GAA Football

State of the nation: How the football counties rate from 13 to 32

In the first of a two-part series ranking all 32 of Ireland's footballing counties, Andy Waters assesses the performances of those for whom 2019 could have gone better to varying degrees

Down captain Darren O'Hagan, centre, and team-mates celebrate following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Qualifier against Tipperary at Pairc Esler
Andy Watters

13 Clare

DAVID Tubridy’s remarkable last minute goal (from a sideline ball) against Armagh proved to be worth its weight in gold because it kept the Bannermen (who also registered wins over Munster rivals Cork and Tipperary) in Division Two by the skin of their teeth.

Moving on, Clare began the Championship with another unconvincing performance against Waterford (a one-point win) and bowed out in the semi-final against eventual Munster champions and later All-Ireland finalists Kerry.

Colm Collins’s men gathered momentum through the Qualifiers, beating Leitrim and then Westmeath to progress to the verge of the Super 8 stage. They took on Meath in a fast and furious encounter and pushed the Royals all the way but poor shooting and a season of promise came to an end.

 

14 Kildare

LOTS of potential but not many eye-catching results, Kildare were never in relegation trouble in Division Two but their poor performance in the last game against Donegal was an indication that the side that had lost its way.

Cian O’Neill’s Lilywhites recaptured flashes of the form that had enabled them make the Super 8s in 2018 with wins against Wicklow and Longford (after a replay) in Leinster but they were no match for Dublin in the semi-final.

They had too much for Antrim in Belfast in their first Qualifier but a “workmanlike” performance from Tyrone was enough to end their season in round three.

Former Kerry manager Jack O’Connor replaced O’Neill at the end of the season and he will hope to get more out of a talented group.

 

15 Fermanagh

THE heights of 2018 – an Ulster final appearance and promotion from Division Three – were always going to be difficult to replicate.

Year two of Rory Gallagher’s reign began impressively and Fermanagh were right in the hunt for promotion after five games (three wins and two draws) until their form fell away in the closing stages of the Division Two campaign.

The League run had included a win over Donegal (previously managed by Gallagher) but the Tir Chonaill county avenged it in the Ulster Championship and Fermanagh managed just seven scores (1-6) as they bowed out of the Championship against Monaghan in round one of the Qualifiers.

That game proved to be Gallagher’s last as manager of his native county. He has moved on to Derry and has been replaced by former assistant-manager Ryan McMenamin who will have Joe McMahon and Paul McIver in an experienced backroom team.

 

16 Laois

THE O’MOORE men are on the rise again. Last year’s Division Four champions completed back-to-back promotions by pipping Down (by a single point on scoring difference) in Division Three this year.

They backed that up by beating Westmeath in Leinster and, although they bowed out of the provincial series against Meath, they made real progress in the Qualifiers.

Beating Derry at Owenbeg was a statement of intent and John Sugrue’s men followed that up by accounting for Offaly before Cork ended their run in round four. Sugrue stepped down at the end of two productive seasons and former Kerry midfielder Mike Quirke has been tipped to take over.

 

17 Westmeath

CROWNED Division Three champions after a campaign that had seen them pick up five points from four away games, Westmeath are a competitive, well-organised outfit under Jack Cooney.

Like many other counties in Dublin-dominated Leinster, the midlanders’ best hope for Championship progress was in the Qualifiers and they picked up wins against Waterford and then Limerick but reached the end of the road against Clare when David Tubridy’s opportunist goal from a wayward kick-out resulted in a one-point win for the Bannermen.

 

18 Down

DOWN began the League minus a number of injured players but they recovered from losing their opener to Laois by winning five games on-the-trot and developing a handy knack of turning tight affairs into victories in the process. A one-point success in a tempestuous affair against Carlow in the sixth round of games brought them to the brink of promotion to Division Two with a home game against Louth in their final fixture.

However, the Wee County turned the tables on Paddy Tally’s Mournemen in Newry and came away with a one-point win to deny Down promotion on scoring difference - one more point over their seven games would have been enough to send the Ulstermen up.

In the Ulster Championship, Down were drawn against old rivals Armagh who arrived in Newry as favourites. Caolan Mooney’s first half red card left Down in dire trouble and the Orchardmen looked to have done enough to win the game before a late rally from the home side forced extra-time.

Down surged into a three-point lead in the additional 20 minutes but Andrew Murnin’s fisted goal swung the game Armagh’s way and Kieran McGeeney’s men progressed with a 2-17 to 3-13 victory.

In the Qualifiers, Down accounted for Tipperary at Pairc Esler and then welcomed Mayo to Newry for a round two clash. Once again, the Mournemen gave a decent account of themselves but Mayo’s extra levels of experience and quality saw them to clinch a five-point win.

 

19 Offaly

BEATING Sligo in the final round of fixtures preserved the Faithful County’s Division Three status at the expense of Carlow but Offaly came a cropper against in-form Meath in a Leinster preliminary round clash at Navan.

The Royals were four points behind with 15 minutes to go but hung in there to sink John Maughan’s men by two at the finish.

In the Qualifiers, Offaly took out London by 10 points in Tullamore and Sligo by 11 to set up a midlands derby with Laois. After a slow start, goalkeeper Paddy Dunican inspired his team-mates with a point-blank save from a Colm Murphy shot and it was level at the break. But the O’Moore men kicked on in the final quarter of the game to progress to round four.

 

20 Derry

RORY Gallagher has replaced Damian McErlain for next season and, on the evidence of 2019, the former Donegal and Fermanagh manager has talent to work with.

McErlain’s second season saw the Oak Leafers – driven on by the prolific Shane McGuigan - force their way out of Division Four and win the final against Leitrim. That was the least Derry fans would have expected but McErlain’s outfit built on that relative success with an encouraging display against red-hot favourites Tyrone in their Ulster opener.

Tyrone wriggled off the hook with a late rally but Derry approached the Qualifiers with optimism. In round one they recorded a 4-16 to 0-10 over Wexford and were then drawn at home against Laois. Hopes were high but the O’Moore men dashed them with a four-point win.

 

21 Longford

WITH former player Pauric Davis at the helm, the midlanders began Division Three by taking five points from their first three games. Back-to-back defeats after that bright start ended any talk of promotion and Longford began their Leinster campaign against Kildare.

Looking evenly-matched, the sides drew their first meeting but the Lilywhites kicked on to win the replay comfortably and send Longford into the Qualifiers.

A 10-point win over Carlow saw them progress to a round two clash with Tyrone and Cathal McShane’s first half brace allowed the Red Hands to emerge with a comfortable win.

 

22 Tipperary

AFTER some splendid seasons, the Tipp footballers went backwards. Manager Liam Kearns stepped down at the end of a poor 2019 during which Tipp were relegated to Division Three and failed to score a Championship win.

Hampered by injuries and the loss of key players, Tipp managed only one win in Division Two and lost to Division Four outfit Limerick at the Munster quarter-final stage.

The Qualifiers brought no solace for the 2016 All-Ireland finalists. They were drawn away to Down and lost by three points in Newry. David Power is set to take over from Kearns for next season.

 

23 Leitrim

TERRY Hyland’s men ticked an important box by forcing their way out of Division Four in second place behind Derry. Their only loss in that campaign was against the Oak Leafers who also won the Division Four final meeting of the counties by four points.

A Connacht Championship opener against Roscommon was always going to be a ‘big ask’ and the eventual champions had 12 points to spare on the day. Leitrim bounced back to beat Wicklow with Ryan O’Rourke contributing seven points. The defensive frailty that had cost them against the Rossies resurfaced in round two and three more goals for Clare in the Qualifiers meant Leitrim’s race was run.

 

24 Antrim

PROMOTION from Division Four was the first objective and Antrim were competitive but unable to clinch it under Lenny Harbinson. Defeat to Derry (1-9 to 1-10) in the crucial opening League game was a bitter pill to swallow and subsequent losses to Wexford and Leitrim meant a late rally was too little, too late.

After that there was a predictable hammering from Tyrone in Ulster (the ongoing Casement Park debacle meant Antrim’s ‘home’ venue was the Athletic Grounds) but the Saffrons rallied impressively to beat Louth in the Qualifiers thanks to two goals from the admirable Matthew Fitzpatrick. Kildare were too good at Corrigan Park in round two.

 

25 Louth

THREE wins in their first four Division Three games raised hopes of a promotion push. It fizzled out but the Wee County brought that decent form into the Leinster Championship and beat Wexford in the preliminary round. Then they ran into Dublin.

A proverbial cricket score loss – 5-21 to 0-10 – left them dazed and confused for the Qualifiers but they had home advantage against an Antrim side that had also been mauled by a big dog in their provincial series. The Saffrons won against the odds and Wayne Kierans and his men went back to the drawing board.

 

26 Carlow

THERE were wigs on the green at Dr Cullen Park on St Patrick’s weekend as irate Carlow manager Turlough O’Brien lost his cool with referee James Bermingham after a one-point defeat (the game was decided by an injury-time free) against Down. Carlow had worked ferociously hard to gain promotion from Division Four after 33 years the previous season and deserved to get something out of the game but O’Brien was suspended for 20 weeks after the game.

Losing their final fixture to Laois meant the Barrowsiders dropped back to the basement and the rousing form that had seen them take some notable scalps the previous years deserted the side who exited Leinster after losing to Meath and the Qualifiers after a 10-point loss to Longford.

 

27 Sligo

NINE games in League and Championship and nine defeats. That makes for terrible reading for Yeats County supporters and a bitterly disappointing season for the county.

After taking some sizeable beatings on the way to being relegated to Division Four, shellshocked Sligo were hammered 3-11 to 0-7 by Galway in Connacht and then 3-17 to 15 points in the Qualifiers. Paul Taylor has taken over for the 2020 campaign.

 

28 Limerick

THE undoubted highlight of the year for the Treatymen was the 3-11 to 1-10 over Tipperary in Munster that booked them a semi-final spot against Cork.

Second best by some margin in that game and signed off with defeat in the Qualifers against Westmeath. League form was poor and they’ll need a promotion push next year to make progress.

 

29 Waterford

RECOVERED from losing their first three games in Division Four to win three on-the-trot against Antrim, Wexford and London and then pushed Clare all the way in Munster before bowing out of the provincial race on the back of a one-point loss.

A 1-22 to 0-7 hammering against Westmeath in the first round of the Qualifiers was the end of the road for the Decies.

 

30 Wexford

NEW manager Paul Galvin is well known for his trendy ways but victories were not in fashion in Wexford last season.

The Model county struggled in Division Four and were never in the promotion race. Louth were too good for them in the Leinster Championship preliminary round. It was the same story in the Qualifiers and Wexford were among the first fallers when they exited the race after an 18-point loss to Derry. Plenty of work for Galvin, Mattie Forde etc to do.

 

31 Wicklow

FINISHING third-from-bottom in Division Four was a poor platform from which to launch a Championship campaign but the Garden County men did give Kildare a scare in the first round of Leinster after Darren Hayden’s late goal left it anybody’s game.

Kildare survived though and Leitrim repeated their League success with a two-point win over Wicklow in the Qualifiers.

 

32 London

THE Exiles managed just one win – a 2-11 to 1-6 success against Wexford at Ruislip – over a predictably challenging 2019 season. Also got to within two points of Limerick and Wicklow in Division Four and were not embarrassed in their Connacht Championship outing when they finished four points behind Galway.

Bowed out after a 10-point loss to Offaly in Tullamore in the first round of the Qualifiers.

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