Mayo escape late but Lee Keegan out for up to four months
Substitute Madden’s late intervention secures promotion back to top flight for Cavan
Dublin’s Conal Keaney and Fergal Whitely fight for possession with Tipperary’s Michael Cahill during the league quarter final at Croke Park. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Mayo’s delight at remaining in Division One of the Allianz Football League has been tempered by manager Stephen Rochford’s disclosure that former Footballer of the Year Lee Keegan will be missing for the next three or four months after undergoing surgery for a shoulder injury.
At the least that would rule Keegan out of the entire Connacht championship and at worst most of the new round-robin matches at All-Ireland quarter-final stage.
“Lee obviously had surgery last week,” said Rochford, “and will be out three to four months to be honest. All the other guys are on track to make the championship game [against Galway in May].”
He was also asked whether Keith Higgins would rejoin the football panel for the championship after the All Star defender had spent spring with the Mayo hurlers.
“He’s kept his fitness levels up so I don’t have any immediate concerns. We spoke in January and said we’d speak again at the end of the league and that’s what we’ll do.”
Earlier, the county – which has been in the top flight for every season since the league was restructured in 2008 – had survived the highest-profile contest of the afternoon, against Donegal in Ballybofey.
The losers would be faced with the prospect of next season in Division Two. But Mayo could afford a draw – which is exactly what happened.
Having led 0-13 to 0-10 with five minutes remaining, Donegal conceded scores to Conor Loftus, who did well standing in for the injured Cillian O’Connor on free-taking duty, corner back Eoin O’Donoghue and finally, with 15 seconds left, Kevin McLoughlin booming one over from over 30 metres off his less practised right boot.
Elsewhere in the division Dublin were beaten for the first time in nearly a year when Fintan Kelly gave Monaghan a late, one-point victory at Croke Park over the All-Ireland champions who had already qualified for next week’s final against Galway.
So overall, the last Sunday of the AFL regulation season yet again lived up to its tradition as the most dramatic day of the season around the country – except it wasn’t the last day.
From the frozen chaos of recent postponements, the GAA had hoped to be able to wrap up everything this weekend and as with some inadequately assembled piece of flat-pack furniture, simply discard the spare bits that should have slotted in somewhere by not playing the outstanding fixtures.
In the end just one issue remained obdurately unresolved – the second relegation spot in Division Two. Crucially this will not extend the league any further into April, which is supposed to be given over to exclusively club activity.
Next week, Meath will play already relegated Louth and Tipperary will face Down with trap door beckoning for Meath, Down or in the unlikely event of Louth-Meath ending in a draw, Cork.
In Division Two next season Donegal will be up against their former manager Rory Gallagher, whose Fermanagh side achieved one of the other great acts of escape by converting a 45-metre free with the last kick of the match. That score by Séamus Quigley gave the team a 1-10 to 1-9 victory over Longford, who seconds earlier had looked on their way out of Division Three along with Armagh.
Division Two wasn’t short of incident either although Croke Park was spared further ambiguity over who would contest the divisional final when Roscommon defeated Cork and Cavan needed a late intervention from replacement Conor Madden, who had been sent on by manager Mattie McGleenan with just three minutes left.
It means that for the first time since the 2008 restructure, both of the teams relegated from the previous season’s Division One have bounced back up immediately.
Big news in Division Three came with the relegation of Derry, who were beaten by Sligo. It is a shocking decline for a county that 10 years ago won the league title and as recently as 2014 contested the final.
Since the football league divisions were reorganised on a hierarchical basis in the early 1970s, Derry have spent some seasons in a 16-team second division but have never dropped to the level of occupying the basement in a four-division structure.
Next weekend will see the finals of all four divisions of the football league as well as the remaining Division Two fixtures and the hurling league semi-finals. Croke Park’s Central Competitions Control Committee is expected to announce details of the fixtures around Monday lunchtime.
Allianz Football League
Final: Galway v Dublin
Relegated: Kildare and Donegal
Final: Roscommon v Cavan (both promoted)
Relegated: Louth plus one from Meath, Down and Cork
Final: Armagh v Fermanagh (both promoted)
Relegated: Wexford and Derry
Final: Laois v Carlow (both promoted)
Allianz Hurling League
Division One semi-finals
Tipperary v Limerick
Wexford v Kilkenny