GAA Division One National Football League: Preview, Fixtures & Betting advice.
This year looks the most open National football league ever, with four sides reaching the semi finals, two sides relegated, only 5th and 6th spots make for a mid-table campaign. We could have the situation where a loss or win on the final day is the difference between relegation to Division Two or a chance of winning the first major silverware of the GAA season. Yes I’ve ignored the McKenna Cup, O’Byrne Cup, McGrath Cup and FBD when talking major silverware but can we ignore the pre season form of the big eight sides when trying to determine the likeliest winner?
We are entering last chance saloon for Conor Counihan. Most GAA pundits expected him to stand down after tactically getting out thought and outclassed by Donegal in the Semi Final but the county board have given him another bite of the cherry here to gain the silverware the quality of this side would expect to win.
Winners of the last 3 National football leagues show this side is one of the best sides of the 21st century but one All Ireland for Cork supporters must feel like an underachievement on this biggest stage of all. One is better than none but one is also the amount of gears that Cork seem to possess. Its a bloody good gear but any opponent comes sidling up alongside Cork at the same speed, Cork bottle it. The will reach the Munster football final this season through a route of Limerick and Clare so they’ll give the league their full attention at this time of year. They are the standard bearer to beat in this competition and another final looks on the card.
Donegal under Jim McGuinness have never given the McKenna cup much respect with 2 wins in 9 games. This season, he has given his u21 team a chance to shine but that sank badly with heavy defeats to Fermanagh and Monaghan followed by a slender one point victory over St Marys. Have the wheels come off? Will the party boys of Donegal emerge again after winning the biggest prize last season?
It will take time to see whether the hunger will remain this season but one common misconception of Donegal GAA is they won the big one in 92 and went missing for the next 20 years. Truth is Donegal in 1993 went to the league final and to the Ulster final where they lost to eventual All Ireland champions Derry. This season, the noises coming out are all about Tyrone in May. Karl Lacey will miss the league campaign and it’s hard to see Donegal getting into full gear straight from the Kildare match. They should win 3 games against Down, Kerry & Dublin and just avoid relegation again. Jimmy will probably need to help Neil Lennon win the Champions League in May before concentrating on his 3rd Ulster title. The real worry is how he’s going to find the time in September 2014 to win the Ryder Cup with Paul McGinley and plot winning Donegals 3rd All Ireland title.
Jim McGuinness might not be the most talked about GAA manager this season in the media as the Jim Gavin story develops. It’s been flagged that the discipline within the Dublin camp will be army like but the iron fist approach could unravel very quickly.. Just because Bernard Brogan and co are tucked up in their jimmy jams at 9pm on a Saturday night doesn’t mean Dublin will party again in September.
Last season it was levelled at the Dubs that the appetite had gone and their famous early morning sessions just wasn’t enough to push them to back to back titles. Although they deservedly slumped to Mayo, in the end, they were not far away and Gavin doesn’t need to employ wholesale changes. Ciaran Kilkenny coming home for Oz is a huge plus but like England’s next great hope in soccer, time will tell whether he’s as good as the Dublin media hype machine says he is.
Rory Gallagher wrote Donegal’s theme song and Paul Johnson’s Down Down could be Down’s. The Mourne men have been in the descent since 2010’s All Ireland final appearance but you simply cannot replace players of Marty Clarkes talent easily.
Benny Coulter made a herculean recovery from a broken leg to take part in last season’s championship but two heavy defeats to Donegal and Mayo have people writing off Down. I wouldn’t be one of those, Donegal and Mayo were the best two teams in the country lasts season and Down are still a deserved top eight side that can beat any of the others on their day but without the services of Rogers, Hughes and Gordon, they’ll struggle to survive this season . James McCartan has highlighted height up front as an area of weakness so he better uncover a lanky gem quick or it will certainly be Down down.
Kerry has a new manager in Eamonn Fitzmaurice but it will take time to learn whether he will usher in a new dawn in Kerry football. The simple fact is Kerry is not replacing their ageing stars. Emigration is also a major problem; those fringe players that would have pushed the 1st team for places are choosing a life abroad so the first team players haven’t that top quality competition to push them further. This could be argued should happen to all peripheral counties in Ireland during the recession but Kerry seem to be the worst off with player emigration figures.
Underage, Kerry have not lived with Cork and even Tipperary in recent years and were lucky with the permutations to even end up in an All Ireland minor semi final. Kerry, like the Germans in football, must never be written off but if they lost to Cork in Munster, I wouldn’t fancy them against the other potential provincial winners Mayo, Donegal or Dublin. The National league should see 3 wins and 4 loses recorded for Fitzmaurice’s men
Last season Kildare brought home the bacon in the shape of a Division Two title but the championship was McGeeneys worst season in charge. A Leinster title is the Holy Grail for Kildare people and although they made the All Ireland semis in 2010 and had that epic encounter v Donegal in 2011, it is hard to see them as contenders this season.
Kildare have had to relinquish home field advantage against Donegal in the first match at Newbridge as it has been deemed not up to merchantable quality and a loss to Donegal first up, and I cannot see where the other wins will come from to stay in division one. James Kavanagh will be missed but the truth is Kildare are the proverbial flat track bully against the weaker counties but just don’t have the fire power up front to deal with the big guns here. This little piggy is going all the way home.
Last year’s beaten finalists in both the All Ireland and national league; Mayo fans have tried to keep a lid on expectations. During the run up to the All Ireland, while Donegal fans were in a state of pandemonium Mayo supporters hurt from 04 and 06 tried to keep it low key, they did not make an eejit of themselves with big predictions of lifting the big one. They were second best in September but they have the talent in that team to go one better in September.
James Horan seems keen to create that siege mentality in the dressing room picking fights with RTE and Joe Brolly. The fact is Joe was right and Mayo shouldn’t be ashamed of that. Mayo has picked up all that cynicism and guile that separated Kerry and the great northern teams from Mayo in the big matches. Mayo were a match physically for Donegal in last year’s final;check out the early hits on McHugh and Lacey. It cannot be argued they had a soft route to the final but they are genuinely a top 5 side that can beat any of the other 4 on their day. Andy Moran is scheduled to come back at the tail of the league in April but his league involvement will be about blowing off the cobwebs in time for the clash with rivals Galway. 4 matches at Home and they should look to win all 4 against Kerry, Tyrone, Donegal and Kildare
Mickey Harte’s side have shown good performances again in the McKenna Cup and the theory that Harte can get his team to peak in May in the Ulster championship while going through the motions in the league doesn’t hold water with me. They have been a team in transition these last few seasons and of course Mickey has had to deal with his own personal trauma but they look ready to make the step back up to the big table.
Tyrone have bedded in their new players while still keeping old guards like captain Stephen O Neill and now Sean Kavanagh back in midfield. McGuigan will be hard to replace but I think Tyrone will be coming good this season and will hit the ground running by winning their first league title in 10 years (also the year they won their first All Ireland) and 12/1 is a stonking good value bet.
ALLIANZ NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2 (7.0 unless stated)
Div 1: Dublin v Cork.
Div 2: Laois v Armagh.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 3 (2.0 unless stated)
Div 1: Kildare v Donegal, Down v Tyrone, Mayo v Kerry.
Div 2: Galway v Derry, Wexford v Longford, Westmeath v Louth.
Div 3: Antrim v Cavan, Monaghan v Meath, Wicklow v Fermanagh, Roscommon v Sligo.
Div 4: London v Offaly, Clare v Waterford, Limerick v Leitrim, Tipperary v Carlow.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 9 (7.0 unless stated).
Div 1: Cork v Kildare, Kerry v Dublin.
Div 3: Cavan v Monaghan, Fermanagh v Roscommon.
Div 4: Waterford v Tipperary.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 10 (2.0 unless stated)
Div 1: Mayo v Tyrone, Donegal v Down.
Div 2: Longford v Westmeath, Armagh v Wexford, Derry v Laois, Louth v Galway.
Div 3: Sligo v Antrim, Wicklow v Meath.
Div 4: Leitrim v Clare, Carlow v London, Offaly v Limerick.
SATURDAY, MARCH 2 (7.0 unless stated)
Div 1: Dublin v Mayo.
Div 2: Armagh v Longford, Laois v Louth.
Div 3: Meath v Cavan, Antrim v Fermanagh.
Div 4: Waterford v Limerick.
SUNDAY, MARCH 3
(2.0 unless stated)
Div 1: Tyrone v Donegal, Kildare v Kerry, Down v Cork.
Div 2: Wexford v Derry, Galway v Westmeath.
Div 3: Roscommon v Wicklow, Monaghan v Sligo.
Div 4: Offaly v Clare, Carlow v Leitrim, Tipperary v London.
SATURDAY, MARCH 9 (7.0 unless stated).
Div 1: Down v Mayo.
Div 2: Derry v Armagh.
Div 3: Fermanagh v Monaghan.
SUNDAY, MARCH 10 (2.0 unless stated).
Div 1: Donegal v Kerry, Kildare v Dublin, Tyrone v Cork (2.30).
Div 2: Longford v Galway, Louth v Wexford (2.30), Westmeath v Laois (2.30).
Div 3: Sligo v Cavan, Wicklow v Antrim (2.30), Roscommon v Meath (2.30).
Div 4: Clare v Tipperary (1.0), Limerick v Carlow (1.0), London v Waterford, Leitrim v Offaly (2.30).
SATURDAY, MARCH 16 (7.0 unless stated)
Div 1: Mayo v Kildare, Cork v Donegal, Dublin v Tyrone, Kerry v Down.
Div 2: Derry v Longford, Armagh v Louth, Laois v Galway.
Div 3: Monaghan v Wicklow (2.0), Antrim v Roscommon, Cavan v Fermanagh, Meath v Sligo.
Div 4: Leitrim v Waterford (2.0), Clare v London (2.0), Offaly v Carlow (2.0), Limerick v Tipperary.
MONDAY, MARCH 18 (2.0 unless stated).
Div 2: Wexford v Westmeath.
SUNDAY, MARCH 24
Div 1: Dublin v Down, Kerry v Cork, Mayo v Donegal (2.30), Kildare v Tyrone (2.30).
Div 2: Galway v Wexford (1.0), Louth v Derry, Westmeath v Armagh, Longford v Laois (2.30).
Div 3: Antrim v Meath, Fermanagh v Sligo, Wicklow v Cavan (2.30), Roscommon v Monaghan (2.30).
Div 4: Waterford v Offaly (1.0), London v Limerick, Tipperary v Leitrim, Carlow v Clare (2.30).
SUNDAY, APRIL 7 (3.0 unless stated).
Div 1: Down v Kildare, Cork v Mayo, Tyrone v Kerry, Donegal v Dublin.
Div 2: Derry v Westmeath, Louth v Longford, Wexford v Laois, Armagh v Galway.
Div 3: Monaghan v Antrim, Sligo v Wicklow, Meath v Fermanagh, Cavan v Roscommon.
Div 4: Leitrim v London, Clare v Limerick, Carlow v Waterford, Offaly v Tipperary.