Truncated national league has an air of claustrophobia about it

Counties in Division One North could end up in either semi-finals or relegation play-offs

Donegal manager Declan Bonner: ‘You’ve Donegal, Armagh, Monaghan and Tyrone playing in Division One and none of them even won the Ulster title last year.’ Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Donegal manager Declan Bonner: ‘You’ve Donegal, Armagh, Monaghan and Tyrone playing in Division One and none of them even won the Ulster title last year.’ Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

It was Donegal manager Declan Bonner who pointed out the claustrophobic nature of this season’s truncated national league. Intended to shorten the distances between competing counties and restrict travel in the face of the pandemic, the format split each division into two groups of four, north and south.

Donegal are in Division One North, which had a distinct Ulster championship feel.

“Look at this year’s league group,” said Bonner. “You’ve Donegal, Armagh, Monaghan and Tyrone playing in Division One and none of them even won the Ulster title last year. Cavan won so it’s very competitive.”

It was hardly a contentious assessment, but it has come to pass with a vengeance, as it is completely open going into the final weekend. All four counties can either end up in semi-finals or relegation play-offs and the scoring difference separating all four spans only seven, from +3 to -4, the tightest in the entire league.

It’s an ironic twist to Bonner’s views that Donegal cannot actually qualify for the final as they open their championship a week later and none of the divisional finals will feature any teams in a similar position; Kerry, Offaly, Louth, Carlow, Longford, Wicklow, Wexford, Clare, Limerick, Waterford, Sligo and Mayo are the others.

Down, who play Donegal, can’t qualify for the final at this stage and Wicklow are unlikely to.

Both semi-finals and play-offs will be cross-drawn between the divisional groups on a 3 v 4 and 4 v 3 basis.

In the case of teams finishing level on match points, head-to-head results will determine precedence. If more than two teams are involved, scoring difference applies and, if there have been any disqualifications, scoring difference in matches between the teams themselves and not counting walkovers.

If scoring difference is equal the next criteria are in order: highest total score, highest number of goals and finally a play-off, which in the circumstances might be problematic.

Division One North

Monaghan need to defeat Tyrone and hope that Donegal beat Armagh. A draw will do for Donegal and if that happens Tyrone would need at least a draw themselves. Armagh need to better Tyrone’s result against Monaghan.

Verdict: Donegal and Tyrone to semi-finals and Armagh and Monaghan to play-offs.

Division One South

Kerry have all but qualified from this group as they can’t be passed by two counties unless Roscommon paste them and they cough up a differential of at least 14 to let Dublin past. Roscommon can’t reach the semi-finals even if they beat Kerry, as they’d lose the head-to-head against Galway and can’t catch Dublin. Galway need to beat Dublin to qualify for the semi-finals.

Verdict: Kerry and Dublin to semi-finals and Galway and Roscommon to play-offs.

Division Two North

This is already done and dusted – the only group that is – with Mayo and Meath, who play on Sunday, already assured of semi-final places. Westmeath and Down face each other with nothing at stake before the play-offs.

Division Two South

This is one of the groups that could actually have a three-way split. Cork need to win in Ennis and hope Kildare don’t beat Laois. That would mean a pile-up on four points. Clare have the best scoring difference but a defeat by three points would neutralise it. Kildare need to win by at least six to get ahead of the other two. Verdict: Clare and Kildare to semi-finals and Cork and Laois to play-offs.

Division Three North

Derry’s cricket score against Fermanagh leaves them all but qualified provided they don’t disintegrate in Cavan. The Ulster champions may have to get something out of this although, in case of a three-way tie, their scoring difference is an advantage.

Verdict: Derry and Cavan to semi-finals and Fermanagh and Longford to play-offs.

Division Three South

Another potential three-way split should Tipperary beat Offaly and Limerick defeat Wicklow – not implausible outcomes.

Verdict: Offaly and Limerick to semi-finals and Tipperary and Wicklow to play-offs.

Division Four North

Antrim should top the table, with whoever wins between Louth and Sligo (a draw sends Louth through) joining them in the semi-finals. With no relegation, there is a Shield for the lower-placed teams.

Verdict: Antrim and Louth to semi-finals and Sligo and Leitrim to Shield.

Division Four South

Wexford need to beat Carlow to qualify for the semi-finals.

Verdict: Carlow and Wexford to semi-finals and Waterford to Shield.

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