GAA Football

Allianz Football League Division Two: Armagh poised for promotion bid

Armagh and Roscommon have both made strides in recent years and will be in the shake-up at the top of Division Two. Picture by Philip Walsh

Kildare

Manager: Jack O’Connor

Last year: 4th in Div 2

Fixtures: Fermanagh (H), Clare (A), Armagh (A), Roscommon (H), Laois (A), Cavan (H), Westmeath (H)

AN All-Ireland U20 success two years ago, Daniel Flynn back from his self-imposed exile and Jack O’Connor heading the outfit – it might be early to say there is a definite sense of upward trajectory about Kildare again, but it’s certainly promising. They had a quiet O’Byrne Cup campaign but O’Connor put that down to their heavy training in between games. They’ve lost full-forward Ben McCormack and fledgling corner-back Mark Dempsey from last year’s championship side but will feel they’ve enough to counteract that. Chris Byrne, Kevin Flynn and Paul Cribbin are all available as well.

Prediction: 1st

Armagh

Manager: Kieran McGeeney

Last year: 5th in Div 2

Fixtures: Cavan (H), Laois (A), Kildare (H), Westmeath (A), Fermanagh (A), Roscommon (H), Clare (A)

NO county’s fans have been quite so well entertained over the past few seasons as Armagh’s. It has taken a while, and they are not close to the finished article yet, but there’s a definite sense that Kieran McGeeney’s imprint is on the current team. Barring Ben Crealey, the retired Charlie Vernon and AFL target Ross McQuillan, they’ve kept everyone about. They were closer to the top end of Division Two last year than their final position suggested. Still struggle against teams that shut up shop against them, but there’s a growing quality throughout their team.

Prediction: 2nd

Roscommon

Manager: Anthony Cunningham

Last year: 7th in Div 1

Fixtures: Laois (H), Fermanagh (A), Clare (H), Kildare (A), Westmeath (H), Armagh (A), Cavan (A)

THE high-profile losses of Murtagh brothers Ciaráin and Diarmuid – rumoured to be transferring to a Dublin club – will be a dent to Roscommon, but in terms of league football, they’re already well versed in not having them around. Losing Conor Cox for a month to a broken bone in his hand is a real dent, although their tougher fixtures appear to be at the end. The Connacht champions took another step forward under Anthony Cunningham last year, proving more competitive in the Super 8s than in 2018. Will be vulnerable early on but have a relatively kind trio of opening fixtures.

Prediction: 3rd

Fermanagh

Manager: Ryan McMenamin

Last year: 3rd in Div 2

Fixtures: Kildare (A), Roscommon (H), Westmeath (A), Cavan (H), Armagh (H), Clare (A), Laois (H)

WITH Ryan McMenamin stepping up and taking the big job after Rory Gallagher’s departure, there will be a fair degree of continuity about a Fermanagh setup that has ignored the brickbats and climbed the ladder. What stamp McMenamin puts on their style of play will be interesting. Sean Quigley’s decision to opt out leaves a hole at full-forward but in Darragh McGurn, they have a young forward who looks capable of stepping up. Lee Cullen and Barry Mulrone are also gone out of the setup along with Eamon McHugh and Ryan Lyons, meaning some of the talented U20s may be in for an early promotion.

Prediction: 5th

Cavan

Manager: Mickey Graham

Last year: 8th in Div 1

Fixtures: Armagh (A), Westmeath (H), Laois (A), Fermanagh (A), Clare (H), Kildare (A), Roscommon (H)

ONE step forward and three back. In reaching their first Ulster final in almost two decades last summer, Cavan hinted that they might finally be getting some reward out of those U21 teams that have long been talked about. But in hammerings suffered at the hands of Tyrone and Donegal, they lost all heart. Now, they’re down almost half their starting team in the space of a few months. Dara McVeety, Conor Moynagh, Michael Argue, Conor Rehill, Killian Clarke and Cian Mackey are all gone. They bounced back from their last relegation by going straight back up against the odds, but that seems very unlikely this time around.

Prediction: 5th

Laois

Manager: Mike Quirke

Last year: 2nd in Div 3

Fixtures: Roscommon (A), Armagh (H), Cavan (H), Clare (A), Kildare (H), Westmeath (A), Fermanagh (A)

PERHAPS the biggest unknowns in the division. They should never have been in Division Four but have won two successive promotions to come back to what is their level. But with John Sugrue stepping down as manager and key men Donal and Paul Kingston and Stephen Attride all opting out, there’s significantly greater pressure now on Mike Quirke. He’s looking to bring through a handful of U20s but will have an experience core. It’s whether they now have enough in attack to keep their heads above water.

Prediction: 6th

Clare

Manager: Colm Collins

Last year: 6th in Div 2

Fixtures: Westmeath (A), Kildare (H), Roscommon (A), Laois (H), Cavan (A), Fermanagh (H), Armagh (H)

EVERYTHING Colm Collins has done with this Clare side has defied pretty much every pre-season prediction made about them. Prior to 2019, they’d improved their final league position for five straight years. And when it came down to the quick last spring, they won the big derby with Tipperary to stay up. Championship headway has been a bit trickier but this is their biggest challenge now. Gary Brennan is one of the best footballers in Ireland and will be a colossal loss to them. Jamie Malone was an Allstar nominee last summer and is gone too. That’s the difference in staying up and going down, sadly.

Prediction: 7th

Westmeath

Manager: Jack Cooney

Last year: 1st in Div 3

Fixtures: Clare (H), Cavan (A), Fermanagh (H), Armagh (H), Roscommon (A), Laois (H), Kildare (A)

THE ultimate yo-yo team, Westmeath have been bouncing from Division One through Four since the new National League structure was brought in. In the last 12 seasons, they’ve been promoted five times and relegated five times. It seems likely that they’ll be involved in a battle at the bottom end again this time. Their top scorer Ger Egan is out long term with the bad knee injury he suffered against Clare last summer, while Kieran Martin is also struggling with a foot injury. The return of John Heslin on a full-time basis will be a significant boost. Jack Cooney has had a very settled team and with four home games, they’ll be confident of staying up.

Prediction: 8th

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