Stakes high for Armagh and Roscommon as league returns
Battle for promotion and against relegation very much alive in Division Two
All remaining league games will be played without any spectators. Photograph: Philip McGowan/Inpho
More than seven months since the last kick of a ball, or 223 days to be exact, nowhere is the mood of uncertainty hanging over the conclusion of the Allianz Football League greater than in Division Two – and not just given the continuing doubts around the participation of Covid-19 struck Fermanagh.
It’s also the closest of the four divisions when it comes to the last battle for promotion and against relegation, with consequences too for future participation in the race for Sam Maguire in the summer of 2021, presuming the championship reverts back to the qualifier format by then.
Unlike Division One (where winless Meath are already relegated), nothing is yet certain; every county apart from Fermanagh is still in the hunt for promotion, and it’s equally close when it comes to escaping relegation – with just three points separating the top seven teams.
The last game actually played was the deferred meeting of Armagh and Fermanagh back on Saturday March 7th, wiped out on the previous weekend because of Storm Jorge, while the rest of the counties haven’t played a league game since the weekend before, February 29th/March 1st.
Armagh’s win that night put them top of the table on seven points along with Roscommon, marginally ahead on points difference, and the meeting of these two counties this Saturday will effectively decide which of them is promoted.
Kieran McGeeney had also his Armagh preparations interrupted by Covid-19 restrictions earlier this month, when the Armagh board suspended all club related activity in the county following a number of confirmed cases among the senior football panel.
Roscommon still have to play at home against third-placed Cavan (for now) on Sunday week, while Armagh will finish up away to Clare, so one of them may well be able to afford to lose and still keep themselves in contention for promotion to Division One.
With the worrying number of Covid-19 cases in the Fermanagh panel, manager Ryan McMenamin reporting that 17 players were unavailable to train last week, it’s still unclear if or when their game against Clare will go ahead.
They have sought a postponement, although it remains to be seen if Croke Park is open to facilitating that. A defeat for Fermanagh would mean certain relegation, and also condemn them to Tailteann Cup second-tier football next summer
In a previous correspondence, the GAA have said that “where relegation to a lower tier is a direct consequence” the game can be postponed (as well as All-Ireland semi-finals, finals) where the winners or losers aren’t out again for at least another 13 days.
“If we do have 13 days between a given round, say the Leinster or the Munster Championship and the next round, we will consider postponements,” Feargal McGill, GAA director of player, club and games administration, told RTÉ.
“That will come down to the particular circumstances between each game. If there is a major issue ahead of an All-Ireland semi-final or final we will also consider postponements in those circumstances.”
Jack O’Connor’s Kildare are currently in the other relegation spot on four points – the same as Clare, but with the slightly less favourable scoring difference. O’Connor’s men are at home for their last two matches, starting on Sunday against Cavan, one of the teams also pressing hard for promotion.
Celbridge players Fergal Conway, Kevin Flynn, Mick O’Grady and Paddy Brophy are part of the Kildare panel named last week, despite reports that the quartet may opt out of representing the county over the officiating of their club’s semi-final defeat to Moorefield last month.
David Hyland will captain the team fresh from his leadership role for Athy in their recent Kildare county title win, although Hyland’s clubmate Niall Kelly has been omitted because of an injury sustained during the final victory over Moorefield. Daniel Flynn from Johnstownbridge is also fit.
Westmeath and Laois, currently sitting mid-table on five points each, play each other in an equally pivotal game in determining their fate this season.
With no football league finals to be played this season, the top team in each division is set to be declared the winner; as per usual rule, if two teams end up tied on points, the head-to-head rule applies; if there are three or more teams tied, then scoring difference is the determining factor.
A total of 33 league matches, 30 football and three hurling, are down for decision over the next two weekends.
On Sunday week, Cavan play Roscommon, Clare face Armagh, Kildare play Westmeath, and Fermanagh, again player-depending, will face Laois, all games at 2pm.
While the GAA are waiting for an update from the Northern Ireland Executive on crowd restrictions, it has been agreed all remaining league games will be played without any spectators, North or South.
Division 2 Fixtures
Saturday: Westmeath v Laois, 2pm; Armagh v Roscommon, 5.30pm.
Sunday: Clare v Fermanagh, 1pm; Kildare v Cavan, 2pm.