NFL Division Three: A fine line between playing in the All-Ireland SFC or the Tailteann Cup

League promotion remains flashing target for Down while Wicklow look to maintain Division Three status

The Allianz Football Leagues throw-in this weekend and given the links to the championship there is a significant amount at stake for all 32 teams across the four divisions. Today we look at Division Three – where the line between playing in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship (SFC) or the Tailteann Cup is most pronounced.


Manager: Andy McEntee (2nd season)

Opening fixture: v Limerick, Sunday, Rathkeale, 12.30pm

How did 2023 go: Antrim retained their Division Three status, but only just, finishing in sixth place with five points, just above the relegated duo of Longford and Tipperary. They lost to Armagh in the preliminary round of the Ulster SFC but the Saffrons advanced all the way to the semi-finals of the Tailteann Cup where they fell to Andy McEntee’s native Meath.


So far in 2024: They lost to Monaghan and Fermanagh in the McKenna Cup, and their best chance of silverware for the season ahead again looks to be in the Tailteann Cup.


Manager: Mark Fitzgerald (1st season)

Opening fixture: v Sligo, Sunday, Ennis, 2pm

How did 2023 go: Clare’s seven-year stay in Division Two came to an end last season as they were relegated after suffering five losses. They did, however, beat Cork and Limerick in the championship to set up a Munster final with Kerry, which in turn earned the Banner a place in the round-robin stage of the All-Ireland SFC – though they did not progress from their group.

So far in 2024: Mark Fitzgerald has big shoes to fill after replacing Colm Collins as manager. Clare played two games in the McGrath Cup, losing to Cork and beating Waterford.


Manager: Conor Laverty (2nd season)

Opening fixture: v Wicklow, Sunday, Aughrim, 2pm

How did 2023 go: A loss to Cavan in round five of the league last term essentially cost Down promotion to Division Two. Both teams finished with 10 points, but the head-to-head tiebreaker went in Cavan’s favour. Down subsequently beat Donegal in the Ulster SFC but fell to Armagh at the semi-final stages. They had an encouraging Tailteann Cup campaign, progressing all the way to the final at Croke Park where Meath proved too strong.

So far in 2024: They lost to Derry but beat Cavan in the group stages of the McKenna Cup. League promotion remains a flashing target for the Mourne Men for the season ahead.


Manager: Jimmy Lee (1st season)

Opening fixture: v Antrim, Sunday, Rathkeale, 12.30pm

How did 2023 go: It was a difficult season for Limerick. Ray Dempsey quit as manager after just five games in the National League and they were subsequently relegated from Division Two having failed to win a single match. They lost to Clare in a Munster semi-final, while Laois ended their interest in the Tailteann Cup at the quarter-final stages.

So far in 2024: Jimmy Lee, brother of former Limerick manager Billy, is at the helm now but he is still waiting for a first competitive victory after McGrath Cup losses to Kerry and Tipperary.


Manager: Declan Kelly (1st season)

Opening fixture: v Westmeath, Sunday, Tullamore, 2pm

How did 2023 go: Events off the field overshadowed anything on it for Offaly in 2023, following the death of manager Liam Kearns last March. Offaly finished midtable in Division Three, and beat Longford and Meath to set up a Leinster semi-final against Louth, which they only lost after extra-time. Wexford beat Offaly in a Tailteann Cup preliminary quarter-final.

So far in 2024: Declan Kelly, who managed Offaly to an under-20 All-Ireland title in 2021, has now taken charge of the county’s senior footballers. They beat Laois in their O’Byrne Cup opener before losing to Dublin at the quarter-final stages.


Manager: Tony McEntee (4th season)

Opening fixture: v Clare, Sunday, Ennis, 2pm

How did 2023 go: Sligo put down a positive league showing last term, gaining promotion from Division Four following six wins in seven games – and to cap it off they beat Wicklow in the final to pick up silverware at Croke Park. They lost the Connacht final to Galway, after wins over London and New York along the way, while in the group stages of the All-Ireland SFC Sligo earned a draw against Kildare.

So far in 2024: They lost their FBD League opener to Roscommon in early January, so the Yeats County have been waiting several weeks now for their Division Three campaign to begin.


Manager: Dessie Dolan (2nd season)

Opening fixture: v Offaly, Sunday, Tullamore, 2pm

How did 2023 go: Dessie Dolan’s first season as Westmeath manager was a mixed bag – they finished midtable in Division Three and lost to Louth in a Leinster SFC quarter-final. However, there were positive performances against Armagh and Tyrone during the group stages of the All-Ireland SFC – Westmeath’s 2022 Tailteann Cup triumph had earned them entry to the big show in 2023.

So far in 2024: They lost to Longford in an O’Byrne Cup quarter-final and followed that up with a defeat to Louth in an O’Byrne Shield semi-final.


Manager: Oisín McConville (2nd season)

Opening fixture: v Down, Sunday, Aughrim, 2pm

How did 2023 go: Oisín McConville guided Wicklow to promotion from Division Four in his first year at the helm, so maintaining their Division Three status will be one early season aim. They beat Carlow in the Leinster SFC last year but then lost to Kildare. Wicklow’s Tailteann Cup campaign never maintained the momentum of their league form and they failed to advance from the group stages.

So far in 2024: They lost their O’Byrne Cup opener to Wexford, but bounced back with O’Byrne Shield wins over Carlow and Laois. The O’Byrne Shield final between Wicklow and Louth was postponed last week because of inclement weather.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times