Saturday 3 December 2016

Any support out there for brave Rossies' stand?

Roscommon lead middle-rank counties in bid to join elite

Published 24/03/2016 | 02:30

The performances of Sean Purcell and his Roscommon team-mates have energised the league campaign. Photo: Sportsfile
The performances of Sean Purcell and his Roscommon team-mates have energised the league campaign. Photo: Sportsfile

Roscommon are making a daring bid to force their way into the elite circuit but where's the support? Or are they on their own in their attempt to reach the level required to challenge the top contenders later in the year?

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Their achievement in recovering from an unlucky first-round defeat to Monaghan to beat Kerry, Cork, Down and Donegal has energised the Allianz Football League but it can't disguise some worrying trends elsewhere.

Only six counties - Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, Donegal, Cork and Tyrone - have reached All-Ireland semi-finals in the last five seasons and while Monaghan have done well too, winning two of the last three Ulster titles, there has been little progress elsewhere.

Meath, Galway, Armagh, who between them won five All-Ireland titles between 1996 and 2002, Down, Kildare, Laois, Derry and Cavan would be regarded as the main chasing pack but none have matched Roscommon's power surge this spring.

Meath, Armagh and Laois appear to have regressed and are now filling the three bottom places in Division 2, from where two will be relegated.

Galway, Cavan and Derry are battling for the second promotion slot in Division 2 where Fermanagh also have an outside chance. Still, it's Division 2, which is quite some way off Division 1 pace.

Down are on their way out of Division 1 and while Kildare remain well-primed for promotion from Division 3, the home defeat by Sligo wasn't exactly encouraging for the longer term.

Football needs the middle-ranking teams to apply stiff upward pressure but it hasn't happened in recent years and, judging by the first five rounds of this season's league, there are few encouraging signs of change . . .

Meath

They dipped into Division 3 in 2013 and are in danger of returning after taking only three of 10 points so far. Their only win came against Armagh, who are in an equally stricken boat.

Meath are away to Derry and Laois in their last two games, adding to the demands on a squad that hasn't handled pressure very well. Even if Meath avoid relegation, it scarcely suggests they are poised to emerge as a threat to Dublin in Leinster this year.

Galway

Joint-second with Cavan, whom they play in the final round, their promotion fate is in their own hands as two wins (they face Fermanagh next Sunday) would take them up.

They showed real resolve to haul back big leads against Meath and Armagh but why did they fall so far behind in the first place? Do that against better opposition and there's no way back. After five seasons in Division 2, Galway badly need promotion to make a statement of intent, not just for this year but for the longer term.

Armagh

Played 12; Won 3, Drew 2, Lost 7. That's their Division 2 record in 2014 and this year, having spent last season in Division 3, which had been alien territory for a very long time.

A quick return there would be disastrous for the Kieran McGeeney project which, so far at least, has faltered badly.

Down

At least Jim McCorry can't be blamed! Down lost faith in him after just one season, during which he steered them into Division 1.

Five games into the league, they have scored the miserable total of 1-37 (0-8 per game), by far the lowest in any division. New manager Eamonn Burns is facing a huge challenge to salvage anything from this year since Down look set to head into the championship off seven straight defeats (they play Cork and Mayo away in their last two games).

Laois

Locked in a three-way relegation battle with Armagh and Meath in Division 2, they scored 1-22 against Derry in their last game, only to concede 5-10. It typified their erratic streak, which has been a feature for quite some time. They have flirted with relegation for the last two seasons so they are in familiar territory with games against Cavan and Meath to come. If Laois and Meath were to be relegated, it would require Kildare to come out of Division 3 to avoid Dublin being the only Leinster county in the top two divisions.

Cavan

Like Galway, whom they meet at home in the final round, their promotion fate is in their own hands (they play Laois next Sunday). Low scoring returns were a problem last year but they hit Meath for 1-20 and Armagh for 3-18 in two of their last three games so perhaps their creative side is beginning to emerge. After so much U-21 provincial success, Cavan would have been expected to make more rapid progress. They are currently fifth favourites to win the Ulster title.

Derry

Relegated from Division 1 last year, they need to beat Meath and Armagh to have a chance of promotion as they are a point adrift of Cavan and Galway, who still have to play each other.

Whatever happens, Derry have fallen some way below the level that had them competing for the Division 1 title only two years ago.

Kildare

Despite the Sligo setback, they are still fancied to escape from Division 3 at the first attempt, with games against Tipperary and Clare still to come.

It would be a start on a rebuilding job under Cian O'Neill. Kildare have a good record in the qualifiers but have contested only one of the last 12 Leinster finals. That's an area where they need to improve.

Irish Independent

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