League flops on alert after upwardly mobile Longford prove point
LONGFORD'S win in the opening match of the Leinster SFC last Sunday has provided some other contenders with a sizeable boost, while leaving five counties wondering if they are to join Laois as summer victims of the relegation chill.
Those who will have been encouraged by Longford's success are Kildare, Tyrone, Wexford, Wicklow and Fermanagh, all of whom were -- like Glenn Ryan's charges -- promoted in this year's Allianz Football League.
Laois set a bad example for relegated teams, losing to a side who were two divisions below them in the league. It doesn't augur well for Armagh, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly and Tipperary, all of whom made the drop last month.
Limerick were the only county to do well in the championship after being relegated in 2011, which suggests that confidence levels can be seriously lowered by dropping down a division.
The Treaty County reached the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-finals, via the qualifiers, after falling out of Division 3 -- they were beaten by Kerry in the last-eight, having lost heavily to the Kingdom in the Munster semi-final.
In fairness to Limerick, many counties would have suffered a similar fate against Kerry on both occasions but Maurice Horan's men did well in between -- unlike the other five relegated sides.
Galway, Monaghan, Antrim, Sligo and Waterford managed just three wins between them in the 2011 championship.
Indeed, Galway, Monaghan and Sligo failed to win a single championship game between them and were beaten in the qualifiers by counties who had been in lower divisions in the league.
Monaghan, who host Antrim in the first of the Ulster quarter-finals in Clones on Sunday, have suffered the trauma of dropping from Division 1 to Division 3 in successive seasons, leaving manager Eamonn McEneaney with a big challenge as he attempts to restore equilibrium.
"It's not what you want to happen but there were extenuating circumstances this year, in particular," said McEneaney.
"If we had been allowed to play our full quota of home games as usual (they were forced to play Galway in Longford as punishment for incidents during the clash with Kildare), I believe we would have stayed up."
Monaghan lost to a late Galway burst on a day when home advantage might well have provided them with the win which would have kept them in Division 2. They were also unlucky to be relegated from Division 1 last year, losing out to Armagh on the head-to-head rule after securing the same number of points.
Monaghan had a better scoring average than Armagh which would have kept them in Division 1 under the old rules.
Longford's win last Sunday, constructed off a spirited second-half recovery, will have been noted by Meath and Wicklow, albeit for different reasons.
Meath find themselves in a somewhat similar situation to Laois, who were relegated from Division 1 and lost out to a team who had been promoted from two divisions lower down.
Meanwhile, Wicklow, who won Division 4, are in a similar position to Longford as they prepare to tackle Meath, who dropped out of Division 2.
After a shaky start, Wicklow embarked on a six-match winning run which saw them secure the Division 4 title whereas Meath suffered five straight defeats as they plummeted out of Division 2.
The striking contrast in fortunes has left Wicklow supporters on optimism alert as their side seeks what would be only the county's second championship win over Meath.
Meanwhile, Monaghan have more scope for ambition this year when, unlike last season when they had to play 2010 Ulster champions Tyrone in the first round, they are up against an Antrim side which finished mid-table in Division 3.
Monaghan will be without Darren Hughes, Tommy Freeman and Eoin Lennon as their unfortunate injury run continues. Despite their league deterioration over the past two seasons, McEneaney says that resolve levels have remained very high.
"Of course, it's very difficult when you drop two divisions in a year but the players have shown huge commitment to the cause and are working incredibly hard.
"We're all in this together and there's certainly no shortage of effort. If we can win on Sunday, it would give us huge momentum but we need to be very careful because with the exception of Tyrone, nobody scored more goals in any division than Antrim," he said.
While relegation was a serious setback for Monaghan, they can point to a five-point win over Kildare as an example of what they can achieve when they hit a really good day.
"We were a long way from full strength that day but played extremely well. That's the level we need to deliver at more consistently," said McEneaney.
Other relegated teams will also be trying to harness the more positive aspects of their league performances in the hope of avoiding the fate which befell Laois last Sunday.
How teams who were relegated last year fared in the championship:
Division 1: Galway, Monaghan
Galway bombed in Connacht, losing to Mayo by six points before being beaten by Meath in the All-Ireland qualifiers, thus extending their run without a championship win against non-Connacht opposition to seven years.
Monaghan lost to Tyrone in Ulster, a defeat that was followed by a first-round qualifier exit as they lost by eight points to Offaly.
Division 2: Antrim, Sligo
Well beaten by Donegal in the Ulster first round, Antrim beat Westmeath and Carlow in the qualifiers before losing to Down by 12 points.
Sligo lost to Leitrim in Connacht, followed by a five-point defeat against Wicklow in the qualifiers.
Division 3: Limerick and Waterford
Limerick lost to Kerry in the Munster semi-final but launched a spirited revival in the qualifiers, beating Offaly, Waterford and Wexford before again losing to Kerry, this time in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Waterford were thrashed by Cork in the Munster semi-final, beat London in a Round 2 qualifier before losing to Limerick next time out.
Focus on the teams who were relegated this year
Division 1: Laois and Armagh
Laois lost to Longford last Sunday; Armagh play Tyrone on June 10.
Division 2: Meath and Monaghan
Meath play Wicklow on Sunday; Monaghan face Antrim.
Division 3: Tipperary and Offaly
Tipperary will play Kerry on Sunday; Offaly take on Kildare on June 16.