Sport Gaelic Football

Friday 22 September 2017

Dark clouds starting to gather over Connacht

Galway’s Finian Hanley, seen here in action against Ciaran Curley of Westmeath, will be hoping to help the team find some better form for their next two matches
Galway’s Finian Hanley, seen here in action against Ciaran Curley of Westmeath, will be hoping to help the team find some better form for their next two matches
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

ALL-IRELAND club champions St Brigid's (Roscommon) and St Thomas' (Galway) illuminated the Connacht skies on St Patrick's night, but darkness has returned very quickly as the five counties review the grim state of play for the province in the Allianz Leagues.

Last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists Mayo (football) and Galway (hurling) are included in the slump, which could end up in relegation carnage for Connacht unless there's a marked improvement over the final two rounds.

Mayo and Sligo footballers and Galway hurlers have genuine relegation worries, while Galway and Roscommon footballers need good finishes to avoid getting dragged into the drop zone in Divisions 2 and 3 respectively.

Galway hurlers are bottom of Division 1A and will either press on towards the semi-finals or face a relegation play-off, depending on their last two games against Cork and Waterford over the next two weekends.

To add to the Connacht gloom, Roscommon hurlers are bottom of Division 2B.

Mayo's drop into the bottom three in NFL Division 1 is most worrying of all for Connacht as relegation would leave the province without top-flight football representation next season.

It would be the first time since the 1990s that has happened and is far removed from the early years of the new millennium when Mayo, Galway, Sligo and Roscommon were all in Division 1.

Indeed, the western quartet filled all four semi-final slots in the 2001 league. Mayo won the final, beating Galway, who went on to be crowned All-Ireland champions the following September.

Now, Mayo are the only county flying the Connacht flag in the top tier, but they are facing a real test to remain there after taking only two of a possible 10 points so far.

Galway's erratic performances in Division 2 have left them needing to win their last two games and hoping that those ahead of them slip up if they are to have an outside chance of promotion. It has led to Galway drifting out to 66/1 for the All-Ireland title.

Of the 25 NFL games played by Connacht counties so far, they have won eight, drawn three and lost 14. Of the eight wins, one featured the all-Connacht Division 3 clash, in which Roscommon beat Sligo.

The following is the uneasy state of play for Connacht counties in the NFL.

Mayo

Together with Down and Kerry, they have won only one of five games but hold a better scoring difference (by eight points and 16 points respectively) than the other two, leaving them in sixth place in the Division 1 table.

Donegal are two points better off, which makes Sunday's clash with the All-Ireland champions in Castlebar crucial to Mayo's survival prospects – their last game is away to Cork on April 7.

With Kerry playing Cork and Tyrone and Down facing Dublin and Kildare in the final two rounds, it's possible that, most unusually, two points would be enough to retain a place in Division 1.

However, it's not exactly the scenario Mayo envisaged at the start of the season. Realistically, they need to win one of their remaining two games to ease the pressure.

It's rare for three counties to be odds-on chances for relegation but that's the current position with Down 2/7, Mayo 4/9 and Kerry 1/2 to make the drop.

Galway

They started the campaign as favourites to win Division 2 but have drifted to 25/1 and will have few takers even at those long odds.

They began encouragingly, beating Derry, who are now the new favourites to win the title, but have since picked up only three from a possible eight points and are fifth in the table, one of four counties on five points.

Their remaining two games are against Wexford (home) and Armagh (away), where they will need at least one win to ensure Division 2 survival. Two defeats would almost certainly leave them headed to Division 3 for the first time since the 1990s.

Roscommon

Fifth in a tightly-packed Division 3, they are 25/1 to win the title and 5/1 to be relegated after winning two, losing two and drawing one of their five games.

And with leaders Monaghan next up on Sunday, Roscommon are more likely to be looking over their shoulders than ahead of them when they travel to Cavan for the final round. Roscommon are a point worse off than at the same stage of last year's league.

Sligo

Second last in Division 3 after taking three from a possible 10 points, they are in a very precarious position and can't be too hopeful of improving it away to in-form Fermanagh next Sunday.

However, even if Sligo lose next Sunday, they still have a chance of beating their 4/7 relegation odds as they will be at home to struggling Wicklow in the final round.

Meanwhile Antrim, currently on four points, finish their programme at home to Meath and away to Monaghan, which is a tougher finish than Sligo's.

Leitrim

In fourth place in Division 4 (although they are level on points with Clare, who have a game against London in hand), Leitrim need to beat Tipperary and London in their last two games to have any chance of getting in the promotion mix.

And since they are away to improving Tipperary next Sunday, that seems beyond them.

After the FBD title win in January, it has been a frustrating league campaign for Leitrim, who lost to Limerick and Offaly by a point each and to Clare by three points after leading by seven in the first half.

Irish Independent

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