A county-by-county guide to the 2014 National Football League
With NFL start looming, all four divisions go under the microscope
Manager: Jim Gavin (2nd season)
2013 NFL: Winners Div 1 (P9, W7, D1, L1)
2014: Home 4 (v Kerry, Cork, Kildare, Mayo); Away 3 (Westmeath, Derry, Tyrone)
1st game: Next Saturday v Kerry, Croke Park
Odds: Title 6/4; Relegation 10/1
When Pat Gilroy took over as manager for the 2009 season, he changed Dublin's attitude to the league, which had appeared less than enthusiastic over previous years. It was accompanied by an improvement in the championship from 2010 on, eventually leading to an All-Ireland success in 2011, having lost the league final to Cork by a point earlier in the season.
Jim Gavin continued on the same positive league track last season and was rewarded with Dublin's first Division 1 win for 20 years before completing the big double in September. Given the depth of his panel, there is no reason why he won't target the league with the same intensity as last year. After all, winning habits can become lasting habits.
Manager: Mickey Harte (12th season)
2013 NFL: Runners-up Div 1 (P9, W6, L3)
2014: Home 3 (Mayo, Westmeath, Dublin); Away 4 (Derry, Kildare, Kerry, Cork)
1st game: Next Saturday v Derry, Celtic Park
Odds: Title 5/1; Relegation 4/1
Mickey Harte has always targeted league progress as the most constructive way to prepare for the championship. For all that, Tyrone's appearance in last year's final, where they lost to Dublin by a point, was their first in 10 years.
Tyrone are in transition phase, where rebuilding the attack is a priority. They have been short of real leaders up front in recent seasons (Stephen O'Neill has been severely hampered by injuries), so it will be interesting to see how Harte reconfigures his attacking strategy.
Much will depend on how well he does in that department over the next two months as it will set the pattern for the championship – Tyrone need a better attack than last summer.
Manager: Jason Ryan (1st season)
2013 NFL: 3rd Div 1 – beaten semi-finalists (P8, W4, L4)
2014: Home 4 (Mayo, Tyrone, Kerry, Westmeath); Away 3 (Cork, Dublin, Derry)
1st game: Next Sunday v Mayo, Newbridge
Odds: Title 12/1: Relegation 13/8
There's huge interest in how Kildare fare after six seasons under Kieran McGeeney. There are divided views, with McGeeney supporters insisting that he squeezed the maximum from a top-six panel which just wasn't good enough to advance any further. Others argue that he was over-loyal to too many players and that there was a degree of stagnation, albeit at the higher end of the market over the last few seasons.
Ryan did well with Wexford, but expectations are considerably higher among the Kildare football public, so he will be under pressure all the way. He was appointed manager to provide that crucial extra impetus required which was missing over recent seasons. The fact that Ryan worked with the Kildare squad alongside McGeeney last year gives him a valuable insight into their psyche but it also means there will be no honeymoon period.
Manager: James Horan (4th season)
2013 NFL: 4th Div 1 – beaten semi-finalists (P3, L5)
2014: Home 3 (Kerry, Cork, Derry); Away 4 (Kildare, Tyrone, Westmeath, Dublin)
1st game: Next Sunday v Kildare, Newbridge
Odds: Title: 4/1; Relegation 6/1
Mayo's need to win the league is much more intense than their seven rivals in Division 1. Mayo supporters tend to complain when the county's poor record in finals at Croke Park over the last 40 years is highlighted but there can be no arguing with the reality that HQ has been the scene of many defeats, great and small.
Winning the league would bring no guarantees but if they look across the border to Galway, they will find that it had a massive impact on their hurlers back in 1987. Like Mayo, Galway lost the previous two All-Ireland finals but after winning the 1987 league, they went on to collect the MacCarthy Cup in 1987 and '88. All of which goes to show that losing successive All-Ireland finals isn't necessarily a fatal blow to future prospects. Winning this year's league would be a hugely positive development for Mayo.
Manager: Brian Cuthbert (1st season)
2013 NFL: 5th Div 1 (P7, W3, L4)
2014: Home 4 (Westmeath, Kildare, Derry, Tyrone); Away 3 (Dublin, Mayo, Kerry)
1st game: Next Sunday v Westmeath, Pairc Ui Rinn
Odds: Title: 6/1; Relegation 4/1
They have three of their first four games at home so it's important that they make early progress in a season of renewal under Brian Cuthbert. Cork won three successive leagues in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and while they added the All-Ireland title in 2010, they didn't build on spring triumphs over the next two seasons. Some Cork supporters believe that the squad would have been better off not to have won the 2011 and '12 leagues, although quite where that logic comes from is difficult to fathom.
The retirement of several long- established names leaves Cuthbert with a rebuilding task, but he would probably have done that anyway, even if everybody were available to him. Indeed, the clean-out should probably have begun after the 2012 championship.
Manager: Eamonn Fitzmaurice (2nd season)
2013 NFL: 6th Div 1 (P7, W3, L4)
2014: Home 3 (Derry, Tyrone, Cork); Away 4 (Dublin, Mayo, Kildare, Westmeath)
1st game: Next Saturday v Dublin, Croke Park
Odds: Title: 11/2; Relegation 4/1
Kerry are lucky to be in Division 1 after a dismal start to last year's league. They recovered impressively from there on – including beating Tyrone in Omagh in the last game – but Fitzmaurice will be expecting a far more even campaign from his troops this year.
Kerry won All-Ireland titles in 2004, 2006 and 2009, years in which they also took the league, so they know the value of a progressive spring programme.
Even allowing for the fact that they have four away games, expect them to be in the semi-final in April.
Manager: Brian McIver (2nd season)
2013 NFL: Winners Div 2 – promoted (P8, W6, D1, L1)
2014: Home 4 (Tyrone, Westmeath, Dublin, Kildare); Away 3 (Kerry, Cork, Mayo)
1st game: Next Saturday v Tyrone, Celtic Park
Odds: Title: 20/1; Relegation 5/4
Derry's home form will be crucial as it's difficult to see them picking up many points on the road against Kerry, Cork and Mayo. They will have targeted next Saturday's opener against Tyrone and the later games in Celtic Park against Westmeath and Kildare as the most likely sources of points.
They won a modestly rated Division 2 last year, so staying in Division 1 would be a big achievement. Having four home games boosts their prospect of achieving that ambition.
Manager: Paul Bealin (1st season)
2013 NFL: Runners-up Div 2 – promoted (P8, W6, D1, L1)
2014: Home 3 (Dublin, Mayo, Kerry); Away 4 (Cork, Derry, Tyrone, Kildare)
1st game: Next Sunday v Cork, Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
Odds: Title: 80/1; Relegation 1/7
Avoiding relegation would be a huge achievement, but it's unlikely to be delivered. With four away games and Dublin, Mayo and Kerry visiting Mullingar, it's difficult to see where Westmeath's points will come from.
Still, they deserve to be in Division 1 after taking 11 of 14 points in Division 2 last year. However, the step up could prove painful and a return to the lower group looks likely.
Manager: Jim McGuinness (4th season)
2013 NFL: 7th Div 1 – relegated (P7,W2, D1, L4)
2014: Home 3 (Monaghan, Meath, Louth); Away 4 (Laois, Galway, Down, Armagh)
1st game: Next Sunday v Laois, Portlaoise
Odds: Title 9/4; Relegation 9/1
Jim McGuinness didn't disguise his lack of interest in the league over the past two years, but it's worth remembering that it was Donegal's promotion run from Division 2 that launched their big surge in 2011.
Donegal need to escape from Division 2 again this year, if only to get back in the habit of winning consistently. After all, they won only five of 12 league and championship games last year. It will be interesting to see how much fresh talent McGuinness slots into the team and if it's good enough to solidify their championship ambitions. Their league start is important as they are away to Laois and Galway.
Manager: James McCartan (5th season)
2013 NFL: 8th Div 1 – relegation (P7, W2, L5)
2014: Home 4 (Monaghan, Louth, Donegal, Meath); Away 3 (Armagh, Galway, Laois)
1st game: Next Saturday v Monaghan, Newry
Odds: Title 5/1; Relegation 11/4
Two wins from seven games in Division 1 last spring had an inevitable conclusion as Down dropped into Division 2. And while they have four home games this year, they are still only fourth favourites to win the group.
There are, of course, two promotion slots and if Down manage to outgun Ulster champions Monaghan next Saturday night, it could be the catalyst for a genuine promotion surge. That first game really is that important to Down.
Manager: Tomás ó Flatharta (1st season)
2013 NFL: 3rd Div 2 (P7, W4, D1, L2)
2014: Home 4 (Donegal, Galway, Meath, Down); Away 3 (Louth, Armagh, Monaghan).
1st game: Next Sunday v Donegal, Portlaoise
Odds: Title 10/1; Relegation 7/4
Third on last year's table, they will feel they have a decent chance of being in the promotion mix, even if the bookies regard them as more likely to be in the relegation zone. Next Sunday's home clash with Donegal will offer a solid indicator of how their season is likely to develop.
Manager: Aidan O'Rourke (2nd season)
2013 NFL: 4th Div 2 (P7, W3, D1, L3)
2014: Home 4 (Armagh, Laois, Galway, Meath); Away 3 (Down, Monaghan, Donegal)
1st game: Next Sunday v Armagh, Drogheda
Odds: Title 18/1; Relegation 8/11
Louth are in familiar territory as odds-on favourites to be relegated. It was the same last year but they finished in fourth place, taking seven from a possible 14 points. Four home games is an advantage but this is a tougher group than last year so Louth's task has been made all the more difficult.
Still, on the basis of recent seasons, they will relish being outsiders most of the time.
Manager: Alan Mulholland (3rd season)
2013 NFL: 5th Div 2 (P7, W3, D1, L3)
2014: Home 3 (Donegal, Down, Armagh); Away 4 (Meath, Laois, Louth, Monaghan)
1st game: Next Sunday v Meath, Navan
Odds: Title 15/2; Relegation 15/8
They misfired in last year's league and, as events transpired, it was a sign of worse to come as they were demolished by Mayo in the Connacht championship. They recovered in the qualifiers, eventually losing rather unluckily to Cork in Round 4, but will they reproduce that form or drop back again? There's no way of knowing, which is a major concern for Galway supporters, who have lived with such inconsistency for a long time.
Manager: Paul Grimley (2nd season)
2013 NFL: 6th Div 2 (P7, W2, D2, L3)
2014: Home 4 (Down, Laois, Monaghan, Donegal); Away 3 (Louth, Meath, Galway)
1st game: Next Sunday v Louth, Drogheda
Odds: Title 10/1; Relegation 7/4
Kieran McGeeney's return to his native heath to work with Paul Grimley has raised hopes among Armagh supporters of increased solidity, especially in defence. Whatever impact McGeeney may have, the reality is that Armagh have dropped deep into the pack, a very long way behind the main contenders. Still, this is Division 2 so if they beat Louth next Sunday, it could kickstart a recovery.
Manager: Malachy O'Rourke (2nd season)
2013 NFL: Winners Div 3 – promoted (P8, W6, L2)
2014: Home 4 (Meath, Louth, Laois, Galway); Away 3 (Down, Donegal, Armagh)
1st game: Next Saturday v Down
Odds: Title 9/2; Relegation 10/3
Monaghan supporters have had a rollercoaster spin for the last three seasons, watching their team drop from Divisions 1 to 3 in successive seasons before being promoted to Division 2 for this year.
Winning the Ulster title last year makes them Division 1 material in championship terms, but that's no guarantee they will pick their way successfully through the Division 2 minefield.
Especially so since they are away to their three Ulster rivals, which puts real pressure on them to exploit home advantage against three Leinster teams and Galway. Malachy O'Rourke will need all his strategic excellence to steer Monaghan to the top flight.
Manager: Mick O'Dowd (2nd season)
2013 NFL: Runners-up Div 3 – promoted (P8, W5, L3)
2014: Home 3 (Galway, Armagh, Down); Away 4 (Monaghan, Donegal, Laois, Louth)
1st game: Next Sunday v Galway, Navan
Odds: Title 4/1; Relegation 10/3
Meath have made steady progress and are quite well fancied to be in the top two, albeit under the disadvantage of having four away games. They have a promising forward line, which is crucial to the development of any side.
Manager: Aidan O'Brien (2nd season)
2013 NFL: 7th Div 2 – relegated (P7, W,2, D1 L4)
2014: Home 3 (Offaly, Cavan, Sligo); Away (Roscommon, Limerick, Fermanagh, Longford)
1st game: Next Sunday v Offaly
Odds: Title 9/2; Relegation 5/1
Unlucky to be relegated last year, they look certain to be among the promotion contenders, even if they face four away games. The balance of fixtures between home and away can often prove decisive in deciding placings.
Manager: Jack Sheedy (1st season)
2013 NFL: 8th Div 2 – relegated (P7, L7)
2014: Home 3 (Roscommon, Fermanagh, Cavan); Away 4 (Limerick, Offaly, Sligo, Wexford)
1st game: Next Sunday v Roscommon, Pearse Park
Odds: Title 14/1; Relegation 1/1
They played a whole better than their pointless run in Division 2 suggested but once a losing habit develops, it can be difficult to curtail. They won only one of 10 league/championship games last year, but their best performances came in the last two games when they beat Limerick and took Wexford to extra-time in the qualifiers.
Manager: Peter McGrath (1st season)
2013 NFL: 3rd Div 3 (P7, W4, D1, L2)
2014: Home 4(Sligo, Roscommon, Wexford, Offaly); Away 3 (Cavan, Longford, Limerick,
1st game: Next Saturday v Cavan, Kingspan Breffni Park
Odds: Title 11/1; Relegation 6/4
One Peter replaces another at the helm as Peter McGrath takes over from Peter Canavan. Fermanagh were edged into third place on last year's Division 3 table – a repeat is probably the best they can hope for.
Manager: John Evans (2nd season)
2013 NFL: 4th Div 3 (P7, W4, D1, L2)
2014: Home 4 (Wexford, Limerick, Offaly, Sligo); Away 3 (Longford, Fermanagh, Cavan)
1st game: Next Sunday v Longford, Pearse Park
Odds: Title 11/4; Relegation 13/2
Second favourites behind Cavan for promotion but if Roscommon are to live up to that, they will have to discard the inconsistent streak which has bedevilled them for a long time.
Manager: Terry Hyland (3rd season)
2013 NFL: 5th Div 3 (P7, W3, D1, L3)
2014: Home 3 (Fermanagh, Sligo, Roscommon); Away 4 (Offaly, Wexford, Longford, Limerick)
1st game: Next Saturday v Fermanagh, Kingspan Breffni Park
Odds: Title 7/4; Relegation 10/1
Cavan are favourites to win the group after reaching last year's All-Ireland quarter-finals, although 7/4 looks poor value in a seven-match slog where they will be away from home for four games.
Manager: Pat Flanagan (1st season)
2013 NFL: 6th Div 3 (P7, W2, D1, L4)
2014: Home 3 (Limerick, Offaly, Roscommon); Away 4(Fermanagh, Cavan, Longford, Limerick)
1st game: Next Sunday v Limerick, Markievicz Park
Odds: Title 8/1; Relegation 9/4
Sligo have lost the swagger of a few seasons back. They won only two of nine league and championship games last season so it's a worrying time in Yeats country.
Manager: John Brudair (1st season)
2013 NFL: Winners Div 4 – promoted (P8, W7, L1)
2014: Home 4 (Longford, Wexford, Fermanagh, Cavan); Away 3 (Sligo, Roscommon, Offaly)
1st game: Next Sunday v Sligo, Markievicz Park
Odds: Title 10/1; Relegation 15/8
Promoted after winning Division 4 last April, Limerick are well capable of making a real impression at a higher level, provided they harness full power.
Manager: Emmet McDonnell (2nd season)
2013 NFL: Runners-up Div 4 – promoted (P8, W5, L3)
2014: Home 3 (Cavan, Longford, Limerick); Away 4 (Wexford, Sligo, Roscommon, Fermanagh)
1st game: Next Sunday v Wexford, Wexford Park
Odds: Title 16/1; Relegation 8/11
Stepping up in class after being promoted last April, Offaly are favourites to drop down again. It's an overly negative assessment.
Manager: Liam Bradley (1st season)
2013 NFL: 7th Div 3 – relegated (P7, W1, D2, L4)
2014: Home 4 (Wicklow, Waterford, London, Clare); Away 3 (Leitrim, Carlow, Tipperary)
1st game: Next Sunday v Leitrim, Carrick-on-Shannon
Odds: Title 13/8
Favourites for a quick return to Division 3 after being relegated last year, Antrim's fixtures schedule (four home games) is favourable for a promotion push. Liam Bradley, who did well in his first stint as manager, knows the Antrim scene well, which is a significant plus.
Manager: Harry Murphy (3rd season)
2013 NFL: 8th Div 3 – relegated (P7, W0, D2, L5)
2014: Home 3 (London, Leitrim, Waterford); Away 4 (Antrim, Clare, Carlow, Tipperary)
1st game: Next Sunday v London, Aughrim
Odds: Title 8/1
Relegated last year after one season in Division 3, they should be in the promotion mix if Harry Murphy can call on a full squad.
Manager: Peter Creedon (3rd season)
2013 NFL: 3rd Div (P7, W4, L3)
2014: Home 4 (Waterford, Clare, Antrim, Wicklow); Away 3 (Carlow, London, Leitrim
1st game: Next Sunday v Carlow, Dr Cullen Park
Odds: Title 7/4
Third in the group last year, Tipp look well placed to make a real push for promotion this time.
Manager: Colm Collins (1st season)
2013 NFL: 4th Div 4 (P7, W4, L3)
2014: Home 3 (Leitrim, Wicklow, Carlow); Away 4 (Waterford, London, Tipperary, Antrim)
1st game: Next Sunday v Waterford
Odds: Title 9/2
Mid-table last year, they will expect to press on this season. At peak power, they are good enough to do that and challenge strongly for promotion.
Manager: Sean Hagan (1st season)
2013 NFL: 5th Div 4 (P7, W3, L4)
2014: Home 3 (Antrim, Carlow, Tipperary); Away 4 (Clare, Wicklow, Waterford, London)
1st game: Next Sunday v Antrim, Carrick-on-Shannon
Odds: Title 14/1
This is an important restabilisation campaign after losing to London in last year's Connacht championship and the demolition by Armagh in the qualifiers. Unlikely to make the promotion cut but Leitrim could reach the top four.
Manager: Niall Carew (2nd season)
2013 NFL: 6th Div 4 (P7, W3, L4)
2014: Home (Clare, London, Leitrim, Carlow); Away (Tipperary, Antrim, Wicklow)
1st game: Next Sunday v Clare
Odds: Title 10/1
Running Galway to a point in last year's All-Ireland qualifiers in Pearse Stadium underlines the heights Waterford can reach on a really good day. They need to deliver that more consistently, starting in this year's league.
Manager: Anthony Rainbow (2nd season)
2013 NFL: 7th Div 4 (P7, W2, L5)
2014: Home: (Tipperary, Antrim, Wicklow); Away (London, Leitrim, Clare, Waterford)
1st game: Next Sunday v Tipperary, Dr Cullen Park
Odds: Title 25/1
They started last year's league impressively but dropped off alarmingly. It's difficult to see them getting into the promotion zone this time.
Manager: Paul Coggins (4th season)
2013 NFL: 8th Div 4 (P7, W1, L6)
2014: Home: (Carlow, Clare, Tipperary, Leitrim); Away (Wicklow, Antrim, Waterford)
1st game: Next Sunday v Wicklow, Aughrim
Odds: Title 50/1
It's a hugely important campaign for London after their championship exploits last summer. How will they cope with a return to the Division 4 slog? The first two games against Wicklow and Carlow will be very revealing.