We look ahead to the 2018 battle for Sam and ask if anyone can stop the Dublin from making it four-in-a-row, as well as some of the key structural changes to the season
The coming year is sure to be another thrilling 12 months of Gaelic Football as all-conquering Dublin look to try and make it four All Ireland titles in a row. The task of stopping them seems an unenviable one, but try their rivals must.
Can the likes of Kerry or Tyrone mount a serious challenge, or could Mayo finally end their long wait for Sam, after losing out again last year, or will a surprise package emerge from the chasing pack to put it up to the Dubs?
It promises to be another fascinating year, with the added changes to GAA calendar providing an intriguing extra dimension to it all.
The championship season kicks off on 6 May with Leitrim’s trip to New York and the visit of Sligo to McGovern Park, Ruislip, to take on Ciaran Deely’s London side.
The fixture is sure to provoke memories of 2013 when the Exiles recorded just their second-ever Connacht Championship victory, beating Sligo, 1-12 to 0-14.
The Exiles went on to beat Leitrim in a replay and reach a historic first-ever Connacht SFC final, where they lost out to Mayo. If successful, Deely’s side will face the winners of All Ireland finalists Mayo and Galway. Holders Roscommon await the winners of New York and Leitrim.
All Ireland champions Dublin open the defence of their Leinster and All Ireland title against the victors of Offaly and Wicklow. The Dubs will be targeting an eighth consecutive Leinster title, and will take some beating.
In Munster, Kerry begin their campaign for a sixth title in a row against the victors of Clare and Limerick. In Ulster, Mickey Harte’s Tyrone will be going for three consecutive provincial titles and open up against 2015 winners Monaghan.
The most significant change in 2018 will be the introduction of the Super 8, which will replace the current eight team quarter-final stage, with a round-robin format.
It will be fascinating to see how successful, or not, this proves to be, with teams, the media and supporters alike.
The provisional 2018 Allianz League fixtures get underway with a Dublin opening their Division 1 campaign against Kildare on 27 January in a repeat of this year’s Leinster SFC final.
Reigning Allianz Football League Division 1 champions Kerry will begin at home to Donegal on Sunday 28th January.
The Division 1 football final is set to be played on 1 April. Thereafter the month of April will be ring-fenced for club activity.
Significantly for Deely’s Exiles, all of their fixtures will be a McGovern Park this year, as they look to make an impact on Division 4.
The first visitors to Ruislip are Carlow on 27 January in a repeat of their All Ireland qualifier of 2017.
Provincial Championship Fixtures
Connacht SFC – Leitrim v New York, Sligo v London
Connacht SFC – Mayo v Galway
Ulster SFC – Donegal v Cavan
Leinster SFC – Laois v Wexford, Louth v Carlow, Offaly v Wicklow
May 19th Ulster SFC – Fermanagh v Armagh
Munster SFC – Clare v Limerick, Tipperary v Waterford
Ulster SFC – Tyrone v Monaghan
May 26th Ulster SFC – Down v Antrim
Connacht SFC – Leitrim/NY v Roscommon
Leinster – SFC Laois/Wexford v Westmeath, Louth/Carlow v Kildare, Offaly/Wicklow v Dublin, Longford v Meath
Ulster SFC – Donegal/Cavan v Derry
Munster SFC – Clare/Limerick v Kerry, Tipperary/Waterford v Cork
Connacht SFC – Mayo/Galway v Sligo/London
Ulster SFC – Fermanagh/Armagh v Tyrone/Monaghan
Ulster SFC – Donegal/Cavan/Derry v Down/Antrim
Leinster SFC – Offaly/Wicklow/Dublin v Longford/Meath, Laois/Wexford/Westmeath v Louth/Carlow/Kildare
Connacht Football Final, 4pm
Munster Football Final, 7pm
Ulster Football Final, 2pm
Leinster Football Final, 4pm
All-Ireland Senior Football Qualifiers Round 1
All-Ireland Senior Football Qualifiers Round 2
All-Ireland Senior Football Qualifiers Round 3
All-Ireland Senior Football Qualifiers Round 4
All-Ireland Senior Football Quarter Finals Phase 1 (2 Games – Páirc an Chrócaigh)
All-Ireland Senior Football Quarter Finals Phase 2 (Group 1 & 2)
All-Ireland Senior Football Quarter-Finals Phase 3 (Group 1 & 2)
All-Ireland Senior Football Semi-Finals
All-Ireland Senior Football Final
Allianz Football League Division 1
Round 1: Saturday, Jan 27th: Dublin v Kildare; Sunday, January 28th: Galway v Tyrone, Kerry v Donegal, Monaghan v Mayo
Round 2: Saturday February 3rd: Mayo v Kerry, Tyrone v Dublin; Sunday, February 4th: Donegal v Galway, Kildare v Monaghan
Round 3: Saturday February 10th: Dublin v Donegal; Sunday February 11th: Galway v Mayo, Kildare v Tyrone, Monaghan v Kerry
Round 4: Saturday February 24th: Mayo v Dublin, Monaghan v Tyrone; Sunday February 25th: Donegal v Kildare, Kerry v Galway
Round 5: Saturday March 3rd: Dublin v Kerry, Tyrone v Donegal; Sunday March 4th: Galway v Monaghan, Kildare v Mayo
Round 6: Saturday March 17th: Mayo v Tyrone; Sun, March 18th: Galway v Dublin, Kerry v Kildare, Monaghan v Donegal
Round 7: Sunday Mar 25th: Donegal v Mayo, Dublin v Monaghan, Kildare v Galway, Tyrone v Kerry
Allianz Football League Division 2
Round 1: Saturday, January 27th: Cork v Tipperary; Sunday January 28th: Clare v Cavan, Louth v Down, Roscommon v Meath
Round 2: Saturday, February 3rd: Cavan v Louth, Tipperary v Roscommon; Sunday, February 4th: Down v Cork, Meath v Clare
Round 3: Saturday, February 10: Cavan v Meath; Sunday, February 11: Clare v Tipperary, Cork v Louth, Roscommon v Down
Round 4: Sunday, February 25th: Cork v Cavan, Down v Clare, Louth v Roscommon, Tipperary v Meath
Round 5: Saturday, March 3rd: Cavan v Down; Sunday, March 4th: Clare v Roscommon, Meath v Cork, Tipperary v Louth
Round 6: Saturday, March 17th: Cork v Clare; Sunday, March 18th: Down v Tipperary, Louth v Meath, Roscommon v Cavan
Round 7: Sunday, March 25th: Cavan v Tipperary, Clare v Louth, Meath v Down, Roscommon v Cork
Allianz Football League Division 3
Round 1: Sunday, January 28: Armagh v Sligo, Derry v Westmeath, Fermanagh v Wexford, Offaly v Longford
Round 2: Sunday, February 4: Fermanagh v Offaly, Longford v Derry, Sligo v Wexford, Westmeath v Armagh
Round 3: Sunday February 11: Armagh v Longford, Derry v Offaly, Sligo v Fermanagh, Wexford v Westmeath
Round 4: Saturday, February 24: Fermanagh v Derry; Sunday, February 25: Longford v Wexford, Offaly v Armagh, Westmeath v Sligo
Round 5: Saturday, March 3: Armagh v Derry; Sunday, March 4: Sligo v Longford, Westmeath v Fermanagh, Wexford v Offaly
Round 6: Saturday, March 17: Fermanagh v Armagh; Sunday, March 18: Derry v Wexford, Longford v Westmeath, Offaly v Sligo
Round 7: Sunday, March 25: Longford v Fermanagh, Sligo v Derry, Westmeath v Offaly, Wexford v Armagh
Allianz Football League Division 4
Round 1: Saturday, January 27: Laois v Limerick, London v Carlow; Sunday, January 28: Antrim v Leitrim, Wicklow v Waterford
Round 2: Sunday, February 4: Leitrim v Laois, Limerick v Carlow, London v Wicklow, Waterford v Antrim
Round 3: Saturday, February 10: Laois v Waterford; Sunday, February 11: Antrim v Wicklow, Carlow v Leitrim, London v Limerick
Round 4: Sunday, February 25: Leitrim v Limerick, Waterford v Carlow, Wicklow v Laois, London v Antrim
Round 5: Saturday, March 3: Carlow v Wicklow, London v Leitrim; Sunday, March 4: Laois v Antrim, Limerick v Waterford
Round 6: Sunday, March 11: London v Laois; Sunday, March 18: Antrim v Carlow, Waterford v Leitrim, Wicklow v Limerick
Round 7: Sunday, March 25: Carlow v Laois, Leitrim v Wicklow, Limerick v Antrim, London v Waterford
All Ireland Club SFC Quarter-Final
Fulham Irish (London) vs Corofin (Galway)
Sunday 21st January, 1pm
McGover Park, Ruislip
From 2018, for the next three years, the Super 8 will replace the current eight-team quarter-final stage of the All-Ireland series.
The four provincial champions and the four provincial runners-up, or the team that beats them in round four of the qualifiers, will be sorted into two groups of four.
Each team will play one home game, one away game and one game in Croke Park, with the top two teams in each group progressing to the semi-finals.
It’s the most significant change to the structure of the football championship since the introduction of the qualifier system in 2001.
Why are both Hurling and Football starting on January 28th?
The GAA’s guiding principle in developing the 2018 Master Fixtures plan was to ensure that as much of April as possible could be kept free for clubs.
To that end, there are more “double” weekends in the league than before (four in total) and the leagues are starting in the last weekend in January (normally, the football league would start on the first week in February; the hurling on the second week).
Why is the Munster Football final on a Saturday night?
The final round of the Munster Hurling Championship was scheduled for the day on which the GAA had initially planned to play the Munster Football final.
Rather than move the Munster Hurling games to a Saturday, it the GAA felt that it was a good time to experiment with a Provincial final on a Saturday night. The thought process being that it will offer a good promotional and marketing opportunity.
It will be reviewed in 2018 but this is envisioned as being part of a three-year experimental rota with Leinster and Ulster, whereby if required one of those provinces would also look at playing a Provincial Football final on a Saturday night in the coming years.