Allianz Football League: Division Four preview

Malachy Clerkin: Who will be this season’s Carlow? Wexford look the best placed

Daithi Waters is back in the Wexford fold. Photograph: Brian Keane/Inpho

Daithi Waters is back in the Wexford fold. Photograph: Brian Keane/Inpho

 

The basement division has been more than just a Temple of Doom these past few years. Not only has it been a place for teams of faded glamour to re-energise and set off up the mountain again – see Laois last year, Westmeath the year before – but it has also morphed into a competitive starting point for the upwardly mobile. Derry are clearly in the former category this time around – the question is, who is this year’s Carlow?

On the face of it Wexford are probably best placed. They had a shocking year in 2017, relegated to Division Four with just a single win to show for it, culminating in a championship defeat to Waterford. As manager Paul McLoughlin has pointed out, in most counties that would have seen either him or half the squad kicked out the door without a backward glance.

Yet while everyone else seems to have been haemorrhaging players over the winter, McLoughlin has been able to keep pretty much everyone on board as well as convince old soldiers Daithi Waters and Brian Malone back into the mix. The players ran a golf classic last autumn to fund a bonding weekend in Munich at the end of November, which shows a certain kind of chutzpah for a Division Four team. John Morrison has been involved as a performance coach as well, suggesting an encouraging seriousness of intent.

Of the others, Limerick have a relatively gentle fixture list for the first few weeks, and could go into the second half of the league with a wet sail. Antrim have been known to occasionally muster a spring run, but they tend to drop from the clear blue sky and that looks unlikely this year with their lengthy injury list. Waterford, Wicklow and Leitrim all have first-year managers and dwindling playing resources.

Player drain

London have looked potentially frisky over the last few leagues, with QPR performance analyst Ciaran Deely in his fourth year as manager. But they’ve been even worse-hit than usual by player drain this year. “We have around 14 of last year’s panel and about 18 new faces,” Deely says.

“The number of players – and Irish people in general – moving to London is massively down. Good Irish economy, Brexit, etc is affecting numbers travelling over. Plus the profile of lads moving over to London is changing – more professionals who aren’t willing to commit to Gaelic and aren’t willing to compromise their jobs. I’m not moaning – it is what it is, and I go into each new year with my eyes open.”

All of which leaves Derry, who have sunk like a dead weight through the divisions and find themselves here just five years after playing the Dubs in a league final. They owe it to themselves to go through the division like a dose of salts, and anything less than promotion and a trophy on March 30th will be a failure.

The teams

Antrim

Manager: Lenny Harbinson (2nd season)
Selector: Brendan Trainor
Last good league: Runners-up Division 4 2016

Not a great sign when they could only name a squad of 22 players for their final McKenna Cup game, so dogged are they by injuries throughout the panel. Harbinson’s callow playing group couldn’t have a tougher start either, with Derry and Wexford up the first two weeks. A point from either game would be a bonus.

Derry

Manager: Damien McErlain (2nd season)
Selectors: Killian Conlon, Gavin McGeehan, Ciaran Meenagh
Last good league: Runners-up Division One 2014

Amazing fall from grace, considering they beat Jim Gavin’s Dubs and played them in a Division One final only five seasons ago. Unlikely to stay in the bottom division for long but will have to rebuild without the retired Mark Lynch. The 2017 minor team are coming of age and the Slaughtneil players are available for the first league since 2016.

Wexford

Manager: Paul McLoughlin (2nd season)
Selectors: Gordon Ward, Mark Roche
Last good league: Runners-up Division Four 2017

Daithi Waters and Brian Malone are back in the squad this season and their experience will be a boon to McLoughlin who has seen Paul Curtis pull out of the panel despite featuring in the O’Byrne Cup. Colm Kehoe was expected back from the hurlers but is taking time out to rehab some niggling injuries.

Waterford

Manager: Benji Whelan (1st season)
Selectors: Joe Hagan, Ger Walsh, Kieran Hallihan
Last good league: Runners-up Division Four 2010

In relative terms, Tom McGlinchey left Waterford in a pretty good place, with a Championship win last summer over Wexford an obvious highlight. Whelan has tried close to a dozen new faces, as well as welcoming Shane Aherne and Ray Ó Ceallaigh back. The foundations are there and they could nick a few surprise results.

Leitrim

Manager: Terry Hyland (1st season)
Selectors: Gary Donoghue, Pádraig McGourty
Last good league: 5th Division Four 2017

Hyland has been talking a reasonably big game, particularly in terms of promotion from Division Four. As ever though, the struggle is real. A whopping 26 of his squad are based in Dublin so their midweek training sessions are in Abbotstown rather than in Leitrim. Getting in the mix for promotion would be some achievement.

London

Manager: Ciaran Deely (4th season)
Selectors: Joe Coulter, Michael Maher
Last good league: 4th Division Four 2018

Among other factors, Brexit has had its way with the London football team. Deely has seen a bigger turnover of players than ever, with 18 new faces coming in to replace those who have either gone home or moved on since last year. Extended squad has 15 London-born players, which you’d imagine is the only reliable future.

London manager Ciaran Deely: ‘We have around 14 of last year’s panel and about 18 new faces.’ Photograph: Gerry McManus/Inpho
London manager Ciaran Deely: ‘We have around 14 of last year’s panel and about 18 new faces.’ Photograph: Gerry McManus/Inpho

Wicklow

Manager: John Evans (1st season)
Selectors: Leighton Glynn, Brian Heaslip
Last good league: 3rd Division Four 2014

Another clean slate for Wicklow as Evans plans for life without stalwarts James Stafford, Seanie Furlong, John McGrath and Rory Finn. Evans has drafted in a couple of Dublin club players with Wicklow links - Oisin Manning and Davy Devereux - and the skilful Conor McGraynor is back after a couple of seasons’ travelling.

Limerick

Manager: Billy Lee (3rd season)
Selectors: Sean Kiely, Brian Begley
Last good league: Division Four Champions 2013

Tough gig, trying to drum up enthusiasm for the Limerick footballers after what happened with the hurlers in 2018. That said, Billy Lee has made an interesting addition in former underage hurling star Ronan Lynch and has Brian Donovan and Tommy Childs back in the fold as well.

FIXTURES

Saturday
Waterford v Wicklow, Fraher Field, 7pm

Sunday

Antrim v Derry, Corrigan Park, 2pm
London v Limerick, Ruislip, 2pm
Leitrim v Wexford, Carrick-on-Shannon, 2pm

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