Meath need to show consistency
It may be merely anecdotal that half the men in charge of the Division Three counties are in their first season in charge, or it might be something more telling, that half these counties have realised the need to begin rebuilding.
Either way, for Antrim, Monaghan, Meath and Roscommon, the immediate goal will be to restore a little more consistency to their league campaign, at least compared to last year, before they can begin to think about promotion up.
Monaghan and Meath certainly look capable of reversing their fortunes of last season, when both counties were relegated.
But a good start is half the battle, which makes all four of Sunday’s opening games so attractive, and crucial, even for round one: Monaghan and Meath face off in Clones where the result might well set the tone for their campaign; Wicklow and Fermanagh, both newly promoted, meet in Aughrim, and a victory there will certainly boost confidence, and cancel any apprehension.
Antrim and Cavan meet again, having both finished mid-table last season, a win here giving one a useful head start; and then there’s the all-Connacht showdown between Roscommon, and Sligo, who missed out on promotion last season.
In the hunt
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the greatest expectation for promotion lies, but it is fair to assume that Meath don’t exactly consider themselves Division Three standard.
However, with Mick O’Dowd in charge, their sixth manager in nine years, taking over from the divisive appointment that was Seamus McEnaney, no one is really expecting Meath to become the force of old overnight, but they’ll certainly want to stay in the hunt for promotion.
Monaghan endured an even worse league campaign last year, and have brought in Malachy O’Rourke, formerly of Fermanagh, to help restore their fortunes. Sligo did come close to promotion last year, but there’s not a whole lot to suggest they’ll be stronger this year. Roscommon, now under former Tipperary manager John Evans, are definitely in a rebuilding phase, but do boast a great crop of underage talent.
Antrim have signed up Frank Dawson, Liam Bradley stepping down after four years, and it’s not that long since they worked their way from Division Four to Division Two, in 2011, before dropping back again – and last summer’s championship campaign, including a win over Galway, has them confident.
Cavan’s quest for promotion begins with a visit to Casement Park, and with manager Terry Hyland giving increasing attention to emerging players the signs there are equally optimistic.
Both Wicklow and Fermanagh, although stepping up a gear from Division Four, shouldn’t have a whole lot to fear.