Tipperary and Limerick look the pick of what promises to be a competitive bunch
The good news for all eight counties starting out in Division Four of the Allianz Football League is that the only way is up, although that’s also where the good news ends.
With the entirely understandable removal of Kilkenny – the truly unfortunate whipping boys for the last number of years – gone is the guarantee of at least two points, and while London do look like the weak link in the chain, there will be no such thing as an easy escape to Division Three, nor any easy victory anywhere.
Indeed the only sure thing is that no one can be relegated, and while Tipperary are favourites to top the division, and with that make an immediate return to Division Three, following last season’s disappointing relegation, this is very much a case of all eight counties being capable of beating the other on any given day.
Limerick are tipped to join Tipperary in gaining promotion, but then Offaly, Clare and Carlow are all well capable of it too, as of course are Leitrim, who have gathered some very noticeable momentum going back to last summer, and topped off with Sunday’s superb victory in the Connacht FBD League final.
Interestingly, five of the eight counties are also starting out under new managers for a full season, although Peter Creedon did come into Tipperary in the middle of the 2012 league, all of which brings some inevitable freshness and added anticipation, and also increased desire to make that mark, start progressing, and essentially set off on the right foot.
Last year, Wicklow and Fermanagh earned themselves the two promotional positions, and Wicklow manager Harry Murphy described some of those games as having pure championship intensity, particularly the decisive showdown against Clare, who narrowly lost out on scoring difference.
Now, with a certain Mick O’Dwyer on board, there is even greater expectation on Clare to close out the deal this season, when actually, Division Four looks even more competitive than ever.
Offaly, under new manager Emmet McDonnell, are already showing signs of a revival, and should have beaten Kildare in the O’Byrne Cup, and likewise Carlow, under Anthony Rainbow, who put up a decent show against Dublin.
Kilkenny’s exit also removes the sometimes skewed scoring differences (they lost all eight football games last season, with a scoring average of -241) and, naturally, also reduces the division from nine counties to eight, leaving London, who are going through a difficult period, as the only real soft opposition, if there is such a thing.
London, however, are always difficult to beat in Ruislip, and winning those away games may ultimately prove decisive in what is sure to be a hugely competitive race for the two promotional positions at stake.