Sunday 17 December 2017

Football's divisional top dogs have big summer ambitions

Pat Flanagan
Pat Flanagan
Roscommon manager John Evans during the Allianz Football League, Division 2, Round 7, Westmeath v Roscommon (Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE)
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

John Evans, Kieran McGeeney and Pat Flanagan were all oozing ambition after a successful weekend in Croke Park, believing that divisional wins will be a help down the line when the intense championship pressure arrives in the summer.

The trio presided over respective wins for Roscommon, Armagh and Offaly in the Division 2, 3, 4 finals, completing satisfactory campaigns where promotion was, of course, an even more important prize than winning in Croke Park last weekend.

Longford were only one of the six who will be very disappointed with their Croke Park outing, losing heavily to Offaly, whom they meet in the Leinster Championship next month.

Roscommon: A great season so far, winning promotion to Division 1 after coming up from Division 3 last year. With only three 'home' games, it looked like a daunting challenge for the squad and John Evans, but they all rose to it with impressive efficiency. Their graph is pointed in a very favourable direction.

Now 3/1 behind Mayo (1/1) and Galway 9/4 in the Connacht odds, Roscommon have their first championship outing on May 24 against London in Ruislip.

Down: There were various distractions for Down on Sunday (an injury to Mark Poland before the game, the dismissal of Brendan McArdle in the first half), but, nonetheless, they would have been expected to be more creative. Still, they achieved promotion which leaves them in positive territory for the Ulster Championship, where they play Derry in Celtic Park on June 7.

Armagh: They were unlucky to drop in Division 3 last year so a quick return was a near-certainty.

They achieved it as champions, but now the big question is how life in the third tier will have prepared them for the Ulster quarter-final clash with Donegal or Tyrone on June 14. There's an encouraging precedent, of course, as Monaghan won the 2013 Ulster title after winning the Division 3 title.

Fermanagh: Whatever happens in the championship, it will have been a progressive season for Peter McGrath's men, who weren't regarded as likely promotion winners from Division 3 at the start of the season. However, they - and Armagh - had booked the escape chutes after six rounds. The Ulster draw is quite good for Fermanagh too, pitting them against Antrim in the quarter-final on May 31.

Offaly: Winning Division 4 titles is a long way from what the Offaly public used to regard as success, but it's the reality of where the squad is at present. The expressed aim of manager Pat Flanagan (above) is to get Offaly into the top two/three counties in Leinster in the next few years, an ambitious project even if the standard is not very high outside of Dublin. As of now, Offaly, together with Longford whom they meet in the Leinster Championship, are joint eighth favourites at 250/1 to win the provincial title this year.

Longford: Taking a 13-point defeat from opposition you're meeting in the championship three weeks later is scarcely the best preparation so Jack Sheedy's bewilderment after the defeat by Offaly on Saturday was understandable.

It was Offaly's first win over Longford in four clashes and has had a profound impact on the markets, which are quoting Flanagan's men as 4/9 favourites to beat the visitors (9/4) in Tullamore on Saturday fortnight.

Irish Independent

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