Second grade far from second rate
OF the top 11 fancies for this year's All-Ireland football title, five will be plying their trade in Division 2 of the Allianz League over the next few months, suggesting that there's little enough between the top two groups.
Kildare, who are in Division 2 for a fourth successive year, are fourth favourites for the All-Ireland title while Tyrone, Galway, Derry and Meath, all of whom have serious promotion ambitions, are ranked 7-8-10-11 respectively in the Sam Maguire Cup betting.
And with Monaghan, who were unfortunate to be relegated from Division 1 last year, also in the mix, the scramble for promotion is certain to be extremely intense.
Louth and Westmeath would appear to be the most likely to drop to Division 3 after being promoted last year.
The fact that Kildare have found it so difficult to escape from Division 2 and that Tyrone didn't make it back to the top flight at the first attempt last year underlines just how competitive this group really is.
Indeed, a solid case could be made for allowing the top Division 2 side into the league semi-finals alongside three Division 1 teams. Instead, the top four in Division 1 will contest the semi-finals, whereas in hurling the top two in Division 1B will be admitted to the knock-out stages.
Kildare and Tyrone are favourites to take the two promotion slots in April, which makes their clash in Croke Park next Saturday (5.0) very interesting.
Tyrone were easy winners (0-13 to 0-5) over Kildare in Omagh last year and have shown good form so far this month, winning the McKenna Cup for the first time in five years.
Kildare have looked sharp too in the O'Byrne Cup, where they reached the final which was called off due to the bad weather last Sunday.
Galway, Meath and Derry are all tightly bunched behind the top two in the betting, followed by Monaghan.
That leaves Louth and Westmeath, who meet on Sunday, as rank outsiders to win a place in Division 1, but then surviving in Division 2 would be a major achievement for either -- or both -- of them.