We’re three weeks into the 2018 Allianz Football League, and already there has been excitement aplenty. The leagues are believed by many a GAA follower to be the most entertaining time of the year for watching football, despite the poor weather. This is down to the fact that the leagues often consist of teams on a relatively equal level of ability, being split by divisional rather than provincial grounds. This provides more competitive outings and more drama, due to the less certain nature of results. Teams now place more emphasis on league form, as it not only provides the opportunity to give potential new players a real test, but it allows counties to play at least seven truly competitive games on a near weekly basis, contrasting with the more volatile ‘two strikes and you’re out’ strategy which is a foundation of the championship.
Here are the current landscapes for all four Allianz Football League as of Monday 12th February.
Division 1 – Dublin on top, Galway surprising
Nobody expected anything less than excellence from the All-Ireland champions in the league, and that’s exactly how they have performed to date. They lead the way, and few would argue against their chances of winning Division One outright. Galway, however, have been a wonderfully surprising addition to the division this season, with a perfect record also. Favoured more as a relegation candidate than league winner, they have defied expectations with wins over Tyrone, Donegal, and Mayo.
Below them sit Kerry who, despite being league champions, were tipped to be a struggling team in transition this campaign. Two wins from two, with a game in hand after the weather played havoc with their game against Monaghan. The bottom of Division One is less predictable and far more intriguing than the top. After the top three, it is anyone’s guess who may be destined to slide into Division Two. Kildare seem to be the favourites, despite losing by an average of three points per game so far. Donegal have missed talisman Michael Murphy in their three defeats, but have played sensational football led by Paddy McBrearty. Tyrone, Mayo and Monaghan all sit on one win, and could move up down the table on any given day. The division is finely poised just before the halfway mark.
Division 2 – No clear leader, but Louth in trouble
Division Two has been an interesting watch, especially given the three draws that have taken place in the eleven games. A notoriously difficult division to escape from, and an easy division to fall out of, every team is fighting tooth and nail to jostle for position.
Cork lead the way thus far, but only just. A favourite in pre-season to be promoted, they must believe that promotion is the minimum target for the league season. Nipping on their heels are Down, who are level on points after an impressive win over Roscommon at the weekend. Down will need to continue producing performances like that to remain in the hunt.
The gap between 1st and 7th in Division Two is just two points, with four teams (Meath, Cavan, Tipperary, Roscommon) all one point outside the promotion places. Of those teams, Meath and Cavan look more consistent in their play, and their rearranged clash in Breffni Park looks like a crucial affair, even at this early stage of the season.
Roscommon and Tipperary seem to be looking for that consistency to no avail, but fortunes can change quickly in the league. Clare and Louth are both without a win, however Clare can take heart from draws with Tipperary and Cavan. Louth on the other hand, may struggle to keep the pace in this very tight division.
Division 3 – Armagh in control, possible relegation dogfight
Armagh lead the way after three rounds of Division Two, even with the weather interfering with games. The Orchard County have won all three games by an average of 8 points, seeing off Sligo, Westmeath, and Longford. Their closest rivals according to the bookies are Fermanagh, who have a perfect record with one fewer games played, after their encounter with Sligo was postponed.
Westmeath and Longford have both shown ability to suggest they may have a say in who ends up in that top two. Don’t count out either of the midlands counties from a promotion push in the latter stages.
The table currently looks divided into a top and bottom half, with Sligo, Derry, Wexford and Offaly all searching for form. Offaly and Wexford have been especially disappointing for their fans so far, and Derry have lost tough games to decent sides in Westmeath and Longford. Surveying the current standings, the rescheduled Derry v Offaly game suddenly looks like a relegation 4-pointer. Should Derry win that, they may get their promotion aspirations back on track. Their first aim without the Slaughtneil contingent, however, will be to avoid falling into the relegation dogfight. The Faithful are looking for any positive signs of progression.
Division 4 – Carlow, Laois, Antrim ahead of the pack
Unlike the other divisions, there is a clear gulf in class between the top three and the rest in Division Four. Carlow, Laois and Antrim have amassed eight wins and a draw in nine games so far, and look heavy favourites to occupy the two promotion places between them. They avoid each other in round 4, with a real test for Antrim in O’Moore Park against Laois being a potential promotion decider on March 4th. Antrim host Carlow on March 18th, before Laois travel to Netwatch Dr. Cullen Park to face Carlow on the final day.
The three leaders must be careful not to take their eyes of the ball however, as the other teams may be banana skins along the way. Antrim have already found that out after a draw with Wicklow, while Laois found it difficult to put Waterford away at the weekend.
On the bottom end, London have established themselves as the best of the rest with a win over Wicklow and a draw with Limerick. Given that London play all of their games at home, they could prove to be a tricky opponent for anyone in the division. Leitrim have found their promotion chances ruined by round 3, after consecutive heavy losses to the division leaders. Wicklow, Waterford and Limerick are seemingly toiling to remain relevant in the division.
The rest of the Allianz Football League is shaping up to be a fantastic show of competitive, exciting football around the country, as teams shape up before the championship. Only time will tell who will emerge from the league as winners, and who will fall into the trap of relegation for next year.
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