Draw enough for Limerick against Clare to escape NFL Division Four
Offaly, Tipperary and Clare all still within touching distance of promotion
Niall Darby (above), Richie Dalton and team captain Niall McNamee all return to the Offaly starting line-up to face Tipperary on Sunday. Photograph: Inpho
This time last year, desperate to lift themselves off the bottom floor of the Allianz Football League, after several failed attempts, Wicklow scored a decisive final-round win over Clare - and with that finally crossed the great divide to Division Three, Clare themselves just missing out on scoring difference.
“Pure championship intensity,” is how Wicklow manager Harry Murphy described it, and it was no exaggeration: now, 12 months on, Wicklow are in real danger of falling right back down again, needing to beat Sligo on Sunday, and hope Antrim lose to Monaghan, to have any chance of surviving.
Not that the four counties still vying for promotion from Division Four will have too much sympathy. Limerick, Offaly, Tipperary and Clare are all still within touching distance, Limerick leading the way on 10 points, with the other three on eight points each.
Suitably enough it’s all come down to the final showdowns, with Limerick travelling to Ennis to play Clare, and Offaly hosting Tipperary in Tullamore. It’s not a classic case of winner takes all, as Limerick only need to draw against Clare to be sure of promotion, while Clare do need to win, although the winners of Offaly against Tipperary can expect to be celebrating at about 4.30pm on Sunday.
That might sound relatively straightforward, but there’s still the possibility Offaly, Tipperary and Clare can all end up with nine points (should both games end in a draw), in which case scoring difference comes into play.
What is certain is only two can progress, and the fact three of the four teams contesting promotion are from Munster adds yet further incentive, and indeed spice.
The Offaly-Tipperary showdown also comes with recent history that can result in pure championship intensity. These are the teams relegated from Division Three last season, and Offaly’s defeat to Tipperary in the final game sealed their fate, with Tipperary already relegated. Then, Tipperary beat Offaly in the All-Ireland qualifiers, thus ending their interest in the 2012 season.
Offaly manager Emmett McDonnell – the youngest football manager in the intercounty game – has been able to name a full strength team, and home advantage in Tullamore may well prove the difference: Niall Darby, Richie Dalton and team captain Niall McNamee all return to the starting line-up, to replace David Hanlon, Ruairí Allen and John Maher, while Ken Casey is also retained at corner forward after his return to full fitness ahead of the last game against Waterford, where he struck 0-9, including four frees.
Limerick hold the advantage going to Ennis to play Clare, only needing the draw, although manager Maurice Horan is not taking anything for granted: “Division Four is arguably one of the most competitive of all,” Horan argued this week, “because everyone is so desperate to get out of it.”
Limerick have welcomed back midfielder John Galvin, his appearance against London in the last round marking his first appearance since sustaining a second cruciate ligament injury almost a year ago.
For Clare the hope Mick O’Dwyer can do what he couldn’t do with Wicklow is still alive, thanks to their win over London in a refixed game last Saturday. Kilkenny’s removal from the league this season has also done away with the sometimes skewed scoring differences (they lost all eight games last season, with a scoring average of -241) and whoever does emerge from the final leg of the promotion race on Sunday will have certainly deserved it.