Gaelic football’s ratings agency getting ready to report

On the final day of the league, 21 of the 32 counties still have something to play for

This weekend sees what has become arguably the biggest afternoon of the year in the football calendar. The final day of the Allianz Football League sees more counties competing for something tangible than at any other stage of the season so far.

It’s an exciting couple of hours, as score-lines come in from various venues with each update spinning counties like the lines on a fruit machine: one minute you’re aligned with a final, promotion or safety; the next you’re not.

With head-to-head results and scoring difference separating teams level on points all issues are decided on the day and it is often more important, certainly for those not in Division One, for the competing counties than the divisional finals.

Of greater importance, however, has been the motivation for counties who aren't going to win the championship and for whom the summer season can be disappointingly curtailed or even nasty, brutish and short

This year’s league has as usual been very competitive and going into this weekend’s fixtures – there will be one match on Saturday between Leitrim and Waterford, as all issues in Division Four have been settled – 21 of the 32 counties still had something to play for.


If you except Division Four, where there’s no relegation and Westmeath and Wexford have already been promoted, only three counties, Roscommon (already relegated from Division One), Kildare (promoted from Division Two) and Louth (promoted from Division Three), take the field with nothing at stake.

Dublin can move closer to a fifth success title if they win against Monaghan on Sunday. What makes Jim Gavin's team different to previous sequential league winners is that none since the Kerry team, whose unbeaten record they broke last week, have gone on to add multiple All-Ireland championships: Cork (2010-'12) and Mayo (1934-'39) won one Sam Maguire each in 2010 and 1936, respectively.


Kerry won four successive All-Irelands 1929-’32 and would probably have done four doubles in each of those years had the league been staged in 1930, which it wasn’t.

Of greater importance, however, has been the motivation for counties who aren’t going to win the championship and for whom the summer season can be disappointingly curtailed or even nasty, brutish and short.

For them the league offers a guaranteed series of matches against teams of a similar standard.

As well as being their best chance of winning or achieving something in the year, it’s also the big metric of improvement for ambitious teams, giving an opportunity to compete against counties that would have been ranked ahead of you the previous year and in many cases who still are.

Clare manager Colm Collins said in these pages just after his team had defeated Cork in top-level competition for the first time in 20 years earlier this month that the players had grown in the face of increasing challenges: "When you get wins against teams that are perceived to be better than you that's really good for confidence."

Their upswing began a year ago when they secured promotion from Division Three and then in the Croke Park divisional final beat the Kildare team that had finished ahead of them in the league table.

For most however the big target of the competition is to secure promotion and the divisional finals, for all that they offer an opportunity to lift trophies in the Hogan Stand, are seen as a nice conclusion to the league not as essential as promotion.


An interesting aspect of this year's league is the performance of Leinster counties. All four of the promotion places already secured have gone to counties from the province and of the remaining two at stake, there is an outside chance that a fifth, Meath, could join the ascending ranks, leaving Armagh or Tipperary as the only counties not from Leinster to be promoted.

Three years ago, five of the six counties relegated in the league were from the province whereas this year the figure will be two at worst.

On a related note, there was consternation in Leinster in January when a Dublin development team won the O’Byrne Cup, leaving the sombre impression that the county’s thirds were better than the rest of the counties in the province.

During this year’s league, however, all three of the county teams defeated by Dublin in January – Wexford, Kildare and Louth – have gone on to be promoted.

The big question is what difference does it all make if you go beyond Dublin's voracious successes? Last year's spring winners included promoted counties Tyrone, who won the Ulster title back after a gap of six years, and Clare, who reached an All-Ireland quarter-final for the first time ever.

It doesn't always work out. Two years ago Roscommon and Down were promoted to Division One but did so badly in championship that the respective managers, John Evans and Jim McCorry, were gone by the time the following league campaign had started.


“The obvious question that jumps out,” said Evans last year, “is why wouldn’t you have a good championship after doing well in the league? Well, for a start you’re dealing with a weaker county and they have to get up the line first, which involves getting promotion.

“You’ve got to bear in mind that you’re pushing a team to improve and that involves basic things like sorting out the best venues for training, get the fitness levels right and, as you go on up, of course winning because there’s nothing better for getting the belief into the team than winning.

“But that takes a significant amount of time – two to three years – and after you’ve found your plateau you have to target staying there. As you go up you’re demanding more of players, to be able to do more with the ball and to bring in new players if they aren’t going to go any further.”

Football's ratings agency is about to report.


Final fixtures
Sunday (2.0)

Kerry v Tyrone, Fitzgerald Stadium
Mayo v Donegal, MacHale Park
Monaghan v Dublin, Clones
Roscommon v Cavan, Dr Hyde Park

To reach final:
Dublin (9 points +40): Avoid defeat against Monaghan. If they lose they need Donegal not to win in Castlebar; otherwise their massive scoring difference will qualify them.
Donegal (8, +12): A win against Mayo qualifies them. If Monaghan are beaten even a narrow defeat against Mayo would suffice.
Monaghan (8, +6): Need to beat Dublin to be sure. A draw would also do the trick providing Donegal and Tyrone are beaten.
Tyrone (7, +7): A win against Kerry and hope that Donegal are beaten and Monaghan don't win.
Mayo (6, -5): Beat Donegal by at least 13 points (to catch Kerry's scoring difference) and hope both Kerry - by a point -  and Dublin win.
To avoid relegation:
Roscommon (0, -49): Are already gone so one other county will join them.
Cavan (4, -20): Need to beat Roscommon and hope that Kerry and Donegal also win. They have the advantage of having beaten Mayo and drawn with Kerry but their scoring difference makes survival unlikely. Cavan need to make up a 15-point scoring difference to catch Mayo, who they better on the head-to-head criterion. Were Mayo to win and Kerry lose, Cavan would still have a 26-point differential to bridge on the Munster champions with whom they drew last week.


Final Fixtures
Sunday (2.0)

Clare v Meath, Cusack Park
Cork v Down, Páirc Uí Rinn
Fermanagh v Derry, Brewster Park
Galway v Kildare, Pearse Stadium

To secure promotion:
Kildare (10, +33): promoted
Galway (9, +30): Need to avoid defeat against Kildare and if they lose they must hope Meath don't win.
Meath (7, +22): Need to beat Clare and hope that Galway lose, as they have beaten them on the head-to-head.
To avoid relegation:
Derry (3, -35): Need to beat Fermanagh and hope Cork beat Down
Down (4, -18): Beat Cork, or draw and hope that Derry beat Fermanagh and that Clare don't lose against Meath, or if they do that it is by a massive margin as they are 18 points behind Colm Collins's team.
Fermanagh (4, -30): Need to beat Derry and hope Down don't win. Otherwise the logjam on six points would bring their inferior scoring difference into play.


Final fixtures
Sunday (2.0)
Armagh v Tipperary, Athletic Grounds
Louth v Sligo, Gaelic Grounds
Offaly v Laois, O'Connor Park
Antrim v Longford, Corrigan Park

To secure promotion:
Louth (10, +11): promoted
Armagh (9, +46): Avoid defeat against Tipperary
tipperary (8, +18): Need to beat Armagh
To avoid relegation:
Offaly (4, -27): Need to beat Laois
Antrim (4, -19): Need to beat Longford
Laois (4, -18): Need to avoid defeat against Offaly as a draw will bring their superior scoring difference into play.
Longford (4, -6): Need to avoid defeat against Antrim as a draw will bring their superior scoring difference into play.

DIVISION FOUR (Westmeath and Wexford promoted)

Final fixtures

Leitrim v Waterford, Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, 4.30

Sunday (1.0)
Westmeath v London, Cusack Park
Carlow v Wexford, Cullen Park
Limerick v Wicklow, Newcastlewest, 3.0

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times