For the first time in seven years, Galway will play in the top flight when they begin their campaign at home to Tyrone in Pearse Stadium.
After being just promoted following their 2017 Division Two title, many pundits feel this season is about surviving in Division One and the bookmakers have Galway as seventh favourites at 25/1.
However, Kevin Walsh’s teams have always done well against top opposition (last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry aside) and have normally being caught when strongly fancied to succeed (Tipperary 2016, Roscommon 2017).
And with games hardening the Tribesmen ahead of the Connacht Championship in May, we feel Galway will put in a good account of themselves even if winning the National Football League might be beyond them. We still expect the maroon and white to preserve their status.
Below, we take a look at the contenders for the 2018 league race and rank each county based on where we think everyone will finish:
The All-Ireland champions have always taken the league seriously and after last year’s final defeat, will look for another strong effort. Their O’Byrne Cup form was disappointing but the names we’re all familiar with will arrive for the spring. Trips to Mayo and Galway might prove tricky but they have enough to go the distance.
- Manager: Jim Gavin
- Main Man: James McCarthy – his switch to midfield worked wonders in 2017 and he provides Gavin with versatility around the middle third.
- One to Watch: Colm Basquel – captained Dublin in the Dub Stars game and scored 1-6 against Offaly. Bound to get a proper chance during the spring.
- 2017 All-Ireland Championship: WINNERS! (beat Mayo 1-17 1-16)
- 2017 NFL: Runners-Up (lost Kerry 1-16 0-20)
- Betting: To Win (5/6), Relegated (25/1)
- Against Galway: Sunday, 18th March (2pm Pearse Stadium)
— Dublin GAA (@DubGAAOfficial) January 13, 2018
Fionn Fitzgerald has been named captain and the Kingdom will look for improved fortunes after their disappointing All-Ireland semi-final replay loss. David Clifford’s arrival has sparked excitement and he will be groomed over the spring. They just made the league final last season and Eamonn Fitzmaurice will want similar ahead of the championship.
- Manager: Eamonn Fitmaurice
- Main Man: Paul Geaney – believes it’s up to Kerry to loosen Dublin’s grip and played his part in 2017. Will need others to step up if they are to challenge on all fronts.
- One to Watch: David Clifford – his goal in the 2016 All-Ireland Minor Final still haunts Galway and now the most exciting prospect since Joe Canning arrives to the main roster.
- 2017 All-Ireland Championship: Semi-Finalists (lost Mayo 0-17 2-16)
- 2017 NFL: WINNERS! (beat Dublin 0-20 1-16)
- Betting: To Win (7/2), Relegated (9/1)
- Against Galway: Sunday, 25th February (2.30pm Austin Stack Park, Tralee)
— The GAA (@officialgaa) January 16, 2018
Their Connacht FBD League results won’t bother Mayo as their eyes are firmly focused on summer matters. However, following an inconsistent spring last year, the Green and Red will look for more stability and their meetings with Galway and Dublin will be marked. A solid, competitive campaign will keep their supporters content.
- Manager: Stephen Rochford
- Main Man: Andy Moran – just welcomed baby Olle into the world and has his eyes on another addition in September. Has lost none of his hunger and another strong year might get them there.
- One to Watch: Fionn McDonagh – caught the eye in January and it’ll be interesting to see what opportunities he’ll get. Could be an alternative free taker to Cillian O’Connor.
- 2017 All-Ireland Championship: Runners-Up (lost Dublin 1-16 1-17)
- 2017 NFL: 5th Place – Division One (8pts)
- Betting: To Win (15/2), Relegated (11/4)
- Against Galway: Sunday, 11th February (2pm Pearse Stadium)
— eir Sport (@eirSport) January 17, 2018
They’ve waited long enough and failure to hold their place could have serious consequences. Home games against Tyrone, Monaghan and Mayo mean they can get points while their trips to Donegal and Kildare won’t cause fear. Not title contenders but definitely can prove their worth as they look to make the next step up.
- Manager: Kevin Walsh
- Main Man: Johnny Heaney – has emerged as a key figure since his arrival in the Galway set-up in 2015. A mobile player in defence and attack, he will be one of Walsh’s leaders.
- One to Watch: Dessie Conneely – a good showing in 2018 so far could keep the Moycullen man on course to remain with the senior set-up. Capable scorer who could prove useful in close encounters.
- 2017 All-Ireland Championship: Quarter-Finalists (lost Kerry 0-13 1-18)
- 2017 NFL: DIVISION 2 WINNERS! (beat Kildare 0-18 0-16)
- Betting: To Win (25/1), Relegated (Evens)
'It Should All Be Played Off this Sunday' – COMER https://t.co/V9RQOoG5KY
— Galway Daily (@GalwayDaily) January 17, 2018
They dominate in January, shows signs during the league but did Tyrone miss the boat in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final when they took a heavy beating against Dublin? It’s 10 years since they were All-Ireland champions and just survived league relegation in 2017. Their opener in Pearse Stadium vital for a good campaign.
- Manager: Mickey Harte
- Main Man: Mattie Donnelly – the new Tyrone captain replaces the recently retired Sean Cavanagh but he leads by example and can spur the Red Hands in the year ahead.
- One to Watch: Peter Harte – maybe experienced for this category but when Harte’s in scoring form, Tyrone normally deliver. His contributions can swing tight games their way.
- 2017 All-Ireland Championship: Semi-Finalists (lost Dublin 0-11 2-17)
- 2017 NFL: 6th Place – Division One (7pts)
- Betting: To Win (15/2), Relegated (5/1)
- Against Galway: Sunday, 28th January (2.30pm Pearse Stadium)
— eir Sport (@eirSport) January 17, 2018
Monaghan have proven a small county can maintain consistency if they put the work in and staying in the Division One will be one of their priorities. Should do enough in a difficult division even if their McKenna Cup form wasn’t inspiring. The Kildare and Donegal games will be crucial though won’t fear Mayo, Kerry or Tyrone at home.
- Manager: Malachy O’Rourke
- Main Man: Drew Wylie – one of the best full backs in the country and will be vital for Monaghan this season. If the defence can keep big teams in check, an All-Ireland semi-final is within reach.
- One to Watch: David Garland – was man of the match in their recent victory over Queen’s University and Garland could make an impact in the league. Along with Conor McManus and Jack McCarron, could complete a dangerous attack.
- 2017 All-Ireland Championship: Quarter-Finalists (lost Dublin 0-12 1-19)
- 2017 NFL: 4th Place – Division One (8pts)
- Betting: To Win (12/1), Relegated (15/8)
- Against Galway: Sunday, 4th March (12.30pm Pearse Stadium)
Comhghairdeas to the Man of the Match award winners in Round 3 of the @BankofIrelandUK Dr McKenna Cup, including Peter Harte @TyroneGAALive David Garland @monaghangaa & Enda Lynn @Doiregaa 👍👏 pic.twitter.com/MPbnQWOep3
— Ulster GAA (@UlsterGAA) January 11, 2018
Missing the Moorefield contingent isn’t ideal after successive promotions but like Galway, Kildare will consider survival critical. Hard to judge where they are following a poor O’Byrne Cup but it shouldn’t be forgotten, they held their own with Dublin in last year’s Leinster Final when the two early conceded goals are taken into account. Will find it tough though.
- Manager: Cian O’Neill
- Main Man: Kevin Feely – the former professional soccer player has become the Lilywhites’ stand out performer and will look to bring leadership to their cause over these seven games.
- One to Watch: Johnny Byrne – he is a regular and an important component of Kildare’s defence. 2018 could be the year he makes a serious impact and will need to be watched.
- 2017 All-Ireland Championship: Qualifiers – Round 4 (lost Armagh 0-17 1-17)
- 2017 NFL: Division Two Runners-Up (lost Galway 0-16 0-18)
- Betting: To Win (28/1), Relegated (8/11)
- Against Galway: Sunday, 25th March (3pm St. Conleth’s Park, Newbridge)
Only 10 days to go #AllianzLeagues
Division 1 – Round 1
Kildare v Dublin
Saturday 27th January, 8pm
Venue: Croke Park
— Kildare GAA (@KildareGAA) January 17, 2018
They defied expectations in 2017 to finish third but their championship exit has many questions hanging over the Tir Conaill men. Declan Bonner is back in charge and did good work in the underage set-up. The Galway and Kildare games at home are must win but they’ll find it hard to pick up points elsewhere with Monaghan away their best bet but Paddy McGrath’s cruciate injury is a blow.
- Manager: Declan Bonner
- Main Man: Michael Murphy – the Donegal captain still possesses the ability to dictate games in midfield or attack and can lead his county to unexpected results.
- One to Watch: Paddy McBrearty – well established at this stage and his McKenna Cup form suggests his hungry to put his county back among the contenders in 2018 following their poor finish last year.
- 2017 All-Ireland Championship: Qualifiers – Round 4 (lost Galway 0-14 4-17)
- 2017 NFL: 3rd Place – Division One (8pts)
- Betting: To Win (12/1), Relegated (15/8)
- Against Galway: Sunday, 4th February (2.30pm Letterkenny)
.@ccollinsOffAir talking to Declan Bonner, Tony Boyle, Martin Shovlin, Matt Gallagher & Joyce McMullen from the @officialdonegal 1992 all Ireland winning team for our TV documentary which airs after #Christmas. #donegalgaa #donegal #gaa #wildatlantic #wildatlantictv pic.twitter.com/06eBc2IaQO
— Wild Atlantic TV (@WildAtlanticTV) December 20, 2017