Allianz NFL under the microscope: Division 2
Manager: Jim McGuinness (4th season)
2013 NFL: 7th Div 1 – relegated (P7,W2, D1, L4)
2014: Home 3 (Monaghan, Meath, Louth); Away 4 (Laois, Galway, Down, Armagh)
1st game: Next Sunday v Laois, Portlaoise
Odds: Title 9/4; Relegation 9/1
Jim McGuinness didn't disguise his lack of interest in the league over the past two years, but it's worth remembering that it was Donegal's promotion run from Division 2 that launched their big surge in 2011.
Donegal need to escape from Division 2 again this year, if only to get back in the habit of winning consistently. After all, they won only five of 12 league and championship games last year. It will be interesting to see how much fresh talent McGuinness slots into the team and if it's good enough to solidify their championship ambitions. Their league start is important as they are away to Laois and Galway.
Manager: James McCartan (5th season)
2013 NFL: 8th Div 1 – relegation (P7, W2, L5)
2014: Home 4 (Monaghan, Louth, Donegal, Meath); Away 3 (Armagh, Galway, Laois)
1st game: Next Saturday v Monaghan, Newry
Odds: Title 5/1; Relegation 11/4
Two wins from seven games in Division 1 last spring had an inevitable conclusion as Down dropped into Division 2. And while they have four home games this year, they are still only fourth favourites to win the group.
There are, of course, two promotion slots and if Down manage to outgun Ulster champions Monaghan next Saturday night, it could be the catalyst for a genuine promotion surge. That first game really is that important to Down.
Manager: Tomás ó Flatharta (1st season)
2013 NFL: 3rd Div 2 (P7, W4, D1, L2)
2014: Home 4 (Donegal, Galway, Meath, Down); Away 3 (Louth, Armagh, Monaghan).
1st game: Next Sunday v Donegal, Portlaoise
Odds: Title 10/1; Relegation 7/4
Third on last year's table, they will feel they have a decent chance of being in the promotion mix, even if the bookies regard them as more likely to be in the relegation zone. Next Sunday's home clash with Donegal will offer a solid indicator of how their season is likely to develop.
Manager: Aidan O'Rourke (2nd season)
2013 NFL: 4th Div 2 (P7, W3, D1, L3)
2014: Home 4 (Armagh, Laois, Galway, Meath); Away 3 (Down, Monaghan, Donegal)
1st game: Next Sunday v Armagh, Drogheda
Odds: Title 18/1; Relegation 8/11
Louth are in familiar territory as odds-on favourites to be relegated. It was the same last year but they finished in fourth place, taking seven from a possible 14 points. Four home games is an advantage but this is a tougher group than last year so Louth's task has been made all the more difficult.
Still, on the basis of recent seasons, they will relish being outsiders most of the time.
Manager: Alan Mulholland (3rd season)
2013 NFL: 5th Div 2 (P7, W3, D1, L3)
2014: Home 3 (Donegal, Down, Armagh); Away 4 (Meath, Laois, Louth, Monaghan)
1st game: Next Sunday v Meath, Navan
Odds: Title 15/2; Relegation 15/8
They misfired in last year's league and, as events transpired, it was a sign of worse to come as they were demolished by Mayo in the Connacht championship. They recovered in the qualifiers, eventually losing rather unluckily to Cork in Round 4, but will they reproduce that form or drop back again? There's no way of knowing, which is a major concern for Galway supporters, who have lived with such inconsistency for a long time.
Manager: Paul Grimley (2nd season)
2013 NFL: 6th Div 2 (P7, W2, D2, L3)
2014: Home 4 (Down, Laois, Monaghan, Donegal); Away 3 (Louth, Meath, Galway)
1st game: Next Sunday v Louth, Drogheda
Odds: Title 10/1; Relegation 7/4
Kieran McGeeney's return to his native heath to work with Paul Grimley has raised hopes among Armagh supporters of increased solidity, especially in defence. Whatever impact McGeeney may have, the reality is that Armagh have dropped deep into the pack, a very long way behind the main contenders. Still, this is Division 2 so if they beat Louth next Sunday, it could kickstart a recovery.
Manager: Malachy O'Rourke (2nd season)
2013 NFL: Winners Div 3 – promoted (P8, W6, L2)
2014: Home 4 (Meath, Louth, Laois, Galway); Away 3 (Down, Donegal, Armagh)
1st game: Next Saturday v Down
Odds: Title 9/2; Relegation 10/3
Monaghan supporters have had a rollercoaster spin for the last three seasons, watching their team drop from Divisions 1 to 3 in successive seasons before being promoted to Division 2 for this year.
Winning the Ulster title last year makes them Division 1 material in championship terms, but that's no guarantee they will pick their way successfully through the Division 2 minefield.
Especially so since they are away to their three Ulster rivals, which puts real pressure on them to exploit home advantage against three Leinster teams and Galway. Malachy O'Rourke will need all his strategic excellence to steer Monaghan to the top flight.
Manager: Mick O'Dowd (2nd season)
2013 NFL: Runners-up Div 3 – promoted (P8, W5, L3)
2014: Home 3 (Galway, Armagh, Down); Away 4 (Monaghan, Donegal, Laois, Louth)
1st game: Next Sunday v Galway, Navan
Odds: Title 4/1; Relegation 10/3
Meath have made steady progress and are quite well fancied to be in the top two, albeit under the disadvantage of having four away games. They have a promising forward line, which is crucial to the development of any side.