This weekend's Allianz Football League previews
Allianz Football League Division 1
Saturday, February 26
Donegal v Tyrone, Mac Cumhaill Park, 7.30pm - RTE
Sunday February 27
Kildare v Dublin, St. Conleth’s Park, 1.45pm - TG4
Monaghan v Kerry, Inniskeen, 2pm
Mayo v Armagh, Dr. Hyde Park, 2pm
When the fixtures for this Division of the Allianz League were first drawn up, not many people would have picked out Mayo v Armagh to be a top of the table clash.
Armagh have picked up five points from a tough slate of fixtures against Dublin, Tyrone and Monaghan, and have done so while playing some sparkling attacking football and also showing a steely defensive streak at the same time.
Mayo, for their part, started the year on the back foot due to renovations at MacHale Park, which meant that they have to go on the road for their home fixtures. This week their “home” venue is Dr. Hyde Park in Roscommon, where admittedly they have a good track record, picking up wins in each of their three visits to the venue in the past decade.
Five points on the board gives James Horan the freedom to do some experimentation this week, drafting in the Ballina Stephenites duo of Frank Irwin and St. Muredach’s student Sam Callinan at full forward and wing back respectively.
Meanwhile the TG4 cameras will certainly get an incredible atmosphere if nothing else at St. Conleth’s Park, with the Newbridge venue sold out from early in the week for the visit of Dessie Farrell’s misfiring Dublin side.
Kildare can consider themselves a little unlucky to only have one point from their three games so far, as they played well enough against both Kerry and Tyrone to take more from those fixtures.
Dublin, on the other hand, are in the incredible position of having the second-worst defensive record across all the divisions after conceding nearly 19 points per game in their three fixtures so far.
The last times these sides met in the league at St. Conleth’s Park, all the way back in 1994, the current Dublin manager played wing forward for the Dubs while Glen Ryan, current Kildare manager, was across the 45 at centre back for the Lily Whites. That game ended level – it’s hard to know if either side would be happy with a point from Sunday’s rematch.
The pressure has eased in Tyrone now that the All-Ireland champions have put a league win on the board, while for Donegal, losing in Kerry is hardly cause for concern, though the manner of their defeat last weekend will play on their minds.
Whether it was Storm Franklin or the Kerry defence that they couldn’t master, Donegal were reduced to a mere seven points in that fixture at Fitzgerald Stadium.
No doubt conditions will be wintry in Ballybofey tomorrow evening as well, but seven points is unlikely to cut it against a Tyrone side where Darren McCurry is finding form, while the quartet of players that were suspended last time out will all be back in action.
Finally, Kerry make the long trip up to Inniskeen to take on Monaghan. Jack O’Connor has Kerry motoring right now. They could have easily added two or three goals to their 1-13 tally last week, but Seán O’Shea’s wonderful performance at centre forward will make the Munster champions very happy with their form in advance of this fixture.
Monaghan still have to put a win on the board yet but they’re going desperately close, and they’ll hope that home advantage will be the magic ingredient that will push them over the line in that quest on Sunday.
Allianz Football League Division 2
Saturday, February 26
Offaly v Meath, Bord na Móna O’Connor Park, 2.30pm
Cork v Galway, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 5pm
Down v Roscommon, Páirc Esler, 5pm - BBC iPlayer / BBC Sport NI website
Sunday, February 27
Clare v Derry, Cusack Park, 1pm
After three rounds of games, Division Two of this year’s Allianz Football League has turned into two mini-leagues, with four sides going well in the hunt for promotion while four more are looking nervously downwards at the trapdoor.
Two of the top four go into battle on Sunday in Ennis, where Clare will try to stop a Derry juggernaut that has been making great ground, not just in 2022, but ever since Rory Gallagher took the helm and guided them out of the basement division.
Pádraic Collins coming back into the Clare side last week proved to be a huge boost to the Banner County as he kicked two points for his father’s side, while also freeing up David Tubridy to play the role of last minute hero.
A point away from home was a respectable result, but Clare also have to go to Galway, so they’ll feel they need to go one step better against Derry.
It won’t be easy. Shane McGuigan is scoring points for fun, the midfield combination of Emmett Bradley and Conor Glass is playing as well as any centrefield unit in Ireland, and just to crown things, Derry have the best defensive record in the country right now.
Of the four counties that are yet to win a game, Down might feel that they are the ones with the best case for shooting up the table. James McCartan chose not to bring his Kilcoo players straight into county action, but there’s no doubt he’ll call on some of them tomorrow evening in Newry.
Roscommon manager Anthony Cunningham has also take a softly-softly approach to reintroducing his Pádraig Pearses and St. Faithleach’s players, as he gave Niall Daly a start and brought Diarmuid Murtagh off the bench. Just nine points, five with the aid of a hurricane in the first half, could lead him to change things up this week.
Cork were more than a little anaemic in Derry last week, but they also opened their league with a very poor away performance in Roscommon, before bouncing back with a deserved share of the spoils against Clare.
Just three points from play last week, one of which was scored right at the end when the game was long over as a contest, gives a clear indication where the Rebels need to find improvement against a Galway side that didn’t get a game, but probably won’t mind that too much given how many of their players were involved with college sides, including Sigerson Cup winners NUI Galway.
Finally both Meath and Offaly will feel that their meeting at Bord na Móna O’Connor Park is a must win game, if either of these two Leinster sides is to remain in this Division.
Meath will at least take some solace from the fact that they’ve scored three goals in their last two games, and if they can create another one in Tullamore, they’ll no doubt rock the fragile confidence of the home side.
Allianz Football League Division 3
Saturday, February 26
Wicklow v Limerick, Aughrim, 2.30pm
Laois v Antrim, MW Hire O’Moore Park, 6pm
Sunday, February 27
Louth v Westmeath, Ardee, 2pm
Longford v Fermanagh, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 2pm
With Westmeath’s midlands derby against Longford called off last week due to the weather, Limerick had the chance to move clear at the top of Division 3. They looked well-poised to do just that, before Louth came strong with seven points in succession to snatch what looks like a massive two points in a very tight division.
On Sunday, Louth have the chance to deliver a hammer-blow to another promotion chasing county when Westmeath come to Ardee.
Westmeath manager Jack Cooney has been boosted by the return of Kieran Martin after long term injury, while younger players like Sam McCartan and Alex Gardiner have had a few seasons of intercounty experience now and are making a stronger contribution this year.
Louth will be high on confidence after last week’s win but they’ll have to find a way to share the scoring burden a lot more evenly, Sam Mulroy won’t be able to carry them over the winning line all the time.
All four games in this Division take place in Leinster this week, and Saturday evening’s fixture in Portlaoise looks like another that will have real promotion implications.
There’s a lovely balance to the Antrim attack this year, with scoring threats all across the attack and on the bench, evidenced by seven different scorers from play last time out.
Laois are a lot more dependent on Evan O’Carroll and Gary Walsh for scores, though Eoin Lowry’s switch to centre forward looks like it offers a lot of hope for the year ahead.
Wicklow have played well for short bursts in their games, most notably in the early exchanges against Westmeath and for a chunk of the middle third of their game against Antrim last week, but they need to put in a more consistent performance over the full seventy minutes against a Limerick side that will hope to prove last week’s late collapse was just a temporary blip.
Neither Longford nor Fermanagh had a run out last week as the snow fell heaviest in that part of the country, but with just one point each and a comparatively poor scoring record in front of the posts, both will feel that they need to get their season up and running with a win at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Sunday.
Allianz Football League Division 4
Saturday, February 26
Tipperary v Sligo, FBD Semple Stadium, 7pm
Sunday, February 27
London v Wexford, McGovern Park, 1pm
Cavan v Carlow, Kingspan Breffni Park, 2pm
Waterford v Leitrim, Fraher Field, 2pm
Carlow bounced back from a dreadful start to the season with a good win over Waterford last week, but they face a particularly tough test on Sunday against a Cavan side that have looked comfortable in their two games so far.
A lengthy injury list continues to hamper the Dolmen County, while Cavan will hope that they don’t suffer for missing out on a competitive game a week ago.
The great fairy tale of the 2022 Allianz Football League has been the success of London, while at the other end of the table, Wexford have yet to put a point on the board, albeit after two decent displays against good opposition.
Three wins by a combined total of four points would suggest that London have been competitive, and composed in tight finishes – it’ll be no surprise if Sunday’s game goes down to the wire as well.
The feelgood factor in Leitrim that followed their win in Tipperary evaporated when James Gallagher found the net to condemn them to a defeat against London last time out, so Andy Moran is running out of second chances if he wants to stay in the promotion hunt.
A long road trip to Dungarvan won’t help, though Waterford are still chasing a first win of the Ephie Fitzgerald era, despite putting in three very solid performances so far.
Arguably the biggest game of the weekend in the Division is tomorrow evening in Thurles, where the freescoring Sligo attack will look to capitalise on Tipperary’s loss of form. Niall Murphy, Pat Spillane and Pat Hughes have all made very bright starts to the year, while Tipperary need to capture some of that attacking flair.
Seven scores from play in two games, 2-1 from Conor Sweeney and 0-4 from the rest of the panel combined, hints at where David Power’s side has struggled.