League minnows buck form as Munster sides lead the way
MUNSTER will have three counties in Division 4 of the Allianz Football League next year, but winter blues are a long way off the province's agenda at present as it continues to mount a five-pronged attack on the championship.
Surprisingly, six of the 16 counties still involved in the All-Ireland race plied their trade in Divisions 3 and 4 last spring. Antrim, Sligo and Tipperary were in Division 3, while Clare, Limerick and Leitrim were in Division 4.
It means that each of the two lower groups have as many All-Ireland survivors as Division 2, represented by Meath, who were relegated, Tyrone and Kildare, both of whom were promoted.
Division 2 counties, Galway, Louth, Derry, Monaghan and Westmeath were all eliminated in the qualifiers, while Armagh, who were relegated from Division 1, are the only side from this year's top flight to be eliminated so far.
Waterford are Munster's only absentees from the remaining 16, having lost rather unluckily to Wicklow in the Round 1 qualifiers, leaving Cork, Kerry, Clare, Limerick and Tipperary still on the title trail.
It gives Munster the biggest representation of all the provinces, one ahead of Leinster and Ulster (four each) and two ahead of Connacht (three).
Munster also dominates the hurling representation, providing four of the remaining six All-Ireland contenders who are joined by Kilkenny and Galway.
The continued involvement of Cork and Kerry in the football race is no surprise, while Clare remain in contention as beaten provincial finalists.
They took a heavy beating from Cork in the final and appear to have drawn a very short straw in the Round 4 qualifiers where they will play the winners of Kerry v Tyrone.
Tipperary were relegated to Division 4 last spring, while Limerick failed to escape from the bottom group, but after losing to Kerry and Clare respectively in Munster, both have made excellent recoveries in the qualifiers.
Tipperary's removal of Wexford last Saturday was most impressive, while Limerick, who plotted their way to the All-Ireland quarter-finals via the qualifiers last year, re-captured their summer fizz when beating Longford after extra-time last Saturday.
And while the Round 3 draw wasn't kind, offering them an 'away' trip to Kildare, circumstances intervened and the game will now be played at neutral Portlaoise, scene to Limerick's excellent fourth round win over Wexford last year.
The championship advances of Munster's so-called lesser forces is likely to lead to them mounting a strong campaign to avoid a return a seeded draw, whereby Cork and Kerry would be on opposite sides ever year.