Dublin v Kerry
A match up involving the two sides who gave the game of the year last year kicks of league proceeding in Croke Park on Saturday night. Dublin had a magnificent year last year, winning the league, Leinster and All Ireland titles in a great 2013 for the boys in blue. Dublin have a deep panel which can only be envied by other teams and it ensures competition for places in the panel throughout the league. Kerry will be without their Dr Crokes contingent for their opener, Colm Cooper is to sit out the entire league campaign. Without a full deck to choose from it will be very difficult for the Kingdom to overcome the Dublin challenge on Saturday night.
Derry v Tyrone
An all Ulster tie is the other game on the bill on Saturday night as Derry host neighbours Tyrone. Derry got promoted from Division 2 last year with some good performances in a competitive division. They will be under pressure to stay in the division but a home tie against their neighbours will get the juices flowing early. Tyrone had a very good 2013, reaching the league final a year after promotion, and a solid championship campaign that will have aided the rebuilding process. An opening round Ulster championship loss to Donegal was disappointing but the recovery was encouraging as Tyrone advanced all the way to the All Ireland semi final where they were halted by Mayo. They certainly had the Connacht champions on the ropes, giving a fantastic first half performance but they eventually ran out of steam and had no answer for the Green and Red. But there were encouraging signs for a positive 2014. This tie should be a tense and typically gritty Ulster affair with a winner hard to call. Tyrone may just have too much quality and edge it.
Kildare v Mayo
Kildare and Mayo lock horns on Sunday in Newbridge. Kildare successfully defended the O Byrne Cup and, like last year, will be hoping to start the league in good stead too. Mayo have experimented in their team selections to date and will be without the Castlebar Mitchels contingent. Kiltane’s Mikey Sweeney could feature in this one after guiding his club to the All Ireland Intermediate final. Mayo are missing 13 or 14 players for this one through lack of availability and injury but should still be able to field a strong side. Kildare are taking their first steps under Jason Ryan but with him being involved last year there may be very little bedding in time. Kildare won this clash in Castlebar last year and will hope for a repeat outcome. Mayo could do with a good league run as they may not have a meaningful championship clash until June as they start their campaign in New York. Winning a national title would be good for them too so expect them to feature strongly in the league.
Cork v Westmeath
Westmeath had a very successful league campaign last season but the season went bad very quickly. Westmeath will find the going tough in Division 1.
Cork are under new management in the form of Brian Cuthbert. He has had to deal with a string of retirements but this may not be a bad thing as the Cork panel needed an overhaul and fresh talent may provide a boost for the Rebels. Prior to last season Cork had won the last three league titles, talent is not in short supply in the county. With a new manager to impress and opportunities for new players, Cork could be a force in this year’s league, starting with a win against Westmeath.