Two rounds into the National Football League is the time when fans and managers alike must reassess their early season goals and reflect on whether they were being realistic or optimistic. Two wins and you’re looking up – lofty notions of promotion and national titles. Two defeats and it’s time for looking over your shoulder – checking who your new relegation rival’s next few fixtures are against and wondering where the points are going to come from.
In this week’s Winners & Losers column, we pointed out that Division 2 is without doubt the most exciting and hard to call division in either code of the Allianz Leagues. So we’re going to delve a bit deeper and predict the madness that is about to ensue in the next couple of months.
Meath have started their league campaign brightly, following up a battling display away to Roscommon with a strong scoring performance against Clare in Navan. The draw has been reasonably kind to them too with home ties against Cork and Down, and away trips to Tipperary and struggling neighbours, Louth.
This Saturday’s trip to Breffni Park will be crucial, and a win there will put them in good shape for a long coveted promotion back to Division 1. However, Meath have been in this position before, a number of times in the last few years and they have failed to finish the job.
The Breffni county have had the blues over the winter break with a number of defections from the panel, forcing Mattie McGleenan to name 10 debutants against Clare in their opening fixture.
They were seven points in arrears in that game but fought back bravely to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat. That will have pleased the manager. Last weekend they showed their potential scoring prowess, scoring 3-17 against Louth. Key players McKiernan and Mackey were sprung from the bench in that game and Cavan fans will be hoping they will be fit to start the next day, away to Cork.
The Connacht champions have blown hot and cold so far this season. They looked home and hosed against Meath midway through the second half of their first fixture but somehow found themselves three points behind approaching the final whistle.
It took a penalty right at the death from Donie Smith to rescue a point that day and the Rossies were at it again on Sunday – they scored 1-5 without reply in the final four minutes to register a two point victory over Tipperary. The cream always rises to the top and if they can find some consistency in their performances, Roscommon look a safe bet for promotion.
Tipperary are perhaps the most enjoyable team to watch in Division 2. They possess an embarrassment of attacking riches in Mikey Quinlivan, Conor Sweeney and Liam McGrath and they are a side that play with panache and verve. This makes it all the more baffling that they do not enjoy the support their hurling counterparts do in the Premier County – Liam Kearns has even said that he prefers playing away from home!
It is in Semple Stadium that Tipperary must deliver however, if they are to challenge for promotion; their home tie against Meath in round four already looking crucial. With tricky away fixtures to Down and Cavan to come later, this flamboyant Tipp side may just lack the steel and grit needed to get out of a tricky division.
Cork are another side in this division who have suffered with player absentees. With experienced stalwarts like Michael Shields and Eoin Cadogan no longer available, Seán Powter ruled out until the summer and shorn of their Nemo Rangers players until at least the end of the month, manager Ronan McCarthy can feel hard-done-by.
The Rebels showed frailties of old in their opening encounter against Tipperary at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, surrendering the lead and succumbing to a six point defeat. Their fans will have been encouraged by their response against Down and with the performances of Mark Collins (1-5) and Colm O’Neill (0-5) but the truth is, their opponents made it very easy for them. The bookies favourites to go up before a ball was kicked, they could struggle to mount a serious promotion push this year.
Down finished third in Division 1 in 2012 but since those heady days they have shown inconsistent league form, narrowly avoiding relegation to the third tier in injury time of their final game last season.
Already this year, inconsistency has reared its head for the Mournemen– a solid performance in Drogheda on the opening day was followed by an inept second half display against the Rebels in Newry leading to a comfortable victory for a Cork side low on confidence.
Eamonn Burns appears to have added quality to his squad over the winter in the shape of Aaron Morgan and Conor Poland and with experienced stars Kevin McKernan, Donal O’Hare and Ryan Johnston approaching full fitness, Down will look to upset the odds and surprise a few teams this spring.
The Banner County are facing a battle to retain their Division 2 status. They spurned a good lead at home to Cavan in round one and suffered a chastening, confidence-sapping hammering in Navan last Sunday.
Next up for Colm Collins’ men is a home tie against familiar opposition, Tipperary, and they must get something from this game to give themselves a fighting chance. If they can do that, they can travel to Newry with confidence in round four, otherwise it could be a disappointing campaign for Clare fans heading into the Munster Championship.
There are no two ways about it, Louth are staring down the barrel of a relegation dogfight. Pete McGrath would have targeted getting some crucial points on the board in his opening two fixtures – home to his native Down and away to Cavan.
With nothing to show from these games however, it is difficult to see the Wee County picking up victories on the road to the likes of Cork and Tipperary or even at home to Roscommon and Meath. Conor Grimes has returned to the fold and with Ryan Burns close to full fitness, Louth fans will be hoping McGrath can work his magic and consolidate their Division 2 status against the odds.