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Published 31/01/2012 | 05:00

Manager: John Brennan (2nd season)

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2011 NFL: 3rd Div 2: P7, W5, L2

2012: Home (3): Galway, Monaghan, Louth; Away (4): Tyrone, Kildare, Meath, Westmeath.

1st game: Next Sunday v Galway, Celtic Park.

Odds: Title 5/1; Relegation 11/2.

Unlucky to miss out on promotion last year after finishing level on 10 points with Donegal and Laois, Derry's lower scoring difference left them in third place.

Their only defeats came against Laois and Donegal, both of whom are now in Division 1 so Derry have solid grounds for optimism in the promotion race.

A progressive league campaign last year was a sign of positive things to come in the championship too as Derry went on to reach the Ulster final where the absence of the Bradley brothers, Eoin and Paddy seriously restricted them against Donegal.

Six days later they were victims of the quick turnaround, losing to Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Derry are upbeat but the league fixtures split is not kind, with three home and four away games, including visits to fellow contenders Kildare, Tyrone and Meath. Still, they beat all three last year.

Derry play a refreshingly positive game under John Brennan and can expect further improvement this year but this is a mighty tough group where it will be a surprise if any county picks up more than 10 points. Derry have as good a chance as anybody else of achieving that.

Manager: Alan Mulholland (1st season)

2011 NFL: Bottom Div 1 (relegated): P7, W1, D1, L5

2012: Home (4): Louth, Meath, Tyrone, Kildare; Away (3): Derry, Westmeath, Monaghan.

1st game: Next Sunday v Derry, Celtic Park

Odds: Title 5/1; Relegation 13/2.

Out of the Division 1 for the first time in 14 years, it's rebuilding time in Galway after a truly dismal 2012 campaign where they won only one (NFL v Armagh) of nine league and championship games.

However, Galway did win the All-Ireland U-21 title to add to the 2007 minor crown, both of which were achieved under Alan Mulholland who is now setting out on the senior route.

He says that stabilising the scene is the first priority but with four home games, it's likely that he has ambitions of a quick return to Division 1.

The continued injury problems of Michael Meehan (below) are a serious setback for Galway, at a time when they badly need the scoring ability and leadership qualities of one of football's great talents

After changing managers twice in successive seasons, it's very much a case of back to basics for Galway, whose stock has dramatically plummeted over the last few years.

Still, they are a whole lot better than they looked last year and will definitely make progress under Mulholland, who is certain to give the new generation their chance. It's his only option if the slide is to be arrested.

Manager: Kieran McGeeney (5th season)

2011 NFL: 5th Div 2: P7, W4, D1, L2.

2012: Home (2): Derry, Westmeath; Away (4): Monaghan, Meath, Louth, Galway; Neutral (1): Tyrone.

1st game: Next Saturday v Tyrone, Croke Park

Odds: Title 2/1; Relegation 16/1

They play just two home games, having agreed to leave Newbridge and head for Croke Park for next Saturday's opener with Tyrone.

Fourth favourites for the All-Ireland title behind Kerry, Dublin and Cork, Kildare would have expected to be out of Division 2 by now.

However, their recent spring campaigns have been rather erratic as they finished sixth in the group two years ago and fifth last year.

This is a huge year for Kildare and Kieran McGeeney (below) who have kept the momentum levels high throughout recent summers, only to fall short by the narrowest of margins on the really big days. Still, they are regarded as a squad whose graph continues to rise.

They need to beat Tyrone if they are to give themselves maximum chance of promotion as points will be difficult to pick up away to Monaghan, Meath and Galway.

Promotion is very important, because failure to escape from Division 2 after four attempts would raise question marks about Kildare's capacity to learn and advance.

And winning Division 2 would, as Donegal showed last year, be the ideal launch-pad for the championship.

Manager: Peter Fitzpatrick (3rd season)

2011 NFL: Div 3 champions (promoted): P8, W5, L3.

2012: Home (3): Westmeath, Tyrone, Kildare; Away (4): Galway, Monaghan, Derry, Meath.

1st game: Next Sunday v Westmeath, Haggardstown.

Odds: Title 28/1; Relegation 4/9.

Louth and Westmeath were promoted after winning four of seven games in Division 3 last year while Limerick were relegated after winning three.

Such was the volatility of a group where only two points separated the top seven counties, leaving eight points as sufficient to win promotion, whereas 10 wasn't enough in 2010.

There was no discernible pattern (Louth won their first three games and lost the next three) to the 2011 campaign while Westmeath took only one point from their first two games, yet still won promotion.

Quite where it all leaves Louth and Westmeath remains to be seen but the bookies have no doubt that both will be on their way back to Division 3 by April.

That will almost certainly be the case for the losers of Louth-Westmeath next Sunday.

A defeat for Louth would be especially damaging as they would have only two more home games while facing trips to Galway, Monaghan, Derry and Meath.

What's more, Louth finish with two away games against Derry and Meath so, if they are to avoid relegation, they will probably need to have it secured at the end of Round 5.

That's quite a tall order.

Manager: Seamus McEnaney (2nd season)

2011 NFL: 6th Div 2: P7, W1, D1, L5)

2012: Home (4): Monaghan, Kildare, Derry, Louth; Away (3): Westmeath, Galway, Tyrone.

1st game: Next Saturday v Monaghan, Navan.

Odds: Title 11/2; Relegation 4/1.

Meath are extremely fortunate not to be starting 2012 in Division 3 after escaping relegation ahead of Sligo on the head-to-head rule after both finished on three points last season.

Sligo looked as if they would survive when they were level with Kildare towards the end of the game in the final round but conceded a late point which sent them hurtling towards Division 3, while Meath clung on just above them.

Three points from a possible 14 was a dismal return for Meath -- the then reigning Leinster champions -- but with four home games and signs of greater stability, their haul is likely to be much higher this term.

Quite whether they can make the top two remains to be seen but if they beat Monaghan in Pairc Tailteann on Saturday and follow up with a win over Westmeath in Mullingar on the following weekend, it will generate a level of momentum which would make it a very interesting spring for the Royals in what will be a vital year for manager Seamus McEnaney(left).

Manager: Eamonn McEneaney (2nd season)

2011 NFL: 7th Div 1 (relegated): P 7, W2, L5.

2012: Home (3): Kildare, Louth, Galway; Away (4): Meath, Derry, Westmeath, Tyrone.

1st game: Next Saturday v Meath, Navan.

Odds: Title 20/1; Relegation 7/4.

If Meath enjoyed all the luck when surviving in Division 2 last year, Monaghan had none as they struggled -- ultimately in vain -- to survive in the top flight.

Eamonn McEneaney's (right) men finished on four points with Armagh and had a superior scoring difference but were relegated on the head-to-head rule. If Galway had beaten, rather than drawn with, Dublin on the final day Armagh would have been relegated and Monaghan would be starting 2012 in Division 1. Such are the narrow margins in a seven-match group.

Add in the fact that Monaghan lost by a point each to Armagh and Dublin and it's easy to understand why they were so disappointed over being squeezed out of Division 1.

For some reason which isn't immediately apparent, the markets seem to think that Monaghan will drop further back this spring, offering them at 10/1 (sixth favourites) for promotion with only Louth and Westmeath behind them.

That may be down to a misreading of Monaghan's situation, based perhaps more on the defeat by Offaly in last summer's All-Ireland qualifiers rather than their gritty jousts with all the top sides in Division 1 and later with Tyrone in the Ulster championship.

Manager: Mickey Harte (10th season)

2011 NFL: 4th Div 2: P7, W4, D1, L2.

2012: Home (4): Derry, Westmeath, Meath, Monaghan; Away (2): Louth, Galway; Neutral (1): Kildare.

1st game: Next Saturday v Kildare, Croke Park.

Odds: Title 10/3; Relegation 14/1.

When Tyrone were relegated in 2010, it was generally assumed they would return to Division 1 at the first attempt, but they found life in Division 2 can be difficult.

A bad start left them with too much to do.

Consistency in the league was a basic Tyrone principle when Mickey Harte (right) took over as manager in late 2002 and was maintained over their glory years before they finally lost their way in the spring of 2010.

They are in transition mode so the big question is whether the new model can get up to speed quickly enough to win promotion.

If it does, it will be a really positive sign.

However, if they don't make the promotion cut, doubts will persist as to whether the back-up talent, which has to push forward now to fill the gaps left by several retired stars, are up to the high standards Tyrone have set for themselves over the last decade.

Next Saturday's clash with Kildare in Croke Park will be hugely informative as to how solid the new Tyrone foundations really are.

They head into that game with a positive beat after winning the Dr McKenna Cup.

Manager: Pat Flanagan (3rd season)

2011 NFL: Runners-up Div 3 (promoted): P8, W4, D1, L3.

2012: Home (4): Meath, Galway, Monaghan, Derry; Away (3): Louth, Tyrone, Kildare.

1st game: Next Sunday v Louth, Haggardstown.

Odds: Title 28/1; Relegation 4/9.

Westmeath's prospects of promotion looked all but over when they took just three points from their first four games last year but a dramatic surge on the home run took them to the top of the group.

They later lost to Louth in the final but had secured promotion.

However, it brought no lift to their championship effort as they were hammered by Wexford in Leinster before exiting the qualifiers against Antrim.

It all points to a difficult season in Division 2. All the more so since Westmeath will be without the Garrycastle brigade until their involvement in the All-Ireland club championship is over.

Indeed, if Garrycastle reach the final, Westmeath will be without the likes of Dessie Dolan for five league games which is a huge handicap, especially when they're trying to punch above their weight in a tough group.

If they lose to Louth next Sunday, they will probably be on their way back to Division 3 but then the same applies to the opposition, which should make for quite a battle in Haggardstown.

It's not encouraging for Westmeath (or Louth either) that Antrim and Sligo, who were promoted to Division 2 in 2010 dropped back down again last year.

Irish Independent

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