Better weather, but similar intensity forecast for Donegal's trip to Omagh to take on Tyrone.
Better weather, but similar intensity forecast for Donegal's trip to Omagh to take on Tyrone. 

Preview: Weekend's Allianz Football League

Allianz Football League Division 1 North

Saturday May 15

Tyrone v Donegal, Healy Park, 5pm, TG4

Sunday May 16

Monaghan v Armagh, Brewster Park, 3pm, Spórt TG4

And so it begins. Normality is still some way away in the GAA and in Irish society in general, but the return of the Allianz Leagues is one huge step along that road for a lot of supporters up and down this island, with the vast majority of counties having teams in action in both codes between tomorrow and Sunday.

For the first time in 30 years, the National Football League sees divisions carved up along regional lines, and nowhere will that be more keenly felt than in Division One North, which will have a very claustrophobic feel for the counties involved – though there are upsides. Armagh make the short trip down the road to Enniskillen to play Monaghan on Sunday afternoon, and that will be the extent of their travelling through the round robin series.

This is a first foray into top flight football for Armagh since their relegation in 2012, when a final round 0-13 to 0-10 defeat to Donegal in Ballybofey confirmed their fall into the second tier. Jamie Clarke played centre forward in Mac Cumhaill Park that afternoon but he steps away from the Orchard County this year, one of many issues that the coaches – including Kieran Donaghy of Kerry – will have to resolve in 2021.

Life after Mickey Harte begins for Tyrone tomorrow afternoon with a clash that would surely have packed out Healy Park in different circumstances. Donegal edged out last year’s championship clash between these sides by two points, but an extra six months for Darragh Canavan to mature into senior football, an extra six months for Conor McKenna to re-adjust to playing with a round ball, and a new management team will all offer scope for improvement in Tyrone.

Allianz Football League Division 1 South

Saturday May 15

Kerry v Galway, Austin Stack Park, 3pm, Eir Sport

Sunday May 16

Roscommon v Dublin, Dr Hyde Park, 1.45pm, TG4

It could be argued that the lockdown in 2020 hurt Galway more than any other county. In Spring they were one of the form teams in Ireland, edging out strong teams in Division One, then they came back after the layoff and suffered a heavy defeat to Mayo, and never really had the chance to recover. Now Padraig Joyce has remade the team further, placing Dylan McHugh at centre back and welcoming Damien Comer back into a full forward line after a long layoff.

Kerry have had their fair share of retirements too, their team for tomorrow’s game will be announced this evening.

For all Dublin’s dominance in the championship, it’s been six years since they won an away league fixture by a double figure margin. Roscommon have endured some harrowing days in Croke Park against the Dubs in recent years, but their last two home games against the boys in blue were competitive, even if one of those “home” games was played in Carrick-on-Shannon (Dublin’s 1-13 to 1-12 win in 2016).

Galway (v Kerry): Bernard Power; Jack Glynn, Seán Ó Maoilchiarain, Liam Silke; Gary O'Donnell, Dylan McHugh, Johnny Heaney; Peter Cooke, Paul Conroy; Paul Kelly, Matthew Tierney, Eamonn Brannigan; Dessie Conneely, Damien Comer, Shane Walsh.

Allianz Football League Division 2 North

Saturday May 15

Mayo v Down, Elverys MacHale Park, 2pm, GAAGo

Sunday May 16

Meath v Westmeath, Páirc Tailteann, 3.45pm, GAAGo

No change on the management front but plenty of change in personnel for Mayo, with a litany of stalwarts drawing a line under their intercounty careers after last year’s All-Ireland final defeat. Division Two is an unfamiliar scene for the Connacht champions, and they’ll be expected to bounce straight back up, but it’s a rare Paddy Tally team that gets easily brushed aside and Down are unlikely to be a soft touch tomorrow in Castlebar.

With Mayo widely expected to fill one of the top two slots in Division Two North, there’s little margin for error in Sunday’s Leinster derby in Navan. Westmeath have handed the captain’s armband to Kevin Maguire, and the imposing Caulry man certainly will lead by example for the Lake County, but there’s been a lot of forward progress in Meath in the last few seasons and the lessons they learned in Division One last year, even if results didn’t go their way, may stand to them.

Allianz Football League Division 2 South

Saturday May 15

Cork v Kildare, Semple Stadium, 3.30pm, Eir Sport

Sunday May 16

Clare v Laois, Cusack Park, 4pm, GAAGo

Two sides with clear potential to become regular Division One counties in the coming years clash at Semple Stadium, where the selection of Kevin Feely at full forward for Kildare would suggest that either Jack O’Connor is considering using the big Athy man as a target for marks in front of goal, or else he’ll drop back out to midfield to support the young pairing of Luke Flynn and Aaron Masterson, with Jimmy Hyland and Darragh Kirwan left to try and exploit space closer to goal.

Cork too have made some interesting switches, with Seán Powter likely to try and add impetus from centre back, while the return of Ciarán Sheehan to the bench is another notable inclusion.

Clare play host to Laois in the other fixture in the group, where life without talismanic midfielder Gary Brennan begins for the Banner County. With two home games to come after this, if Laois can repeat their one-point win in Ennis from 2020, they’ll feel that they have a great chance of putting themselves in the promotion mix.

Cork (v Kildare): Micheál Martin; Daniel O'Mahony, Sean Meehan, Kevin Flahive; Paul Walsh, Sean Powter, Mattie Taylor; Ian Maguire, Kevin O'Driscoll; Colm O'Callaghan, Sean White, Ruairi Deane; John O'Rourke, Brian Hurley, Cathail O'Mahony.

Kildare (v Cork): Mark Donnellan; Mark Dempsey, Mick O'Grady, Eoin Doyle; Kevin Flynn, David Hyland, Ryan Houlihan; Luke Flynn, Aaron Masterson; Alex Beirne, Daniel Flynn, Paul Cribbin; Jimmy Hyland, Kevin Feely, Darragh Kirwan.

Conor Sweeney prepares to break Limerick hearts with his sensational equaliser in last year's Munster football semi-final. These two rivals square off again tomorrow. 
Conor Sweeney prepares to break Limerick hearts with his sensational equaliser in last year's Munster football semi-final. These two rivals square off again tomorrow. 

Allianz Football League Division 3 North

Saturday May 15

Longford v Derry, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 5pm, GAAGo

Fermanagh v Cavan, Brewster Park, 7pm, GAAGo

For the first 70 minutes of this year’s league campaign, both Cavan and Fermanagh can pretend the 2020 league was a bad memory and that their relegation never happened. These counties are both clearly capable of playing at a higher level, but chances are one of the two will have a mountain to climb by 9pm tomorrow night.

Derry’s eight-point win over Longford in the 2020 league was out of kilter with the rest of Longford’s results in that competition, where they were right in the promotion mix throughout the year. There’s been some chopping and changing in the Derry panel, with veteran Enda Lynn no longer in the frame while Gareth McKinless of Ballinderry makes his return to the group. Conor Glass will also be available for the full season and is likely to play a significant role for Rory Gallagher and his men.

Allianz Football League Division 3 South

Saturday May 15

Limerick v Tipperary, LIT Gaelic Grounds, 5pm, GAAGo

Sunday May 16

Wicklow v Offaly, Aughrim, 2pm, GAAGo

The sense of “what might have been” must be strong in Limerick football circles when they think of what Tipperary went on to achieve after scraping their way through last year’s Munster semi-final fixture. That feeling of being so close to a sensational breakthrough will no doubt inspire a strong showing against the Munster champions tomorrow evening, with 11 of the team that started that game named .

Offaly were one of the first counties out of the blocks to name their team for the weekend, and there were some talking points. David Dempsey started his intercounty career as a corner back, moving up to the half-back line occasionally, and now he lines out at centre forward. Joe Maher gets the nod at 14 after coming back into the panel this year, presumably as a possible mark target on the edge of the square, while Bill Carroll, younger brother of midfielder Eoin, graduates from the U-20 panel to make his senior debut against Wicklow in Aughrim.

Limerick (v Tipperary): Donal O’Sullivan; Sean O’Dea, Brian Fanning, Paul Maher; Tony McCarthy, Bob Childs, Gordon Brown; Darragh Treacy, Tommie Childs; Cian Sheehan, Cillian Fahy, Tommy Griffin; Padraig Scanlon, Danny Neville, Hugh Bourke.

Offaly (v Wicklow): Paddy Dunican; Declan Hogan, Eoin Rigney, Niall Darby; Colm Doyle, Johnny Moloney, Jordan Hayes; Peter Cunningham, Eoin Carroll; Bill Carroll, David Dempsey, Anton Sullivan; Bernard Allen, Joe Maher, Rúairí McNamee.

Allianz Football League Division 4 North

Saturday May 15

Louth v Antrim, Geraldines GFC Dundalk, 3pm, GAAGo

Sunday May 16

Sligo v Leitrim, Markievicz Park, 3pm, GAAGo

It’s been a long time since there has been a Division Four fixture that will attract as much attention as tomorrow’s game in Dundalk between Louth and Antrim. Former Tyrone colleagues Mickey Harte and Enda McGinley didn’t take on the responsibility of managing these teams just to languish in this division, and while Mickey Harte has named a team with plenty of scoring power, led by star attacker Sam Mulroy, getting enough ball at midfield will be a key part of the puzzle for the Wee County.

Contests between Sligo and Leitrim are always hugely consequently for these two counties, regardless of context. Terry Hyland’s side slipped back down to Division Four last year but caused some good opponents plenty of problems along the way, and they’ll be ready to pounce if Tony McEntee hasn’t got Sligo firing on all cylinders.

Louth (v Antrim): Martin McEneaney; Dan Corcoran, Dermot Campbell, Donal McKenny; Liam Jackson, Anthony Williams, Eoghan Callaghan; Bevan Duffy, Ciarán Byrne; Andy McDonnell, Ciarán Keenan, Ciarán Downey; Seán Marry, Sam Mulroy, Declan Byrne.

Allianz Football League Division 4 South

Saturday May 15

Waterford v Carlow, Fraher Field, 7pm, GAAGo

With two out of the three Division Four South counties set to qualify for a one-off tilt at promotion, there’s a great opportunity for Waterford and Carlow to come very close to locking down a semi-final slot tomorrow evening. Waterford have named a team with a wide range of scoring threats, while their 2020 championship midfield pairing of Michael Curry and Dermot Ryan both move back into half back. Tommy Prendergast and Mark Cummins will fill the 8 and 9 jerseys for the home side, while Carlow have the huge boots of Brendan Murphy to fill in that area after the former International Rules player chose to step away at the age of 32 over the winter.

Waterford (v Carlow): Paudie Hunt; Sean Boyce, Brian Looby, Darach Ó Cathasaigh; Donal Fitzgerald, Michael Curry, Dermot Ryan; Tommy Prendergast, Mark Cummins; Jason Curry, Conor Murray, David Hallinan; Stephen Curry, Dylan Guiry, Darragh Corcoran.