re-emergence on the Irish sporting landscape cannot be applied to the league: the three most recent All-Ireland champions play in Croke Park on Saturday night.

Who says there's no glamour before summer?

Landscape

In the red corner, Cork: spring specialists, chasing four-in-a-row and seeking to reclaim the lost summer ground of the past two years. From the north-west, Donegal, supposedly plumped and fattened from their All-Ireland exploits but sufficiently far ahead of the pack in September that even stagnancy could be enough against a vastly altered landscape.

Kildare and Tyrone are the 'newcomers' with big reputations and the ability to be competitive with anyone on a given day and whither, for that matter, Kerry or Dublin -- the bookies' All-Ireland favourites this year?

Both have new managers with new ideas and, in Dublin's case in particular, a shedload of unseen, as yet unheralded talent.

What we learned from last year was this: win a couple of matches early on and skate at your leisure into the semi-finals. Hit the ground crawling and a tangle of stress, pressure and uncertainty takes hold in the weeks prior to summer.

We also realised for the umpteenth time that reading too deeply into spring results can make one look extremely foolish come September, but that's for much, much later.

For now, the league is back. Start your engines.

DIVISION 1 CONTENDERS

CORK

WHAT'S CHANGED SINCE LAST SUMMER?

Conor Counihan's backroom team and Nicholas Murphy are gone. Both Eoin Cadogan and dual prospect Damien Cahalane will devote their entire energies to football, too.

HOTSEAT TEMPERATURE

Colder than 12 months ago. Counihan accepted a two-year term after summer surrender to Donegal and, chances are, he'll see it out.

WHY THEY'LL WIN THE LEAGUE

They always do. Or at least, have done the last three years running. Cork have four home games and a strong Croke Park strike-rate over recent years at the business end.

WHY THEY WON'T

Daniel Goulding and Paddy Kelly will miss a large chunk of the early stages and Counihan may yet be inclined towards greater spring experimentation after falling short last season.

VITAL STATS

Manager: Conor Counihan (6th season)

2012 NFL: Champions Div 1 (P9, W6, D1, L2)

2013: Home (4): Kildare, Tyrone, Donegal, Mayo. Away (3): Dublin, Down, Kerry.

First game: Next Saturday v Dublin, Croke Park.

Last Division 1 title: 2012

Odds: Title 3/1, Relegation 16/1

DONEGAL

WHAT'S CHANGED SINCE LAST SUMMER?

Everything. Utterly. All-Ireland champions with a bit to spare over the pack of losers considered the next best teams in the country.

HOTSEAT TEMPERATURE

Arctic. Jim McGuinness could orchestrate relegation, Ulster failure and an early All-Ireland exit and still be considered the Messiah in Tír Chonaill.

WHY THEY'LL WIN THE LEAGUE

Because every other manager in the country is currently preoccupied with trying to devise ways of beating them further down the track and McGuinness, in his infinite wisdom, is likely concocting a newer, improved game-plan.

WHY THEY WON'T

All-Ireland hangover. McGuinness' dual management role with Celtic.

VITAL STATS

Manager: Jim McGuinness (3rd season)

2012 NFL: 6th Div 1 (P7, W2, D1, L4)

2013: Home (3): Down, Kerry, Dublin. Away (4): Kildare, Tyrone, Cork, Mayo.

First game: Next Saturday v Kildare, Croke Park.

Last Division 1 title: 2007

Odds: Title 6/1, Relegation 5/2

DOWN

WHAT'S CHANGED SINCE LAST SUMMER?

No longer considered everyone's dark horses after a disappointing 2012 championship. Niall Moyna has been added to the backroom team.

HOTSEAT TEMPERATURE

Rising slowly. 'Wee' James McCartan retains living legend status in Down but incremental improvement will be required in a county where expectations are naturally high.

WHY THEY'LL WIN THE LEAGUE

Still possess a wide array of explosive attackers, particularly with the return from long-term injury of Paul McComiskey.

WHY THEY WON'T

Down are still well short on big, physical defenders. Danny Hughes, Dan Gordon and Ambrose Rogers will all miss prolonged periods of the spring with injury.

VITAL STATS

Manager: James McCartan (4th season)

2012 NFL: 3rd Div 1 (P8, W4, L4)

2013: Home (4): Tyrone, Cork, Mayo, Kildare. Away (3): Donegal, Kerry, Dublin.

First game: Next Saturday v Tyrone, Newry.

Last Division 1 title: 1983

Odds: Title 25/1, Relegation 4/9f

DUBLIN

WHAT'S CHANGED SINCE LAST SUMMER?

Pat Gilroy has abdicated and Jim Gavin has brought a new managerial set-up and installed a pile of underage achievers into the squad.

HOTSEAT TEMPERATURE

Baltic. Gavin deserves his shot at the big time and will, at least, be afforded 2013 to fine-tune.

WHY THEY'LL WIN THE LEAGUE

Because Gavin has ensued a winning mentality and quite a number of starlets have hinted at early realisation of potential. Possess, potentially, one of the most explosive inside forward and attacking half-back lines in the country. Five matches in Croke Park.

WHY THEY WON'T

System and personnel issues must first be fine-tuned before trophies can be prioritised. Not overburdened with experienced midfielders and patience required before some of the 'wannabes' bloom fully.

VITAL STATS

Manager: Jim Gavin (1st season)

2012 NFL: 5th Div 1 (P7, W3, L4)

2013: Home (4): Cork, Tyrone, Down, Mayo. Away (3): Kerry, Kildare*, Donegal.

First game: Next Saturday v Cork, Croke Park.

Last Division 1 title: 1993

Odds: Title 11/4f, Relegation 25/1.

KERRY

WHAT'S CHANGED SINCE LAST SUMMER?

Jack O'Connor has left the Keys to the Kingdom to Eamonn Fitzmaurice but the spate of expected retirements never materialised. Unfinished business maybe?

HOTSEAT TEMPERATURE

Freezing. Fitzmaurice was a popular figure in his playing days right throughout Kerry and expectations may have been chilled slightly after no visit from Sam for the past three years.

WHY THEY'LL WIN THE LEAGUE

They're Kerry and, therefore, always possess the talent to win any and every match on a given day.

WHY THEY WON'T

They won't have Colm Cooper, Eoin Brosnan, Kieran O'Leary or any of the Dr Crokes brigade for at least the opening rounds as they prepare for an All-Ireland SFC club semi-final. Star-studded but ageing attack needs to find a new dimension after a couple of fruitless years.

VITAL STATS

Manager: Eamonn Fitzmaurice (1st season)

2012 NFL: 1st Div 1, beaten semi-finalists (P8, W5, D1, L2)

2013: Home (3): Dublin, Down, Cork. Away (4): Mayo, Kildare, Donegal, Tyrone.

1st game: Next Sunday v Mayo, Castlebar.

Last Division 1 title: 2009

Odds: Title 7/2, Relegation 12/1

KILDARE

WHAT'S CHANGED SINCE LAST SUMMER?

Not much. James Kavanagh has taken a year out while McGeeney has dusted his panel down somewhat, although not to the extent some had expected. Jason Ryan is on board as coach/selector.

HOTSEAT TEMPERATURE

Bubbling under. By local accounts, McGeeney was on the verge of leaving after the disappointment of a huge loss to Cork last year but retains the backing of players, county board and supporters.

WHY THEY'LL WIN THE LEAGUE

They've hit the ground running while claiming the O'Byrne Cup crown. With Seánie Johnston now settled, Tomás O'Connor looking to shoot more often and a handful of strong-looking U21s on board, they'll be competitive in every game.

WHY THEY WON'T

They will play just two games in Newbridge after conceding home advantage for their matches against Dublin and Donegal. Inside forwards haven't hit big enough scores against the biggest teams.

VITAL STATS

Manager: Kieran McGeeney (6th season)

2012 NFL: 2nd Div 2, promoted, champions (P8, W5, D1, L2)

2013: Home (4): Donegal **, Kerry, Dublin*, Tyrone. Away (3): Cork, Mayo, Down.

Last Division 1 title: None

Odds: Title 14/1, Relegation 4/5

MAYO

WHAT'S CHANGED SINCE LAST SUMMER?

The general perception of Mayo now as genuine All-Ireland contenders is probably the biggest difference. That, and no Conor Mortimer anymore.

HOTSEAT TEMPERATURE

James Horan has huge credit in the bank of Mayo opinion after winning another Connacht title and scalping the All-Ireland champions for the second year running.

WHY THEY'LL WIN THE LEAGUE

They made the final last year and it did them no harm at all. Players have grown visibly in stature and ability under Horan's watch.

WHY THEY WON'T

They'll miss Andy Moran too much in what is the most competitive Division 1 in recent memory.

VITAL STATS

Manager: James Horan (3rd season)

2012 NFL: 4th Div 1, beaten finalists (P9, W4, D1, L4)

2013: Home (4): Kerry, Tyrone, Kildare, Donegal. Away (3): Dublin, Down, Cork.

First game: Next Sunday v Kerry, Castlebar.

Last Division 1 Title: 2001

Odds: Title 8/1, Relegation 15/8

TYRONE

WHAT'S CHANGED SINCE LAST SUMMER?

Ryan McMenamin and Brian McGuigan join a host of three-time All-Ireland winners in hanging up their red hands.

HOTSEAT TEMPERATURE

Mickey Harte is Tyrone football. He'll be there as long as he wishes.

WHY THEY'LL WIN THE LEAGUE

Winning is a habit, particularly amongst young players and Harte has finally cut the umbilical chord to a large chunk of his last All-Ireland winning team of 2008 and given much of the county's talented youth their inter-county stripes. Seán Cavanagh is back too, and just as good as ever.

WHY THEY WON'T

Massive step up from Division 2, particularly with so many as yet unproven at this level. Further injury to Cavanagh or Stephen O'Neill could be potentially disastrous.

VITAL STATS

Manager: Mickey Harte (11th season)

2012 NFL: 1st Div 2, promoted, beaten finalists (P8, W7, L1)

2013: Home (3): Donegal, Cork, Kerry. Away (4): Down, Mayo, Dublin, Kildare.

First game: Next Saturday v Down, Newry.

Last Division 1 Title: 2003

Odds: Title 9/1, Relegation 13/8

* Kildare v Dublin is technically a home game for Kildare but will be played in Croke Park.

** Kildare v Donegal is technically a home game for Kildare but will also be played in Croke Park.

ODDS COURTESY OF BOYLESPORTS