NFL Division Two: All you need to know ahead of the new season
Sleeping giants Cork need to wake up as Roscommon seek a return to the top
Cathal Cregg has returned for early season training after missing last year’s championship. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Most in need of a big campaign
Take your pick. This is the most treacherous of all four floors in league football, However, Cork are the sleeping giant in the group. Their failure to rebound after the 2016 relegation was one of the minor shocks of the summer. Ronan McCarthy has had since August to plan for this campaign and a push for promotion.
Roscommon will be keen to re-assert themselves as Division One material but it feels like a crucial winter for a Cavan team that have been in young-and-on-the-rise mode for longer than they would like. Galway and Kildare could regale the field with tales of just how difficult it is to get out of this division: it’s a dog fight from the off.
The relegation battle
While the heat often leaves top-flight football over the closing rounds of the league, the trap-door in Division Two is frequently crowded with potential fallers. Down preserved their status at this level with a last-gasp win over Cork in the closing round, a victory that helped to ignite their memorable summer.
Louth have been among the most impressive league performers of the past two seasons, hauling themselves from the lower reaches of Division Four to this point without blinking. They are likely to benefit from Pete McGrath’s experience and his talent for making an immediate impact. But this is a significant jump in quality. The teams most likely to feel the heat are the new arrivals Louth and Tipperary.
Keep an eye on . . .
Roscommon’s Connacht raid was all the more remarkable for some of the senior names missing. Cathal Cregg and Niall and Ronan Daly returned for early season training: how prominently they feature in the league is another matter.
Meath goalkeeper Paddy O’Rourke’s decision to step away from the squad from 2018 meant a deficit of experience. News that Joe Sheridan, the forward-turned-goalkeeper is unable to commit suddenly left the Royals holding mid-winter auditions. Andrew Colgan and David Colgan are expected to feature as Meath develop a new kick-out strategy over the season.
It’s a border thing and Louth and Meath are not scheduled to meet until round six of the league, on Sunday March 18th, when both sets of teams will be battle-hardened, cranky and requiring wins for promotion, relegation or just bragging rights. On the bright side, Meath can claim to have been one of the few counties to have looked consistently comfortable in what is a volatile league division.
The counter argument is that they have looked too comfortable and have watched counties like Tyrone, Kildare, Galway and Donegal drop in and depart again while they mind house. A push for Division One is desirable and their opening game, away to Roscommon, will be a good indicator as to whether that is one the cards.
The surge made by the Clare senior footballers under Colm Collins has to count as one of the great managerial feats of recent times. Promotion to this division led into last summer’s championship run which brought Mayo to Cusack Park where Clare gave the All-Ireland contenders a major first-half fright. Collins is back for a fifth year in charge and has managed to change the perception of the team in a very short time.
Did you know?
Meath rank fifth on the all time league Division One winners list with seven titles, the most recent coming in the 1993-94 season. They finished runners-up six times, including successive seasons between 1936-1940.