The 12 defining matches in a bumper GAA weekend
Semi-final places in Division 1 of the Allianz football and hurling leagues are up for grabs. Martin Breheny tracks 12 top attractions
Published 02/04/2016 | 02:30
This is by far the most intriguing weekend of the GAA season so far, as the Allianz Leagues move towards the concluding stages.
A whole range of issues will be decided as football completes its divisional games and hurling moves to the knockout series.
In football, Division 4 is the only group where there's nothing left to decide as Antrim and Louth are already guaranteed promotion ahead of their clash in Corrigan Park, Belfast.
Together with Dublin, Antrim are the only county to have won all six games so far, while Louth, who were relegated to Division 4 for this season, have won five of six.
Wexford could join them on 10 points but Louth won the head-to-head contest, which gives them a crucial advantage.
Other than Dublin, who will lead Division 1 and Down, who are on their way to Division 2, all the other counties in the top tier are either involved in battles for the three remaining semi-final places or avoiding the second relegation slot.
Connacht champions Mayo and Ulster champions Monaghan are locked in the latter struggle after both lost four of six games. They have identical scoring differences (-12 pts).
In hurling, the four quarter-finals are joined in importance by the Galway v Cork 1A relegation clash.
The top four in 1A play their counterparts in 1B in the quarter-finals to provide semi-final pairings as follows on April 17: Clare/Tipperary v Kilkenny/Offaly; Dublin/Limerick v Wexford/Waterford.
The following are the 12 most crucial games, not only in League terms but also as pointers to the All-Ireland championships.
Kerry v Cork
Kerry won't admit it, of course, but they would love to send Cork hurtling into Division 2. And it would happen too if Kerry, Mayo (v Down) and Monaghan (v Donegal) all win tomorrow.
That's very different from the last two seasons when Cork topped Division 1, having lost only three of 14 games.
They have been defensively shambolic this year, conceding an average of 21 points per game prior to last Sunday, when they restricted Down to 0-12. But then Down's scoring average has been less than eight points per game, so Cork's security wasn't exactly tested.
Tomorrow's alternative version is that Cork win and Donegal lose or draw, in which case the Rebels would qualify for the semi-finals. It would take a freakish set of results, involving very big wins for Cork and Donegal, to deny Kerry a semi-final place for the first time since 2012.
Bottom line? Cork need to win to acquire much-needed stability ahead of the championship.
Monaghan v Donegal
Donegal won their first three games but have been stranded on six points since the end of February after losing all three games in March. Monaghan won their first two games but have lost all four since then by ever-increasing margins, leaving them on four points.
With Mayo highly likely to beat misfiring Down, Monaghan have to win tomorrow to have any chance of surviving in Division 1. Even then, they would need other results to go their way. A Donegal win would see Rory Gallagher's squad through to the semi-finals.
Bottom line? Relegation would be seriously damaging for Monaghan as they look ahead to defending the Ulster title.
Mayo v Down
Down were doomed to relegation from a long way out, which is hardly surprising since their average score has been less than eight points per game. Mayo will win this one and if they could put up a really big score, they might even make the semi-finals if the Kerry-Cork and Donegal Monaghan results went their way. It's a very tall order, mind you, since Mayo's scoring difference is 25 points inferior to Donegal's, who are two points ahead of them on the table.
It has been a dismal campaign for Down, now the only county in any division without a point.
Bottom line? Mayo need to avoid defeat, which could see them heading for Division 2 for the first time since the 1990s.
Roscommon v Dublin
Dublin are already through to the semi-finals as table-toppers and Roscommon also have an excellent chance of making the last four, even if they lose. Still tomorrow's game is interesting on two fronts.
Dublin are bidding to become the first team since Derry in 1992 to win all their Division 1 games and while that not may appear to be especially important, it's always pleasing to reach an unusual milestone. Roscommon have already surpassed expectations in their first season back in Division 1 but must now show they can live with raised ambitions in the dressing-room and on the terraces.
Bottom line? Roscommon are facing their biggest test so far.
Cavan v Galway
Getting into Division 1 is no proof of being a top-eight team - that's decided by how they perform there. However, it can't be tested unless a county is promoted, which makes tomorrow's shoot-out so important.
Galway have failed to escape from Division 2 in four successive years while Cavan haven't been in the top flight for 12 years. Home advantage has hoisted Cavan to 4/6 favourites but, ironically, Galway (13/8) have picked more points away (5) than at home (2) this year.
Bottom line? Galway should not be out of Division 1 for so long. Cavan's recent U-21 strength needs to be reflected in promotion. It means that tomorrow's losers will suffer a sizeable pre-championship knock.
Armagh v Derry
Theoretically, Derry (6pts) could be relegated but that would require a freakish set of results elsewhere. The real issue is whether Armagh will drop back to Division 3 after being promoted for this season.
They need to beat Derry tomorrow to give themselves a chance of survival but even then they could go down if other results went against them.
Last week's draw in Omagh was encouraging but the fact remains that Armagh have picked up four of a possible 12 points in a division that, with the exception of Tyrone, doesn't look especially strong.
Bottom line? If Armagh go down it will be a massive setback for the Kieran McGeeney project.
Laois v Meath
Laois just avoided the drop last year after losing to Down in the last round but are in much deeper trouble now as even if they beat Meath tomorrow, they will still be relegated if Armagh beat Derry.
That combination is possible but the markets don't fancy it, quoting Laois at 2/9, Armagh 4/9 and Meath 10/11 to be relegated. Meath and Armagh will avoid the drop if they both win and Fermanagh lose to Tyrone.
Meath finished joint-second with Roscommon last season, missing promotion on the head-to-head rule. A year on, Roscommon are heading for the Division 1 semi-finals while Meath are in serious danger of dropping to Division 3.
Bottom line? It would be a serious blow to Leinster if Laois and Meath are relegated, which is a possibility.
Cork v Galway
Having lost only two games (they won one and drew two), Galway would feel unlucky to find themselves in a relegation clash but the reality is that despite beating Cork in the first round, they still finished fifth of six.
Cork lost all five games in a grim sequence the county has rarely experienced and later lost the toss to decide where this clash would be played.
The pressure on both teams tomorrow will be as high as is possible at this time of year.
Bottom line? Having forced out Anthony Cunningham last autumn, relegation would be embarrassing for the Galway squad. Surely, there will be a response to ensure that doesn't happen.
Clare v Tipperary
Clare haven't won the League since 1978 - isn't it time they did something about that? Successful League campaigns have long since been a feature of Kilkenny's seasons and since they set every agenda, surely others should react to it.
That includes Tipperary, who haven't won the League since 2008. After losing out in so many close calls in recent years, they need to make a bold statement by winning a title.
Bottom line? Both win to win a League title more than they admit.
Wexford v Waterford
Much has changed since last year's promotion shoot-out between them to decide who was promoted from 1B. Waterford won and went on to become a real power. Wexford regressed and did nothing this year to suggest the slide had been arrested. The controversy over Liam Dunne's absence from a training spin this week may have a galvanising effect in the camp - after all, he is hardly the only manager to miss the occasional session.
Bottom line? Wexford badly need a really big performance, even if it doesn't deliver a win.
Dublin v Limerick
There were grim predictions for Dublin after they lost heavily to Tipperary in the opening round but three wins from their next four games left them in third place and well-primed for the big tests ahead.
Limerick's latest failure to escape from 1B was a big disappointment but then the odds were always against them when they had to play Clare in Ennis.
Now, the big question is how they react to that setback.
Bottom line? Limerick need to win this game more than Dublin, especially after being thrashed by the Blues at the same stage last year.
Kilkenny v Offaly
There was a time when this pairing would have been a real highlight. Not anymore, since they occupy very different orbits nowadays.
Bottom line? Offaly need to avoid a very heavy defeat before heading into championship mode.