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Stephen Cluxton captained Dublin to All Ireland glory once more in 2017.

Stephen Cluxton captained Dublin to All Ireland glory once more in 2017.

County by county guide to the 2018 Gaelic Football season


By Cian O'Connell

Dublin secured a third All Ireland title in a row following another edgy September epic against Mayo.

Will Jim Gavin's team remain on top in 2018? What response can Mayo summon? Will Kerry integrate more youngsters from their successful minor teams? What other outfits can make progress.

With the new Championship structure reaching the last eight carries added significance. As the Allianz Football League edges closer GAA.ie profiles teams from all four provinces.

LEINSTER

DUBLIN

Manager: Jim Gavin

*2017 form: *The All Ireland Final certainly went the distance again, but Dublin's flag is still planted at the summit. Dean Rock's nerveless free secured a third title on the spin following a gripping game with Mayo. Before that encounter Dublin waltzed through the Championship following an Allianz Football League Final loss to Kerry.

*Player to watch: *Con O'Callaghan

Whether in the blood red of Cuala or sky blue of Dublin Con O'Callaghan just delivered glory and goals. The efforts against Tyrone and Mayo carried particular importance considering the days on which he made the net dance. An astonishing talent.

2018 prospects: Dublin remain in a familiar place, ranked as the team to beat and the standard bearers. Some of Jim Gavin's panel have spoken about how their training was tailored slightly differently. Constantly evolving, Dublin will use the O'Byrne Cup as an auditioning process. Niall Scully burst to prominence, but his prowess was evident during a solid underage career too. Gavin merely helped him to realise his true potential. Can anybody else be found this January?

First League match: January 27 v Kildare (Division 1)

*First Championship match: *May 26/27 v Offaly/Wicklow

KILDARE

Manager: Cian O'Neill

2017 form: A second successive promotion was secured by Kildare, who now return to Division One. The Championship included splendid successes over Laois and Meath. Kildare were spirited against Dublin, but the defeat to Armagh was a blow.

Player to watch: Kevin Feely

Kevin Feely's ability to gather kickouts allied to his sweet kicking style marked him out as a player of real substance in 2017. Now Feely will relish the chance to examine himself in Division One in 2018. Kildare are gaining in belief and momentum because they possess footballers such as Feely.

2018 prospects: Reaching the last eight of the All Ireland Senior Football Championship is the aspiration. Before that retaining Division One status by beating some of the top teams around is what the Lilywhites need to do. Dublin at Croke Park on January 27 is an attractive game.

First League match: January 27 v Dublin (Division 1)

First Championship match: May 26/27 v Louth/Carlow

Kildare manager Cian O'Neill and midfielder Kevin Feely.
Kildare manager Cian O'Neill and midfielder Kevin Feely.

MEATH

Manager: Andy McEntee

2017 form: Meath's League campaign was reasonable, earning four wins, but defeats to Kildare and Down, especially, proved costly. In the Championship Meath struck 0-27 against Louth, but Kildare beat them comprehensively at the provincial Semi-Final stage. A victory was secured over Sligo, but Donegal eked out a narrow win in Navan.

Player to watch: Donal Lenihan

Accurate from play and frees Donal Lenihan enjoyed a productive 2017 for Meath. Harry Rooney's return to the Meath fold is also viewed as good news.

2018 prospects: The Meath panel has altered slightly for the upcoming campaign as Andy McEntee seeks to find the correct formula. McEntee is a diligent coach, who wants Meath to return to Division One of the Allianz Football League. In the Championship Meath will be hoping to enjoy a lengthy summer adventure. A vital few months beckons for Meath.

*First League match: *January 28 v Roscommon (Division 2)

*First Championship match: *May 26/27 v Longford

WESTMEATH

*Manager: *Colin Kelly

*2017 form: *Following three relegations in a row Westmeath earned promotion. Returning to Division Three is a positive for new manager Colin Kelly, who replaces Tom Cribbin.

Westmeath defeated neighbours Offaly after a replay, but were hammered by Dublin. Armagh eked out a win over Westmeath in Mullingar.

Player to watch: Luke Loughlin

In a recent interview Colin Kelly spoke favourably about the impact being made by Luke Loughlin, who scored three points from play for New York against Roscommon in the 2016 Connacht Senior Championship. Loughlin returned to the Westmeath panel last year and has the potential to become a regular.

2018 prospects: Colin Kelly steered Louth to two promotions in a row and he will be striving to ensure Westmeath produce in a fairly strong Division Three. The St Loman's contingent had a busy end to 2017, but John Heslin, Paul Sharry, and Shane Dempsey are established players for Westmeath, who can continue to make progress.

First League match: January 28 v Derry (Division 3)

First Championship match: May 26/27 v Laois/Wexford

LOUTH

*Manager: *Pete McGrath

2017 form: A second promotion in a row was attained by Louth, who beat Wicklow in the Championship before losing by 0-27 to 3-9 against Meath. Longford beat Louth in a Round 1A Qualifier.

Player to watch: Jim McEnaney

Jim McEnaney remains an important player for Louth, who will be hoping to develop further under the stewardship of Pete McGrath. Derek Maguire and Andy McDonnell are back in action, while Ross Nally could continue to progress in attack.

2018 prospects: Louth have competed soundly in the League for the past two years, but they will want to take a couple of Championship scalps now. Colin Kelly has left an improving team for Pete McGrath to work with.

First League match: January 28 v Down (Division 2)

First Championship match: May 12/13 v Carlow

LAOIS

*Manager: *John Sugrue

*2017 form: *It was a bitterly disappointing campaign for Laois, who were relegated to Division Four. A Leinster Championship triumph over Longford provided some brief hope, but their loss to Kildare was heavy. In the Qualifiers Laois beat Wicklow they subsequently were comprehensively defeated by Clare.

*Player to watch: *Gary Walsh

The bustling full forward should be able to accumulate significant hauls during the League. Scored nine points in the O'Byrne Cup opener against Westmeath. John O'Loughlin remains a key performer at centrefield.

2018 prospects: Laois were testing the most distinguished teams in Ireland only a few short years ago and their slide has been dramatic. Getting out of Division Four will surely be high on the agenda for Laois.

First League match: January 27 v Limerick (Division 4)

First Championship match: May 12/13 v Wexford

CARLOW

*Manager: *Turlough O'Brien

2017 form: It was a year to remember for Carlow, who played Championship matches against Wexford, Dublin, London, Leitrim, and Monaghan. That Carlow won three of those five encounters brought satisfaction and pride. Carlow had suffered a costly League defeat against London to derail their promotion chances, but they were one of the sporting stories of the summer.

Player to watch: Paul Broderick

A decade ago Paul Broderick was kicking frees and delivering in the Sigerson Cup for NUIG. Injuries disturbed his career, but it was a heartening sight to watch Broderick contribute scores during a stirring Carlow run in 2017. Brendan Murphy and Sean Gannon continue to produce for O'Brien's outfit.

*2018 prospects: *Being exposed to high profile games boosted Gaelic Football in Carlow. An open training session in December attracted a sizeable crowd under the Netwatch Cullen Park lights. Turlough O'Brien's service to the Carlow revival and cause shouldn't be underestimated. That is why Carlow enter Division Four hoping to launch a serious promotion bid.

First League match: January 27 v London (Division 4)

First Championship match: May 12/13 v Louth

OFFALY

*Manager: *Stephen Wallace

2017 form: Offaly retained Division Three status following a last gasp win over Laois. It arrived following a mixed League campaign featuring a demoralising defeat against Armagh. Defeats in the Championship to Westmeath in a replay and Cavan were cruel and the news of Brian Darby and Niall McNamee's retirements another blow.

*Player to watch: *Peter Cunningham

In 2017 the hard working Peter Cunningham emerged as a vital player for Offaly. With Niall McNamee retired most of the scoring burden will now fall on Nigel Dunne and Bernard Allen, who kicked six points against Wexford in the O'Byrne Cup last Saturday.

2018 prospects: Stephen Wallace wants Offaly to be serious promotion contenders. Billy Sheehan is an emerging coach and a youthful Offaly panel will be seeking to cause a few surprises in the spring.

First League match: January 28 v Longford (Division 3)

First Championship match: May 12/13 v Wicklow

LONGFORD

Manager: Dennis Connerton

2017 form: Two wins and a draw was just about enough to preserve Longford's Division Three status. Longford leaked four goals when losing to Laois, but rallied to win impressively against Louth. Donegal defeated Longford in a low scoring Round Two Qualifier.

*Player to watch: *Paddy Collum

The solid Longford custodian can also land frees from distance. Collum is a firmly established inter-county operator now, while Mickey Quinn and Seanie McCormack are other key men for the midlanders.

2018 prospects: St Columba's, Mullinlaghta and Abbeylara have produced several decent Longford footballers and the midlanders have always shown an ability to win in the Qualifiers. Longford's Leinster opener against Meath will be a tough test, but they will relish the challenge.

First League match: January 28 v Offaly (Division 3)

*First Championship match: *May 26/27 v Meath

WICKLOW

Manager: John Evans

2017 form: During the past couple of years Wicklow have introduced several young players to senior football. The League brought six losses from seven games, but Seanie Furlong did kick 1-35. In the Championship Wicklow lost to Louth and Laois despite plucky performances.

Player to watch: Seanie Furlong

Throughout the 2017 League Seanie Furlong landed scores in a struggling team for Wicklow.

2018 prospects: New manager John Evans gave debuts to five players in their O'Byrne Cup reversal to Carlow. How these players adapt ahead of the League will be monitored with interest by Evans, who has improved the fortunes of other counties before.

*First League match: *January 28 v Waterford (Division 4)

*First Championship match: *May 12/13 v Offaly

WEXFORD

Manager: Paul McLoughlin

2017 form: Wexford claimed promotion from Division Four following a flurry of five wins in a row. The Division Four Final defeat to Westmeath was a blow ahead of the loss to Carlow in Leinster. Wexford overcame Limerick, but were outfoxed by Monaghan.

*Player to watch: *Conor Carty

The versatile Conor Carty will play a leading role for a Wexford outfit going through a transitional phase.

2018 prospects: A plethora of experienced players have departed the Wexford panel in recent years so they will be intent on staying in Division Three. A Leinster Championship First Round tie in mid May with Laois will be an important encounter.

*First League match: *January 28 v Fermanagh (Division 3)

First Championship match: May 12/13 v Laois

CONNACHT

ROSCOMMON

*Manager: *Kevin McStay

2017 form: The Allianz Football League brought relegation and pain before the pleasure of securing a Connacht title. Winning the provincial title was a significant boost for Roscommon. The subsequent All Ireland Quarter-Final replay defeat to Mayo hurt, but Roscommon tasted two Championship days at Croke Park.

*Player to watch: *Diarmuid Murtagh

There has been no shortage of budding talent in Roscommon in recent years. Several exciting forwards have been unearthed, but Diarmuid Murtagh showed signs of his class last year. Murtagh remains a smooth finisher.

2018 prospects: Roscommon will feel that reaching the last eight is an attainable target once more. Division Two of the Allianz Football League will be a competitive environment in which to prepare also. An interesting campaign awaits.

First League match: January 28 v Meath (Division 2)

*First Championship match: *May 26 v Leitrim/New York

GALWAY

Manager: Kevin Walsh

2017 form: Winning Division Two of the Allianz Football League offers encouragement. Galway's Championship form, though, was mixed. Victories over Mayo and Donegal illustrated Galway's potential. Defeats to Roscommon and Kerry supplied a reminder of the distance that still must be travelled.

*Player to watch: *Sean Andy O'Ceallaigh

A masterful performance in the All Ireland Under 21 Final loss to Dublin means the emergence of Sean Andy O'Ceallaigh will be monitored with interest. Other members of that team such as Peter Cooke, Sean Kelly, and Robert Finnerty may also be afforded game time in the League.

2018 prospects: Having fought so hard to return to Division One Galway will want to remain in the top tier. That will be the initial target.

For the past two campaigns Galway have reached the All Ireland Quarter-Final stage. Another Connacht Championship clash with Mayo beckons in May. It will be a revealing encounter for both teams.

First League match: January 28 v Tyrone (Division 1)

First Championship match: May 13 v Mayo

MAYO

*Manager: *Stephen Rochford

2017 form: Another drama filled and epic Championship adventure. Mayo overcame Sligo and then responded to the loss against Galway by beating Derry, Clare, and Cork in the Qualifiers. Roscommon and Kerry were outfoxed following replays. A substantial display was delivered in the All Ireland Final, but Dublin still survived.

Player to watch: Conor Loftus

The splendid goal and contribution against Derry showcased Loftus' considerable ability. A cool Mayo Under 21 outfit won the 2016 All Ireland with Diarmuid O'Connor and Stephen Coen already making an impact from that outfit. Some other members of that panel will be afforded opportunities in the FBD League.

*2018 prospects: *When the Championship reaches the Croke Park stage Mayo can deliver. The awkward early assignments can be troublesome as Galway punished their neighbours twice in 2016 and 2017. It mightn't be at the very top of the priority list, but Mayo will still want to sample glory out west once again with Galway and Roscommon stirring.

*First League match: *January 28 v Monaghan (Division 1)

*First Championship match: *May 13 v Galway

SLIGO

*Manager: *Cathal Corey

*2017 form: *Sligo narrowly lost a gripping Connacht Under 21 final and they were quietly confident about making a summer impact. Mayo proved too strong for the Yeatsmen before Sligo recovered to defeat Antrim. Meath, though, shaded what proved to be Niall Carew's last game in charge by 0-14 to 1-9.

*Player to watch: *Kevin McDonnell

On the comeback trail from injury Kevin McDonnell, still a student in NUIG, has been afforded the Sligo captaincy by new manager Cathal Corey. Gerald O'Kelly-Lynch and Kyle Cawley are other footballers with serious potential.

*2018 prospects: *It will be interesting to see how Sligo fare under the highly rated coach Cathal Corey. Attaining Division Two status would be a boost, but there is a strong cut to Division Three. Sligo face a trip to London in the Championship and considering Ciaran Deely's charges have seven home matches in the League this year that could be be a dangerous game.

First League match: January 28 v Armagh (Division 3)

*First Championship match: *May 6 v London

LEITRIM

Manager: Brendan Guckian

2017 form: Won four and lost three in the League, but Leitrim weren't ever in serious promotion contention. In the summer London caused Leitrim some problems, but the visitors pulled through. Roscommon were too potent and powerful and Carlow then ended Leitrim's campaign on July 8 at Netwatch Cullen Park.

*Player to watch: *Ronan Kennedy

Ronan Kennedy was prominent in Leitrim's three Championship matches in 2017. Kennedy is an accurate attacker, who Leitrim will be looking to for inspiration. Leitrim introduced a raft of players to the senior arena in 2017 and they will be hoping to develop further in the League.

*2018 prospects: *The League carries huge significance for Leitrim. Brendan Guckian carried out some impressive work, but they will want to launch a promotion bid. The first match, though, away to Antrim at Corrigan Park will be vital. In the Championship Leitrim face a trip to New York in May.

First League match: January 28 v Antrim (Division 4)

First Championship match: May 6 v New York

LONDON

*Manager: *Ciaran Deely

2017 form: It was a strange League campaign for London, who played all seven matches away from home due to the redevelopment of McGovern Park in Ruislip. London only secured one win in the competition, but Ciaran Deely's charges produced two gutsy Championship displays. Leitrim and Carlow, though, both left Ruislip with victories.

Player to watch: Liam Gavaghan

An eight point haul, including five from play, against Leitrim underlined Liam Gavaghan's importance to the London cause. London are eager to develop homegrown talent with Philip Butler and Gavaghan now established inter-county players.

*2018 prospects: *London are excited about the fact that all of their League games are scheduled for McGovern Park in Ruislip. Ciaran Deely is carrying out good work in London and will be targeting a couple of spring victories. Sligo on May 6 will be another important day for London.

First League match: January 27 v Carlow (Division 4)

First Championship match: May 6 v Sligo

ULSTER

TYRONE

Manager: Mickey Harte

2017 form: The Allianz Football League was going smoothly as Tyrone registered seven points from four matches before losing their last three games. In the Ulster Championship, though, Tyrone retained the title with admirable class and composure. Derry, Donegal, and Down were all beaten in convincing fashion. Tyrone then defeated Armagh, but their Championship ended in severe disappointment against Dublin.

Player to watch: Colm Cavanagh

Colm Cavanagh's superb campaign in 2017 was rewarded with an All Star award. How Cavanagh, who will also be busy with Moy, performs is so important for Tyrone, who must now cope following the retirement of the decorated Sean Cavanagh.

2018 prospects: Winning two Ulster titles in a row confirms Tyrone's return as a force up north, but the competitor within Mickey Harte wants them to be hunting for national honours. That is what Tyrone will be striving to do once more in 2018. The manner of the All Ireland Semi-Final defeat to Dublin was a setback, but Tyrone always respond. The May 20 Ulster clash with Monaghan is a date etched in many minds.

*First League match: *January 28 v Galway (Division 1)

First Championship match: May 20 v Monaghan

DOWN

*Manager: *Eamonn Burns

2017 form: Down survived in Division Two and then unexpectedly advanced to an Ulster decider. That Down did so with a big of swagger and substance added to the feel good factor before losing to Tyrone and Monaghan in the Qualifiers. The Championship wins over Armagh and Monaghan, though, were memorable and almost a throwback to happier times.

*Player to watch: *Connaire Harrison

Caused Monaghan all sorts of problems in the two Championship clashes involving the teams in 2017. Harrison was stationed at the edge of the square won his own possession and took scores too.

2018 prospects: There is a bit more optimism about Down again even though Jerome Johnston will be unavailable for a spell. Gearoid Adams has joined Burns' backroom team and Down will want to improve in 2018. Reaching the last 12 in 2017 was a start, getting back to that stage and further is now the brief.

*First League match: *January 28 v Louth (Division 2)

First Championship match: May 26 v Antrim

MONAGHAN

Manager: Malachy O'Rourke

2017 form: Monaghan were primed for the League following a disappointing 2016 with five points secured in their opening three games. Monaghan only added another win and a draw to their account, but it was enough to secure Division One status for another year. In the Championship wins over Fermanagh and Cavan were prompted by rich contributions from Monaghan substitutes, but Down caused a surprise at the penultimate stage up north. Monaghan recovered beating Wexford and Carlow in the Qualifiers before losing to Dublin.

Player to watch: Conor McCarthy

Conor McManus is still a polished and prolific forward; Jack McCarron emerged as another option inside in 2017, but high hopes are pinned to UCD student and Scotstown marksman Conor McCarthy. Pacy and direct McCarthy is a very promising footballer.

2018 prospects: Monaghan will want to stay in Division One before what promises to be a lively Ulster tussle with Tyrone. Whoever prevails from that match will be loaded with confidence. The defeated team will face a demanding path so the stakes are piled high.

*First League match: *January 28 v Mayo (Division 1)

First Championship match: May 20 v Tyrone

DONEGAL

Manager: Declan Bonner

2017 form: The departure of key players has hit Donegal over the past three campaigns, but they won three and drew two of their seven Division One games in 2017. An Ulster Championship win was secured over Antrim, but Tyrone were too strong at the Semi-Final stage. In the Qualifiers Donegal edged past Longford and Meath before suffering a bad loss against Galway.

Player to watch: Paddy McBrearty

Paddy McBrearty continues to deliver for Donegal and was the reason they survived some tricky tussles in the Qualifiers last year. Ryan McHugh's pace and willingness is vital, while McBrearty lands the blows up front.

2018 prospects: Declan Bonner's work with underage teams in Donegal ensures he is well placed to integrate some younger players into the panel. That will be one of Donegal's tasks as they seek to remain in Division One of the League. So competitive for much of the last decade in Ulster, Donegal want to stay competing for honours.

First League match: January 28 v Kerry (Division 1)

First Championship match: May 13 v Cavan

DERRY

Manager: Damian McErlain

2017 form: Relegated to Division Three, Derry couldn't deal with Tyrone in Ulster again. Derry did carve out a win over Waterford and posed questions of Mayo's resolve in Castlebar. Mayo, though, eventually found the answers following Conor Loftus' gorgeous goal.

Player to watch: Mark Lynch

"He's a central figure for us, a presence and a real leader to have around the panel," McErlain remarked about Mark Lynch's return to the Derry panel. With promising youngsters developing McErlain will look to Lynch and the Slaughtneil contingent, when they are available, to supply leadership and drive.

2018 prospects: Derry will be targeting success in Division Three and in the summer they await the winners of Donegal's clash with Cavan. The Derry panel is sprinkled with good footballers and McErlain will want to construct a team capable of competing in Ulster.

First League match: January 28 v Westmeath (Division 3)

First Championship match: May 27 v Donegal/Cavan

ANTRIM

Manager: Lenny Harbinson

2017 form: Relegated to Division Four of the Allianz League Antrim subsquently lost to Donegal and Sligo in the Championship.

Player to watch: Patrick McBride

Patrick McBride is expected to miss the McKenna Cup, but has established himself in the Antrim set-up.

2018 prospects: Harbinson, who guided St Gall's to All Ireland club glory in 2010, has been given a three year term so he will want to make a solid start.

First League match: January 28 v Leitrim (Division 3)

First Championship match: May 26 v Down

ARMAGH

*Manager: *Kieran McGeeney

2017 form: A last gasp Tipperary goal denied Armagh promotion. Down beat Armagh in Ulster, but there was some encouragement in the Qualifiers. Fermanagh, Westmeath, Tipperary, and Kildare were all beaten before Tyrone finished Armagh's campaign at the Quarter-Final stage.

*Player to watch: *Niall Grimley

Niall Grimley landed 0-18 in the Championship for Armagh and showed that he is a player of considerable promise.

2018 prospects: Armagh will want to occupy one of the top two places in Division Three. In the Championship Armagh face Fermanagh, a team they overcame in the Qualifiers last year.

First League match: January 28 v Sligo (Division 3)

*First Championship match: *May 19 v Fermanagh

CAVAN

Manager: Mattie McGleenan

2017 form: Relegated from Division One Cavan were narrowly beaten by Monaghan in Ulster. Cavan did escape from Tullamore with a win against Offaly, but Tipperary beat them at Kingspan Breffni.

Player to watch: Gearoid McKiernan

The four in a row Ulster Under 21 winning teams brought through a gifted crop of players with Gearoid McKiernan a star of that era. McKiernan is a leading performer at the highest level for Cavan now.

2018 prospects: Cian Mackey is expected to be involved once more for Cavan, who will be hoping to be fighting it out for promotion. McGleenan is an innovative coach and will want to take the Donegal scalp on May 13.

First League match: January 27 v Clare (Division 2)

*First Championship match: *May 13 v Donegal

FERMANAGH

Manager: Rory Gallagher

2017 form: It just didn't work out for Fermanagh in 2017. Relegated to Division Three, Fermanagh started well against Monaghan before suffering in the second period. Armagh terminated Fermanagh's year in the Qualifiers.

Player to watch:  Tomas Corrigan

A potent forward for Fermanagh, Rory Gallagher's charges will be relying on Corrigan for scores once more.

2018 prospects: With Rory Gallagher and Ryan McMenamin involved on the sideline Fermanagh will hope for improvement in 2018. How they fare in Division Three will give a sharp indication ahead of the summer. The May 19 tussle with Armagh should be lively.

*First League match: *January 28 v Wexford (Division 3)

First Championship match: May 19 v Armagh

MUNSTER

KERRY

Manager: Eamonn Fitzmaurice

2017 form: Winning the Allianz Football League by beating Dublin in a tense Croke Park encounter supplied momentum and hope ahead of the summer. Clare offered a test in Ennis, but Kerry still retained Munster without too much fuss or fanfare. Kerry didn't fire in Croke Park, though, overcoming Galway before losing to Mayo after a replay. That was a severe disappointment.

Player to watch: David Clifford

Kerry's recent burst of minor glory means they enter 2018 loaded with hope and promising performers. Will David Clifford be unleashed at the highest level in 2018? The Allianz Football League should be an interesting experimentation phase for Eamonn Fitzmaurice, who remains committed to the Kerry cause.

*2018 prospects: *In Kerry Sam Maguire must be attained. That is always the objective, anything less doesn't satisfy. Eamonn Fitzmaurice is well and truly used to that expectation, but it will be intriguing to see how he introduces newcomers during the League.

First League match: January 28 v Donegal (Division 1)

*First Championship match: *June 2 v Clare/Limerick

CORK

Manager: Ronan McCarthy

2017 form: A strange Allianz Football League Division Two campaign yielded two wins and three draws. Waterford and Tipperary both gave Cork serious tests, but they still advanced to a Munster decider. Kerry had too much savvy for Cork, who subsequently came within a whisker of stunning Mayo.

Player to watch: Sean Powter

An exciting player in Cork's march to the 2016 All Ireland Under 21 Final, Sean Powter flared to prominence on the senior stage this year. A dynamic player Powter should be a key figure under new manager Ronan McCarthy.

2018 prospects: In Cork Ronan McCarthy's astute work in the club game means a bit of hope is attached to the team. Attaining consistency, though, remains an issue with 2017 capturing the good and bad which exists. Cork have won 10 Munster Under 21 titles since 2004 - there is no shortage of talent. Cork will want to make the last eight in the Championship.

First League match: January 27 v Tipperary (Division 2)

*First Championship match: *June 2 v Tipperary/Waterford

TIPPERARY

*Manager: *Liam Kearns

*2017 form: *Following the 2016 Semi-Final appearance Tipperary won the Allianz Football League Division Three with a drop of drama and style. Cork, though, plundered a late goal to beat Tipp in Munster. Tipp did secure a fine away Qualifiers success over Cavan, but Armagh beat the Premier County in Thurles.

Player to watch: Steven O'Brien

The powerful Stephen O'Brien makes a welcome return to the football fold. O'Brien was a crucial figure in some impressive Tipperary underage teams and is back following a stint with the hurlers.

*2018 prospects: *Liam Kearns is an accomplished manager and his backroom is boosted by the arrival of Paschal Kellaghan, such an important player and coach for Rhode in Offaly. Being in Division Two of the Allianz Football League will benefit Tipperary, who believe that another Championship journey can be made.

*First League match: *January 27 v Cork (Division 2)

First Championship match: May 19 v Waterford

CLARE

*Manager: *Colm Collins

2017 form: Satisfied to have retained Allianz Football League Division Two status Clare thundered into their Munster Championship Semi-Final with Kerry following a narrow win over Limerick. Kerry, though, controlled the second half sending Clare into the Qualifiers. A 10 point win over Laois gave Clare an opportunity to host Mayo at Cusack Park. Clare commenced that contest in blistering fashion, but the O'Connor brothers, Diarmuid and Cillian, netted critical goals for Mayo.

*Player to watch: *Keelan Sexton

A very exciting forward Keelan Sexton offered glimpses of his ability in 2017. Gary Brennan, Jamie Malone, and David Tubridy remain influential players for Clare.

2018 prospects: Colm Collins' sterling efforts with Clare are worthy of the utmost respect and praise. Clare have made strides during the past three years especially and they look forward to 2018. Being competitive again in Division Two and delivering in Munster is their mission.

First League match: January 27 v Cavan (Division 2)

*First Championship match: *May 19 v Limerick

LIMERICK

Manager: Billy Lee

2017 form: Limerick finished the League strongly with four wins on the spin following three early defeats. Then in the Championship Limerick narrowly lost to Clare and Wexford.

Player to watch: Paul White

As a thrilling Sigerson Cup Semi-Final unfolded at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence unfolded last year between UL and UCD, Limerick's Paul White was well able to stand out in illustrious company. Michael Fitzsimons, Stephen Coen, Jack McCaffrey, Conor McCarthy, Jack Barry, and Paul Mannion were all involved for UCD, but White was excellent.

*2018 prospects: *Recapturing the form of the second half of the 2017 League is what Limerick will be intending to do. The first game away to promotion favourites Laois is a tough start. In the Championship Limerick won't fear Clare, but they will need to be more clinical against the Banner.

First League match: January 27 v Laois (Division 4)

First Championship match: May 19 v Clare

WATERFORD

Manager: Tom McGlinchey

*2017 form: *Winning their first two League matches Waterford subsequently lost five on the spin. In the Championship they were only minutes away from recording their best result in decades, but Cork eventually prevailed. Derry were forewarned ahead of the Round 1A Qalifier

*Player to watch: *Donie Breathnach

In Waterford's two Championship matches in 2017 Breathnach registered 0-11 and was a sharp threat inside. Paul Whyte is another consistent player for Waterford.

2018 prospects: Tom McGlinchey has frequently spoken about the importance and relevance of the League for Waterford. The early signs were good last year and two gritty summer displays bodes well. Improving their spring record and taking a Championship scalp are what Waterford crave.

First League match: January 28 v Wicklow (Division 4)

First Championship match: May 19 v Tipperary

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