Tuesday 23 July 2019

Significant jump for sides with designs on top flight

Meath manager Andy McEntee believes his team need greater exposure to the top teams and is targeting promotion. Photo: Sportsfile
Meath manager Andy McEntee believes his team need greater exposure to the top teams and is targeting promotion. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

When it came down to it last year, Tipperary, the lesser celebrated of the county's two senior teams, were just a win in Kingspan Breffni Park from a spring in the big time.

Had they beaten Cavan in their final Division 2 match of the season at the Ulster venue, the Premier footballers were heading for the premier league.

In the end they missed out late in the game, with Cavan snatching victory at the death against a 14-man Tipp team.

Perhaps it came as a surprise but speaking to the assembled media afterwards, Tipp manager Liam Kearns wasn't overly disappointed. In fact, he wasn't convinced that Division 1 was where his side needed to be. "I don't see promotion as being the be all and end all," he said in Cavan last year.

"Are you ready for Division 1? Are Cavan ready for Division 1? Kildare are a decent team but have come back down with no win at all, Division 1 is a poisoned chalice really.

"Six of the top teams are up there and the last two are up and down, maybe go up when you're ready to stay up there, that would be my thinking on it.

"We got plenty of good games in Division 2 and I don't think another year in Division 2 will do us any harm."

Cavan went up in their stead last year, along with Roscommon, the two teams who had come down the previous season. So it appears that winning a ticket to the big time is achievable. Staying up there and learning to operate at that rarefied level is something different altogether.

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Still for many it's a goal worth chasing. Andy McEntee is in his third season with the Royals now and made no secret of the fact that his side need to be playing top-flight football. In 2018, they took eventual All-Ireland finalists Tyrone to extra-time in Navan.

Narrowest

Twelve months earlier, they lost to Donegal by the narrowest of margins and his logic is that the more top-level exposure his side get, the more that can develop.

Kearns is unconvinced as to the merits of Division 1 football, McEntee believes it would do his side the world of good. The Royals have come close on a few occasions over the past few seasons but they are fifth in the betting in terms of the promotion race.

Donegal are clear leaders and can count themselves unlucky to have slipped out of the top flight last year having lost two games by just a point and managed a draw with Mayo on the final day which saw them drop down a division. Even without Paddy McBrearty until the summer as he works his way back after a season-ending knee injury, and their Gaoth Dobhair contingent who are hoping to stretch their run in the club championship all the way to St Patrick's Day, they still look to have the best squad.

Kildare are another team who could make waves. They were outclassed in the top flight last year and failed to win a game but should be better for the experience of that campaign as well as their three 'Super 8s' games.

Daniel Flynn is a significant loss but Paudge Fogarty is back and he can offer a different threat in attack, while Cian O'Neill will also look to introduce a number of the side that won the inaugural All-Ireland U-20 title last year. If he can get that mix right, they can return to Division 1.

Cork are third in the betting but on last year's form they have a lot to find to force themselves into the picture, while Kieran McGeeney's Armagh put down a promising January and were in contention with Tyrone for long periods of the McKenna Cup final. Jamie Clarke's return offers them a new dimension in attack after he spent 2018 playing for New York in the Big Apple.

Fermanagh and Clare are considered the outsiders of the group by the bookmakers but both have shown they can deliver big performances on the day but Kildare and Donegal are, on paper, a little ahead of the rest and they could bounce straight back up but the last few years have shown just how claustrophobic this division can be when there's so little between the sides.

Irish Independent

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