Kildare leading twists and turns towards summit of Division Two
Fermanagh prop up the table and yet remain only four points adrift of the Lillywhites
Down’s Conor Maginn and Derry’s Conor Nevin in action in the National Football League Division Two. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Presseye/Inpho
Kildare manager Cian O’Neill has described every round as having “a new twist, a new turn” – and that’s no exaggeration: Division Two of the Allianz Football League has so far been like a drive up the Stelvio Pass.
Only four points separate leaders Kildare (on six points) and bottom-placed Fermanagh, and this weekend’s fifth round of games may intensify the race further. Either way, all eight teams are likely to have something to play for going into the concluding two rounds on March 25th/26th and April 2nd.
For now, Kildare are the front-runners and travel to Down on Saturday night looking to edge one step closer to promotion. On Sunday, Fermanagh host Clare, Cork host Meath, and Galway host Derry.
Kildare may start as favourites, but Down epitomise O’Neill’s description of the division so far: written off after opening defeats Fermanagh and then Clare, they’ve since emerged from a long losing run to win two successive games against Meath and Derry.
“It is way too soon to be thinking of promotion,” said the Kildare manager. “There are still too many games to be played. Our mantra was one game at a time from day one and we will stick to that.
“We need to win every game to get promoted, every single game, not two out of three – every game and that will put it to bed. I think every week is going to present a new twist, a new turn. Just look at the results.”
Having been relegated from Division One last year, Down are now back in contention for promotion. Round four certainly threw the division wide open, with Clare’s win over Cork the most unexpected of all. It was their first competitive win over their provincial rivals since the Munster semi-final back in 1997.
Another win for Clare over Fermanagh on Sunday would leave them in hot pursuit of promotion. Just being in that position is remarkable given that when manager Colm Collins took over in the 2014 season Clare were in Division Four.
They meet a Fermanagh team enduring the opposite kind of form, having conceded 4-14 slip against Kildare in the previous round. Clare are currently level with Galway on five points behind leaders Kildare (who Clare beat in last year’s Division Three final).
Collins, like O’Neill, has insisted each game is taken on its own merits. “I knew looking at it that it would be hard to predict and that no team was going to run away with the division. What we’ve been trying to do is just look at each game and how best we can get the most out of it and see where that takes us.”
What makes Clare’s progress even more impressive is that Podge Collins, son of the manager, has been concentrating on hurling in 2017, while team captain and All Star nominee Gary Brennan is focused on lining out for county hurling champions Ballyea, who face Cuala in the All-Ireland club final on St Patrick’s Day.
Galway, who lost their unbeaten record in their last game against Meath, are still in second place (on scoring difference ahead of Clare), and another win over Derry would at least secure their Division Two status.
No such comforts for Cork, however, who although hotly fancied for a quick return to Division One after being relegated at the end of last season, have taken only three of a possible eight points, leaving them in sixth. Still, a few more twists and turns could yet seem them reach the top.