Preview: Weekend’s Allianz Football League action:
Allianz Football League Division 1
Saturday, March 4
Armagh v Donegal, Box-It Athletic Grounds, 7.30pm (TG4)
Both teams are on three points after four matches so this is a crucial one because whoever loses will have a relegation battle on their hands.
After heavy defeats to Tyrone and Monaghan in Rounds 2 and 3, Donegal steadied the ship last time out against Galway when they came from behind to snatch a draw.
They were defensively much more solid, and the return to fitness of Oisin Gallen gave them a badly needed cutting edge in attack.
More of the same will be required in this game against an Armagh team that have looked that bit better so far this year but haven’t turned good play into as many points on the board as they should have and will feel they should have gotten something from last week’s narrow defeat against Kerry.
They have a lot of firepower in attack but it has quite clicked just yet this year. You get the feeling they’re getting closer though.
Sunday, March 5
Galway v Monaghan, Pearse Stadium, 12.45pm (TG4 deferred)
Monaghan have the second-longest unbroken run in Division 1 after Kerry – it stretches back to 2015 – but it looked in danger when they lost their first two matches of this campaign against Armagh and Kerry.
Vinny Corey’s team have bounced back impressively from that slow start though, following up a big win over Donegal with a hard-fought one over previously unbeaten Roscommon.
The return to fitness of Jack McCarron has reignited their attack and brought the best from other attackers like Stephen O’Hanlon, Sean Jones, and Micheál Bannigan who have all found their scoring boots too.
The Farney County are now both defending and attacking well as a team, as evidenced by the fact that nine players got on the score-sheet in that win over Roscommon.
Galway’s form hasn’t tracked the same steadily upward graph that Monaghan’s has. They’ve played well for periods of matches but have yet to produce a really consistent 70 minutes.
They’ve only lost one match though, and at times against Mayo and Tyrone in particular looked really good, so there’s definitely a big performance in them.
The priority will be to get more from their attack, which has averaged just 13 points per match.
Tyrone v Kerry, O’Neill’s Healy Park, 12.45pm (TG4)
These two rarely fail to produce drama when they clash, and the fact that this is pretty much a must-win one for Tyrone should add a bit more seasoning to the pot.
With just one win from four matches, the Red Hand County have struggled so far in this year’s competition, and looked especially fragile last time out when conceding four goals against Mayo.
We’re just not used to seeing Tyrone teams ripped apart like that, and you can be sure tightening things up at the back will be the priority for joint-managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher.
If they can, then the firepower provided by Darren McCurry, Darragh Canavan, and Cathal McShane should be enough to see them compete with most teams.
Kerry haven’t quite been at their best so far in this League campaign but they showed a lot of grit to edge a one-point win over Armagh last time out.
David Clifford is back in harness now and should get better with every game he plays, and the same can be said for Seán O’Shea.
Roscommon v Mayo, Dr Hyde Park, 2.45pm (TG4)
Whoever wins this top of the table clash will be a in a good position to contest the League Final.
Mayo come into the match with more momentum after a very impressive win over Tyrone last time out, whereas Roscommon stuttered when losing their first game of the campaign against Monaghan.
They struggled offensively in that match, with their starting forwards scoring just five points from play, and will need a sharper cutting edge on Sunday if they’re to get back to winning ways.
New manager Davy Burke has them playing an effective brand of football that sees them defend and attack in numbers, but the transition from defence to attack wasn’t quite as fluid against Monaghan as it had been heretofore.
That certainly wasn’t an issue for Mayo against Tyrone. They mixed their game up well, playing their usual hard-running style to good effect but also profiting from a route-one approach to Aidan O’Shea at full-forward.
The big Breaffy man seems to be enjoying the role given to him by new Mayo manager Kevin McStay, who has made an impressive start since taking over the reins from James Horan.
These two teams are due to meet in the Connacht SFC quarter-final five weeks from now, so there might be an element of neither side wanting to show all their cards this Sunday.
Allianz Football League Division 2
Saturday, March 4
Derry v Dublin, Celtic Park, 5pm (RTÉ2 / RTÉ Player)
This top of the table clash between two teams with four wins from four should be a cracker.
Derry have been the most impressive team in Division 2 thus far, winning their matches by an average of 10 points each, but this is their most significant test yet by some margin.
Dublin laboured for long stretches of their wins over Kildare, Cork, and Clare, but they still found a way to get the job done and are buoyed by the impressive return to action of Jack McCaffrey.
For both teams, this game will tell them exactly where they are right now in terms of readiness for the championship, so expect neither to hold anything back.
Home advantage and current form points to a Derry win, but Dublin will be keen to make a statement too.
Sunday, March 5
Clare v Cork, Cusack Park, Ennis, 2pm
Clare have had a tough couple of weeks, losing by a point to both Kildare and Dublin in matches they’ll feel they could have won themselves.
With just one win from four, this is a huge match for Colm Collins’ team in the relegation battle context, and they’ll need more big performances from the likes of Emmet McMahon, Gavin Cooney, and Eoin Cleary who have all impressed in the campaign to date.
Cork remain a work in progress but when they’ve been good they’ve been very good. Their firepower and options from the bench could make the difference in what should be a tight- game.
Louth v Kildare, Ardee, 2pm
Louth will bring great momentum into this match after their stirring win over neighbours Meath last time out followed up a first victory of the campaign over Limerick a week previously.
There’s been a lot to admire about Mickey Harte’s team so far this year. They were unfortunate to lose to Clare and gave table-toppers Derry their hardest match by some margin.
Defensively solid and with a nicely-tuned counter-attacking style of play, they’ll feel they can get at a Kildare team that has conceded an average of 18 points per match and were well beaten by Derry last time out.
Limerick v Meath, TUS Gaelic Grounds, 2pm
Meath’s early momentum in this competition has dissipated after consecutive defeats to Derry and Louth.
Those two games seemed to suggest that the Royal County’s offensive style of play is susceptible to teams who defend in numbers in a low block and then counter-attack at pace.
This is a good chance for Colm O’Rourke’s team to get back to winning ways though because Limerick have struggled so far in Division 2, losing all four matches they’ve played by an average margin of 12 points.
Allianz FL Division 3
Sunday, March 5
Fermanagh v Tipperary, Ederney, 1pm
Fermanagh have been the surprise packages of the Division winning three of their four matches. They’re defensively very solid and transition well to counter-attacks when they turn the ball over.
With just one point from four matches, Tipperary have struggled. The loss of Conor Sweeney to a season-ending knee injury has dulled their attacking edge, and they’ve been defensively suspect too, conceding an average of 19 points per game.
Cavan v Down, Kingspan Breffni, 2pm (BBC iPlayer)
Cavan have started the season impressively with four wins from four. Players like Paddy Lynch, Ryan O’Neill, and Eamon Boylan are looking sharp in attack, and Dara McVeety has excelled as a play-making centre-back.
Down, too, will be enthused by their start to the season under new manager, Conor Laverty. Most encouragingly for their supporters they’re playing with a lot of character which has enabled them to finish out games strongly and come from behind to beat the likes of Antrim and Westmeath.
They Mourne-men are moving in the right direction, but probably still have to play a bit of catch-up on Cavan.
Westmeath v Antrim, TEG Cusack Park, 2pm
Westmeath looked to be building towards a promotion push until last weekend’s defeat to Down when they faded badly in the final quarter. They’re not out of it yet, but a win here is essential.
Antrim’s position just one place above the relegation zone isn’t really representative of how well they’ve played, because they were unfortunate to lose two matches by a single point. The Saffrons should be competitive again here, but home advantage and a greater range of attacking threats tips the scales slightly in Westmeath’s favour.
Longford v Offaly, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 2pm
After consecutive defeats to Westmeath and Cavan, this is a must-win game for Offaly if they’re to have any hope of challenging for promotion.
Longford had a dismal start to the competition but will take some encouragement from getting their first points on the board with a draw last time out against Tipperary. The form-lines favour the Faithful County.
Allianz Football League Division 4
Saturday, March 4
Laois v Waterford, Laois Hire O’Moore Park, 6pm
Defeat to Wicklow last time out for Laois, their first of the campaign, has blown Division 4 wide open. The Midlanders, with three wins from four now, should be able to get their promotion drive back on track with a win against a Waterford team that has lost four from four by an average margin of 10 points.
Sunday, March 5
London v Carlow, Ruislip, 1pm
Neither team is in the promotion picture but will be keen to build up some momentum ahead of the championship. London are always a tough nut to crack in Ruislip and that home advantage could be key.
Wicklow v Leitrim, Aughrim, 1.30pm
Wicklow have put themselves in the promotion picture with that win over Laois and would make another big statement here if they could best table-toppers Leitrim. That won’t be easily done against a team inspired by the heroics of Keith Beirne who has arguably been the best forward in the country so far this year.
Sligo v Wexford, Markievicz Park, 2pm
Since losing their opening round game against Laois, Sligo have improved steadily, winning three on the bounce. Wexford too have shown good form, with their win over Leitrim particularly notable. This is a crunch fixture because a win for either will make them live promotion candidates.