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Teams who struggle in the League rarely do well in the Championship.
TODAY I don my teacher’s hat and hand out my mid-term reports.
Form in the first five rounds of the Allianz League is the football equivalent of the mock exams at school.
From 35 years’ experience in the education system I can write with conviction that students who did well in their mocks also did well in the real exams, whereas those who flunked the mocks did likewise in the Junior and Leaving Certificates.
And football isn’t much different. Teams who struggle in the League rarely do well in the Championship.
The ridiculously tight schedule this season means many counties will not have enough time to turnaround their form anyway. Remember the Championship is starting in less than three weeks’ time
Mayo, Roscommon, Armagh as well as Sligo, Leitrim and Laois play four key games (if they reach League finals) in the next four weeks.
So, unless they know their best team and are hitting form now they are in deep trouble.
Remarkably, Mayo are the only team safe – and they are also on the brink of reaching a second successive Division 1 final.
Given their experience against Kerry in last year’s decider and the fact they face Roscommon in the Connacht quarter-final seven days after the League final, one wonders how committed they will be in their last two games.
I have a sneaking feeling the counties who are safe will treat next Sunday’s final round of matches as training exercises
Despite my doubts Mayo ought to win the title, with Donegal and Monaghan being relegated.
Mayo: Definitely got a bounce from the new management team. I like how they vary their play now. They tick a lot of boxes, but we have been here before.
Roscommon: Ben O’Carroll has been one of the finds of the spring. But after losing three in a row after their defeat to Kerry in Austin Stack Park last night they will be fighting for survival against Donegal next Sunday.
Galway:Despite the absence of Shane Walsh and Damien Comer for much of the campaign they could still feature in the League final. Best defensive record in the division, the growing maturity of Matthew Tierney is a big plus.
Armagh:My worry is that they haven’t got the balance right between defence and attack, and the forward section needs to be strengthened.
Kerry: Opponents have sussed out what made them tick in 2022. So, they’re targeting sweeper Tadgh Morley, man-marking the Cliffords and Seanie O’Shea, and exploiting the Kingdom’s vulnerability at midfield. One of the few teams who have time to sort out some of their issues.
Tyrone:The GAA’s version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Excellent in the second half against Kerry, but abysmal against Mayo and collapsed late on against Roscommon – conceding a whopping 7-21 in the two games. No depth in their squad.
Monaghan:Though they beat Donegal and Roscommon, I fear their days in the top-flight are numbered. Surprisingly they have the worst defensive record in the division and still have to play Tyrone and Mayo.
Donegal: Since their first-round win over a depleted Kerry they have secured one League point. This is a team is decline, with no leadership and no new game plan. They are the lowest scorers in Division 1, averaging less than 0-12 per game and have scored only one goal.
Easy to predict: Derry and Dublin will be promoted, with Limerick and Clare being relegated.
Derry:The star students. The only team of the top 16 counties with a 100 per cent record. They have the best scoring difference (+41) and the meanest defence in the division, conceding an average of just over 0-9 per game. Down the road their lack of depth up front will be an issue.
Dublin:They’re the equivalent of the lazy student who has buckets of brains, but does just enough to pass exams. Will secure promotion back to the top flight without breaking sweat. No way am I writing them off, though, because they have enough time to get their act together.
Cork: Even though they lost to Meath (naïve defensive tactics) and to Dublin (failure to convert chances) – for me, they’re a team going places. Their 13-goal tally is the highest in the competition and in their wins over Clare, Limerick and Kildare, they hit an impressive 11-42.
Louth:Mickey Harte has demonstrated why he is a genius manager by guiding Louth to almost certain safety in Division 2, and probable qualification for the Sam Maguire Cup.
Meath:Won their first two games but it was a case of flattering to deceive, as they have been found out since. Innocent and naïve at times, their attempts at breaking down Derry’s blanket defence was pitiful.
Kildare: Though they have been mostly atrocious, their win over Clare will probably save them from the Tailteann Cup, assuming they beat Limerick today. Only team not to score a goal in the competition.
Clare:I expected so much more from them. Squandering six-point leads against Kildare and Dublin was unforgivable. Their second-half collapse against Cork (2-7 to 0-4) leaves them facing the drop.
Limerick:Mathematically they could survive, but I don’t see it happening, despite ditching manager Ray Dempsey. Their stats are damming: 11 goals conceded and the second-worst defensive record.
Longford and Tipperary face relegation while Cavan will be playing in Division 2 next season. The other promotion spot is between Down, Fermanagh and Westmeath with the latter favourites due to their superior scoring difference.
Cavan:Excellent season until they were caught napping yesterday by Antrim. Still look certainties for promotion..
Fermanagh:They achieved one-point wins over Antrim and Down, which is a good sign of character. But may fall short in the promotion race
Westmeath:Being guaranteed a place in the Sam Maguire might explain their inconsistent form. Lost to Down and Cavan, but in their three wins they scored a whopping 10-55 and conceded no goals.
Down:They are coming from a from a low base, but Conor Laverty has steadied the ship. Players are returning and so are the fans, but poor scoring difference could prove costly.
Offaly:Football is irrelevant in the wake of the untimely death of their manager Liam Kearns. May he rest in peace. He had achieved his primary objective by keeping his team in Division 3.
Antrim: New manager Andy McEntee failed to get any bounce until yesterday when they brought an end to Cavan’s 100 per cent record.
Tipperary: Depleted by injuries and absentees, they have had a miserable campaign up to this point. In three of their four losses the margin of defeat was 12, nine and eight points.
Longford: Longford endured 19- and 11-point defeats, and have only one goal. Will have to beat Antrim in their last game to stay up.
Laois are certainties to be promoted with Sligo likely to join them, but Wicklow and Leitrim will benefit if the front runners falter in the run-in.
Laois:Don’t belong in this division and, despite a wobble against Wicklow, look like they will be promoted. Have a decent forward line, though lack of pace will militate against them later.
Sligo: After a disastrous first-round performance against Laois they now have momentum, courtesy of four wins on the spin. Have the best defensive record in the division, but have scored only one goal from open play.
Wicklow:Dropped three points in their opening two games but bounced back – and after wins over Laois and Leitrim are in the hunt. Draw against Wexford last night could be costly for their promotion hopes.
Leitrim:The highest scorers in the division (103 points), but away defeats to Wexford and Wicklow have probably scuppered their promotion ambitions.
Wexford: They had an excellent win over Leitrim, but I expected more under new boss John Hegarty. Draw against Wicklow last night will boost morale.
Carlow:No more than Wexford, I expected more from them.
London:Defensively well organised but lack a scoring threat, which explains why they were the second-lowest scorers in the division.
Waterford:Secured their first win in 665 days with victory over London last night. Their average losing margin is more than nine points and they have suffered two double-digit losses – Leitrim (16) and Laois (11).