GAA Football

Allianz Football League preview: Limerick could be surprise Division Four packets

Matthew Fitzpatrick is among the handful of Antrim players to have left since last year, making their bid for promotion much more difficult. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

Carlow
Manager:
Turlough O’Brien
Last year: 7th in Div 3
Fixtures: Wicklow (H), Wexford (A), Limerick (H), Antrim (A), Waterford (A), Sligo (H), London (A)
HAVING been on the up and up under Turlough O’Brien, last year proved to be something of a plateau for Carlow. They would definitely consider themselves unfortunate to have dropped back out of Division Three after a series of tight games, but their championship campaign also seemed like a small step backwards. They did play most of the year without Paul Broderick through injury, and keeping him fit is essential if they’re to go back up. They’ve beaten Armagh and run Cavan in challenge games, and having lost just Conor Lawlor from the panel, they’re well placed to utilise their new-found confidence.
Prediction: 1st

Limerick
Manager:
Billy Lee
Last year: 7th in Div 4
Fixtures: Waterford (A), London (H), Carlow (A), Wicklow (H), Antrim (A), Wexford (H), Sligo (A)
THERE may just be something brewing in Limerick. It’s been a tough few years down below as they’ve sunken deeper into the abyss. But after winning just two games in last spring’s league, they hit Tipperary with a brilliant display to earn a shock championship win. They didn’t quite back it up against Cork but with Billy Lee staying in charge for a fourth year, and with no major overhaul to their playing panel, they hit the ground running by winning the McGrath Cup. They have four home games but are away to Carlow, Antrim and Sligo, which may be the spanner in the works.
Prediction: 2nd

Wexford
Manager:
Paul Galvin
Last season: 5th in Div 4
Fixtures: Antrim (A), Carlow (H), Waterford (A), London (H), Sligo (H), Limerick (A), Wicklow (H)
THEY kept Paul Galvin’s appointment beneath the radar, then they trumpeted it, and now it’s gone a bit quiet again after a bumpy first few months. His decision to drop Daithi Waters, Michael Furlong and Matt Doyle led to Kevin O’Grady and Tiernan Rossiter quitting in solidarity. Selector Matty Forde also left due to ‘work commitments’. They’ll be judged on their league campaign and after a few years of endless woe, things can’t get much worse. They lost all three O’Byrne Cup games to Westmeath, Offaly and Laois. Facing Antrim and Carlow in their first two games will tell the tale.
Prediction: 3rd

Antrim
Manager:
Lenny Harbison
Last season: 3rd in Div 4
Fixtures: Wexford (H), Sligo (A), London (A), Carlow (H), Limerick (H), Wicklow (A), Waterford (H)
ONE step forward and two back has long been the frustrating order for Antrim football. The dark nights of winter closing in bring a fear of what might be lost to them by the time the light returns. This year, although they have coaxed back Paddy Cunningham and Tomás McCann, they have lost key forwards Ryan Murray, Matthew Fitzpatrick, midfielder Stephen Beatty, defender Patrick McCormick and goalkeeper Padraig Nugent. They’re never a million miles off the top of Division Four but those men are the difference between going up and staying down. A good fixture list may aid them.
Prediction: 4th

Sligo
Manager:
Paul Taylor
Last season: 8th in Div 3
Fixtures: London (A), Antrim (H), Wicklow (A), Waterford (H), Wexford (A), Carlow (A), Limerick (H)
AS years go, they don’t get much more horrendous than Sligo’s 2019. Their FBD League loss to Roscommon three weeks ago brought their losing streak to 13 games, with the county having failed to win a game since beating London in May 2018. Paul Taylor isn’t aided by Niall Murphy’s decision to opt out. Their captain, and a player who was in Ireland’s International Rules squad in 2017, will be a huge miss, as will the steady and versatile Adrian McIntyre. Their playing resources have been drained over the last 18 months and they will do well to arrest the slide.
Prediction: 5th

Wicklow
Manager:
Davy Burke
Last season: 6th in Div 4
Fixtures: Carlow (A), Waterford (H), Sligo (H), Limerick (A), London (H), Antrim (H), Wexford (A)
WITH the curtain having fallen on John Evans’ tenure, Wicklow have taken a stab in appointing inter-county football’s youngest manager, 31-year-old Davy Burke. He led Kildare U20s to Leinster and All-Ireland titles in 2018, headlining a CV that suggests they’re getting one of the game’s bright young minds. He will be without Conor McGraynor, Theo Smyth, Patrick O’Connor and Anthony McLaughlin from last year’s squad. They have a tough fixture list and starting away to Carlow when facing a few injuries, but expect them to be very competitive this spring.
Prediction: 6th

Waterford
Manager: Benji Whelan
Last season: 4th in Div 4
Fixtures: Limerick (H), Wicklow (A), Wexford (H), Sligo (A), Carlow (H), London (H), Antrim (A)
WATERFORD did appear to be making a bit of headway under Benji Whelan, finishing a respectable fourth in last year’s league and putting Clare through their paces in summer, but perhaps the nature of their 18-point qualifier loss to Westmeath did the damage. Either way, they’ve lost a host of men for this year. Tadhg Ó hUallacháin, Shane Aherne, Tommy Prendergast, Shane Ryan, Jack Mullaney and JJ Hutchinson have all opted out. It leaves them fighting an uphill battle. That they have Limerick, Wexford and Carlow all at home probably doesn’t help them a pile, meaning their more winnable games are away.
Prediction: 7th

London
Manager: Michael Maher
Last season: 8th in Div 4
Fixtures: Sligo (H), Limerick (A), Antrim (H), Wexford (A), Wicklow (H), Waterford (H), Carlow (A)
HAVING achieved a highest ever league finish in 2018 under Ciaran Deely, last year was a struggle and the QPR sports scientist is now departed, replaced by the first ever London-born manager of the county team, Michael Maher. He will be joined by former Mayo coach Martin McGrath, and comes off a grounding of soccer management and success with South London Féile na nÓg teams, with whom he won six All-Ireland titles. London squads are always hard to predict but among those they may try to recruit is former Tyrone former Raymond Mulgrew and Down goalkeeper Shane Harrison, both of whom are in the English capital.
Prediction: 8th

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