Eastern promise: Leinster football
NFL results suggest Leinster football is on rise again after years in the doldrums, writes Martin Breheny
IT has been a stone in Leinster's shoe for a long time, but could they be about to shake it out?
Without an All-Ireland senior football title since Meath's success in 1999 and without an Allianz League crown (Division 1) since Offaly won in 1998, Leinster has had to endure ongoing analysis of why, as the country's largest province, they have fallen behind their three rivals over the last decade.
Technically, that's still the case and will remain so until national titles start flowing east and most of the counties force their way towards the higher divisions.
As things stand, eight of 12 Leinster counties are in Divisions 3 and 4, while Dublin are their sole Division 1 representatives. However, if the current league is remotely reliable, then the signs are encouraging. With the exception of a seriously under-performing Meath, Leinster counties are making impressive progress in all four divisions.
Seven of their 12 counties are better placed than at the same stage last year and while technically Westmeath are worse off after dropping down to Division 3 this season, they have stabilised and are back in the promotion pack.
The overall indicators look good for Leinster, in marked contrast to Connacht, who may not even be represented in Division 1 next season.
There's a degree of uncertainty in Ulster, although there is evidence to suggest that, overall, their trend has been in a downward direction over the past two years, while Cork and Kerry keep Munster's graph consistently high, with the rest handicapped by being in the shadow of two superpowers.
For now, as NFL 2011 heads towards April, there's no doubt that Leinster has been the most upwardly mobile province. If Kilkenny are removed from the equation (and their presence is more cosmetic than real), Leinster have a much higher success ratio than the other provinces this spring.
After five rounds (six in Division 4), they are on 64pc, followed by Munster on 50pc, Connacht on 48pc and Ulster on 44pc. However, whether it develops into something really substantial or remains an unfulfilled eastern promise remains to be seen.
- Rankings on tables below relate to the current NFL standings of all counties, with last year's placings at the same stage in brackets.