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Preview: Weekend's Allianz Football League action

Dublin and Derry do battle in Division 1 of the Allianz Football League on Saturday.

Dublin and Derry do battle in Division 1 of the Allianz Football League on Saturday.

Allianz Football League Division 1

Saturday, March 2

Mayo v Roscommon, Hastings MacHale Park, 7.30pm

With Mayo on four points and Roscommon on three points after four matches, this is a pivotal game for both teams. Lose it and you’re sweating about relegation going into the final two rounds, win it and you’ll feel a lot more secure.

It’ll be interesting to see how Mayo will respond after their second-half collapse against Tyrone. They were toothless in attack in that period of the game and, as former star player Lee Keegan pointed out this week, aren’t currently posing much of a goal-threat this year.

Kevin McStay will be looking for more of a cutting edge from forwards like Tommy Conroy and Cillian O’Connor to take some of the scoring burden from Ryan O’Donoghue.

Roscommon will be feeling better about themselves after a comfortable win over Monaghan last time out. They make just one change to that team for this game, with Niall Daly coming in for Conor Hussey.

Expect this one to be decided by very fine margins.

Derry v Dublin, Celtic Park, 5pm (RTÉ2)

This showdown between the two form teams in the Division should be a cracker.

Table-toppers Derry with four wins from four have been faultless so far in the campaign, while Dublin have really found their groove with two big wins in their last two games against Kerry and Roscommon.

The form of Con O’Callaghan in last week’s win over Kerry when he scored 3-4 will have been especially encouraging for Dessie Farrell, but the whole attack are moving well with other forwards like Ciaran Kilkenny, Paddy Smally, and Sean Bugler also hitting their stride.

They’re up against the meanest defence in the Division in this game though – Derry have conceded an average of just 12 points per match so far in the campaign.

They’re posting increasingly good numbers in attack as well too, with 6-27 scored in their last two wins over Monaghan and Galway.

In a game of fine margins, this could well be decided by which midfield comes out on top, with the showdown between Conor Glass and Brian Fenton worth the price of admission on its own.

How they stand in Division 1 of the Allianz Football League. 

How they stand in Division 1 of the Allianz Football League. 

Sunday, March 3

Monaghan v Galway, Clones, 3.15pm (TG4)

This is a huge game in terms of the relegation picture. Monaghan are bottom with two points after four games and Galway sit just above them on three points.

The Farney county started their campaign with a brilliant win over Dublin in Croke Park, but since then have struggled, losing their last three games by an average of 11 points each.

They haven’t been helped by injuries to key players, but have been guilty too of some passive defending.

Galway’s issues are at the other end of the field where an out of sorts attack has averaged just 12 points per match.

Pádraic Joyce has made three changes for this game with Daniel O’Flaherty, Niall Daly, and Rory Cunningham coming into the team and will hope that Daly and Cunningham can give them a badly needed cutting edge in the full-forward line.

Kerry v Tyrone, Fitzgerald Stadium, 1.15pm (TG4)

Kerry will be smarting after last weekend’s defeat to Dublin in Croke Park.

They were cut open far too easily in that match and Jack O’Connor will be demanding an improved defensive showing here.

The Clifford brothers were unusually quiet by their very high standards in that match and will surely up the ante for the visit of one of Kerry’s greatest rivals.

It’s hard to know quite what to expect from Tyrone because their form has been up and down, even within matches such as last weekend’s victory over Mayo.

Toothless in the first half, they were a different team entirely in the second when they managed to get the ball more quickly into danger-men Darragh Canavan and Darren McCurry. If they can do the same in this game they’ll be in with a great chance.

It’s a vital match for both teams. Lose, and you’re probably out of the running for a place in the League Final.

How they stand in Division 2 of the Allianz Football League.

How they stand in Division 2 of the Allianz Football League.

Allianz Football League Division 2

Saturday, March 2

Cavan v Meath, Kingspan Breffni, 7pm

Raymond Galligan has gotten off to an impressive start as Cavan manager with three wins from four games and the only loss a one-point defeat to unbeaten Donegal.

They’ve shown good character to come out the right side of one-point wins over Cork and Louth, and are looking sharp in attack where Paddy Lynch, Caoimhín ‘Reilly, and Cian Madden have been especially impressive.

After a stuttering start to the campaign that saw them draw with Fermanagh and suffer a heavy defeat to Armagh, Meath have steadied themselves with wins over Louth and Kildare.

They finished both of those matches strongly but were also outplayed for stretches of them. That sort of inconsistency will likely be punished by a solid Cavan outfit.

Sunday, March 3

Fermanagh v Armagh, Brewster Park, 2pm

A Fermanagh team that has lost its last two games after a decent start to the campaign are desperate to find some traction again, but this looks like a tough test for them.

Table-toppers Armagh are unbeaten after four games, and have the meanest defence in the division and the second most prolific attack.

With Rian O’Neill returning to fitness they’ll have another serious weapon in their forward-line.

Fermanagh are a tough nut to crack but just don’t have the same sort of firepower that the Orchard County do.

Cork v Kildare, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, 3.30pm (TG4 Player/deferred)

This is a vital match in terms of the relegation picture. Bottom of the table Kildare have lost all of their four games, while Cork sit just above them in seventh place on two points.

The Rebels got their first win of the campaign last time out against Fermanagh courtesy of an injury-time goal, and that result will surely have given them a much-needed confidence boost.

Confidence looks short in supply in the Kildare camp at the moment after four defeats by an average of six points each, and haven’t been helped by injuries to key players.

Cork’s greater momentum should give them an edge here.

Donegal v Louth, Ballyshannon, 2pm

Donegal have been impressive so far under Jim McGuinness this year with three wins and a draw from four matches.

Their high-pressing tactic has seen them force a lot of turnovers in the opposition half of the field which has yielded plenty of scoring opportunities that players like Patrick McBrearty, Oisin Gallen, Dáire Ó Baoill, Odhran Doherty and Michael Langan have been making the most of.

Louth have just one win from four games but their three losses were by narrow margins and they’re the sort of team that always makes it difficult for the opposition. Form favours the home team but it won't be easy.

How they stand in Division 3 of the Allianz Football League. 

How they stand in Division 3 of the Allianz Football League. 

Allianz Football League Division 3

Saturday, March 2

Limerick v Clare, Rathkeale, 6pm

With four defeats from four matches, Limerick badly need a win here against their Munster rivals.

They produced their best performance of the campaign yet last weekend against Westmeath, but a lack of punch in attack remains a big problem with a scoring average of just 11 points per match.

Clare have won three of their four matches with the sole defeat a one-point loss to unbeaten Down, and they’ve shown character by winning games they looked like losing against Sligo and Offaly.

They produced their best performance yet of the campaign when defeating Wicklow by 13 points last time out, and a similar display here should keep them in the promotion picture.

Sunday, March 3

Down v Sligo, Pairc Esler, 2pm

Down were most people’s favourites for promotion before a ball was kicked and have lived up to their billing by winning four gams in a row by an average of nine points each.

They’re blessed with pace and scoring power in attack where players like Pat Havern, Liam Kerr, Caolan Mooney, and Daniel McGuinness are all in fine form.

Division 4 champions last year, Sligo have proven they belong at this level with three wins from four matches with the sole defeat a narrow loss to Clare.

They have no shortage of scoring forwards themselves with Niall Murphy, Sean Carrabine, and Pat Spillane all hitting good numbers so far in the campaign, but Down are a level above any other team they’ve played so far this year.

Offaly v Wicklow, Glenisk O'Connor Park, 2pm

With both teams pointless after four games, this is a vital match in terms of the relegation picture.

Offaly can perhaps count themselves unlucky to have lost four in a row, losing by a single point to both Antrim and Clare with the latter game one they really should have won having led by nine points with 20 minutes to play.

Wicklow were competitive in their first two games against Down and Sligo but have gone backwards since then with heavy defeats to Westmeath and Clare.

Home advantage and a more potent attack should swing it for Offaly.

Antrim v Westmeath, Corrigan Park, 1pm

After two wins in their opening two games Antrim have since gone off the boil with consecutive defeats to Down and Sligo.

A positive for the Saffrons has been the form of young players like Ronan Boyle, Mick Byrne, Kavan Keenan, and Dominic McEnhill, but they could do with getting experienced players like Peter Healy, Ruairi McCann, and Cathal Hynes back from injury.

A win here would revive their promotion hopes, but it won’t be easy against a Westmeath team that has won all four of their matches.

Many of those wins have been workmanlike rather than inspired, but you can only admire how the Lake County have gone about their business so far this year.

Ronan O’Toole, Danny McCartan, Senan Baker, and Kieran Martin have all impressed in attack, and given enough ball can help their team to a fifth win in a row here.

How they stand in Division 4 of the Allianz Football League. 

How they stand in Division 4 of the Allianz Football League. 

Allianz Football League Division 4

Saturday, March 2

Carlow v Wexford, Netwatch Cullen Park, 7pm

Carlow will be energised by last weekend’s win over Leitrim which came courtesy of a spectacular injury-time goal from Colm Hulton.

That victory has blown the division wide open and Wexford will be right back in the promotion picture themselves if they can win here.

There won’t be much in it, but home advantage combined with the cutting edge in-form attackers like Hulton, Jordan Morrissey, Darragh Foley, and Jamie Clarke could swing it for Carlow.

Laois v London, Laois Hire O'Moore Park, 7pm

Laois have been the form team so far in this division with four wins from four coming by an average margin of six points each.

Players like Damon Larkin and Kevin Swayne are making names for themselves, while more familiar faces like Mark Barry, Paul Kingston, and Evan O’Carroll give the midlanders a formidable cutting edge.

London tend to struggle on their travels and it’s hard to see them getting anything out of this game.

Sunday, March 3

Longford v Leitrim, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 2.30pm

Leitrim are likely still licking their wounds after the concession of an injury-time goal against Carlow last weekend saw them lose their first match of the campaign.

This won’t be an easy game either against a Longford team that have sourced some badly needed momentum with wins over Waterford and London having lost their first two matches of the campaign.

The Ridge County are good enough to bounce back though if they can get a good supply of ball into forwards Ryan O’Rourke and Darragh Rooney who are both in fine form this year.

Tipperary v Waterford, Galtee Rovers GAA Club, Bansha, 2pm

Tipperary will still be kicking themselves after letting a winning position slip against Laois last weekend.

Had they won that game they’d be really in the hunt for promotion, but now it looks a long shot unless they win their remaining three games.

They’ll fancy their chances of getting the first one under their belts here against a Waterford side that has lost their four games by an average of 10 points each.