Excitement of final League weekend hints at the possibilities ahead

Fermanagh’s joy at clinching promotion from Division Three at the weekend was matched by that of other promoted counties such as Carlow from Division Four and Cavan from Division Two. An incentivised tiered Championship could generate similar scenes of delight among the successful counties Picture by Ronan McGrade

THE Allianz Football League certainly did itself justice with the last round of fixtures. Fantastic drama (if you came out the right side of it) was witnessed in three different battles for either promotion and relegation that were decided deep into injury-time with essentially last kicks of the respective games.

Significant controversy enveloped many as well, be it Kevin McLoughlin’s endless steadying steps prior to his shot that somehow went unnoticed or Seamus Quigley managing to turn on stealth mode and steal several crucial metres unnoticed by officials prior to his huge decisive free-kick.

The uncontained joy we saw coming out of the Cavan, Fermanagh and Carlow camps after last weekend’s heroics was great to see.

As a supporter in principle of a two-tier Championship, it presents plenty of evidence that meaningful wins and progress at your own level carries huge merit for all involved.

Surely a properly supported Division Two Championship, with funded team holidays and decent television coverage of games, could build into a very significant and achievable contest for all those teams that are putting in such obviously great work.

If it means structuring it so that there is a route to Sam for those teams at the start of the year, in order to get their buy-in, then so be it.

As a football fan, I would love to see big games between these teams in the height of the summer with something significant on the line because both the players and supporters deserve it and it would bring so much to our Championships.

While many people, especially some RTé pundits themselves, give off stink about Sky deals, it was hard not to be frustrated with the League Sunday coverage of the biggest round of games the season will have.

TG4, as always, is to be commended with their ongoing live games, but the general coverage of last weekend’s feast of action was simply too limited. League Sunday gave us barely any coverage or discussion regarding Divisions Two, Three or Four, yet managed plenty of discussion surrounding what was essentially a dead rubber game between Dublin and Monaghan. The stories, tension and results throughout the divisions merit much more attention than currently being served and, increasingly, I think the appetite is there for much greater coverage of the entire League schedule, particularly via proper highlights programmes.

The League finals are being covered, yet we are unlikely to see the same scenes as witnessed last week.

In an era of trying to streamline fixtures, the value of the lower divisional finals is questionable. Teams with targets will talk of promotion or avoidance of relegation then Championship. League titles wouldn’t come into it.

The League finals, particularly in the lower divisions, are of minimal value and, certainly for Armagh and Fermanagh, there will be much shadow boxing this weekend, with both trying to look as if it means something, yet not giving anything away either ahead of their first round Ulster Championship clash.

Both have secured what they wanted from Division Three and the bottom line is the final doesn’t really matter. Same applies for Cavan and Roscommon in Division Two and for Laois and Carlow in Division four.

A run-out at Croke Park is always a welcome bonus for any player and team, but a win will simply be the icing on the cake for the winners.

I’d imagine if you asked all of them in a take it or risk it scenario, they would rather take what they have now with all the momentum that promotion gives them rather than risk it on a League final which doesn’t matter a huge amount yet could lose them some of that precious momentum and feel-good buzz.

The Division One final is the most enticing game of the weekend, yet Galway, in particular, are caught in a difficult position.

As a team coming up from Division Two, they would have wanted to solidify the progress they have made over the past three seasons under Kevin Walsh. To do so necessitated targeting the League with a significant push in early-season training and approaching the early rounds with very steely focus to show, as much to themselves, that they are fit for this level.

Suffice to say they have perhaps completely overshot their own targets at the start of the League by finishing top of the pile in the group stage.

Even prior to the League final this weekend, eyes are already starting to look ahead to the big first round Championship clash between themselves and Mayo.

The now well-worn cliché of ‘you can never write them off’ got another run-out last weekend regarding Mayo’s sheer ability to do what was needed against Donegal.

A perfect reminder to all, and particularly Galway, that this Mayo team, no matter about the miles on the clock, loves rising to a challenge, particularly when written off.

For Galway then, the rising tide of optimism/hype brings with it some dangers.

A strong performance, or even win, against Dublin in Croke Park would bring huge attention upon them while throwing a bit of fertiliser on Mayo’s long grass. Mayo would be rubbing their hands at such a scenario. On the flip side, equally at risk when playing this Dublin side, is sustaining a morale-damaging hammering.

Dublin, with a draw and a loss in their last two outings, will very likely be wishing to put out a strong message.

The aura the Dubs have created around themselves at this stage is a big factor in big matches.

It has been built on years of consistently excellent performances that have served to kill the confidence of opponents. Put up a good fight then submit to the inevitable defeat is the subliminal message Dublin wants to send teams.

A further loss for Jim Gavin’s men or a struggling performance this weekend and the chasing pack will begin to grow in confidence. In saying all of this, it is worth noting how much things have changed in terms of team standings over the several

weeks of the Allianz Football League.

Given, our new competition structures, we are still realistically three months from the critical phase of the summer which will be the mini-leagues of the Super 8s.

This weekend then represents the tame final stage of a great competition which, come summer, won’t matter a jot.

Our competitions structure at present is definitely a strange one.

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