There are a lot of questions surrounding a lot of teams in Division 1. After five games it looks like the semi final line up will consist of Dublin, Tyrone and Kildare with Cork in pole position for the final spot. Donegal can qualify if they win their remaining games but would lose out to Cork on a head to head decider if just the two of them finish on equal points. If either of the top 3 were to go pointless in their next 2 games then the decider between 3 or more would be score difference which would make for an exciting finish to the league at the top.
At the bottom there are four teams in danger of being relegated. Kerry, Down and Mayo all have two points with Donegal on four points not yet safe. Cork are on six points and are not safe themselves, as a loss this weekend to Kerry could leave them looking over their shoulder depending on results elsewhere.
Dublin – The Dubs have been the form team of the league. With a score difference of +32, this demonstrates how dominant they have been in some of their games, especially when beating Kildare by 13 points (they were unbeaten at the time) and Kerry by 10 in Killarney. They have shown a depth of talent in their squad and that coupled with their performances have made them favourites to win the All Ireland. Bernard Brogan has been fantastic, his 1-10 against Mayo being his best performance. Last week they lost to Tyrone, which may be no harm in order to keep the hype machine from running into over drive and also keep the squad focused that they do still have work to do. It is of concern thought that the game that Bernard Brogan did not feature in is the one they lost. Jim Gavin will want his side to not over rely on Brogan, something that is a danger. All manages know he is the danger and stopping him will be job number 1 for opposing managers. Dublin will have a big say in the All Ireland race and will be involved in the latter stages, but the league has shown they need others to step up if Brogan is absent or under par.
Tyrone – Mickey Harte’s men have performed very well in their first season back in Division 1 and should be very optimistic heading into the Summer. They, like Dublin, have 8 points and should, barring a highly unlikely run of results, make the semi finals. Tyrone will be happy to have beaten Donegal in the league, striking a psychological blow ahead of the championship meeting. Beating Dublin in Croke Park was another example of Tyrone being able to compete against the top sides, as well as their win in Castlebar against Mayo. Tyrone have had a lot of underage success in recent years and but for a Paul Durcan save late in the game, they would have beaten Donegal in last years championship. Because they have not competed for All-Ireland recently, got relegated to Division 2 and then well beaten in the championship by Kerry last year, the consensus is that they are not All Ireland contenders. The truth is that they very much are and will have a big say in this year’s championship.
Kildare – It was always said that Kildare needed to be operating in Division 1 to be able to compete to the best of their ability. They have this year so this excuse is gone for the Summer. Kildare have done very well in Division 1, winning 4 out of 5 so far. The way that they lost to Dublin however could leave a lasting mark should they meet again and also showed that Kildare have some work to do. Things looked like getting worse in Castlebar when they trailed Mayo by 6 points but they admirably fought back to win the game and get their league campaign back on track. Kildare have been competitive since Mc Geeney’s arrival but have yet to win any major silverware. A league title to add to the O’Byrne Cup won in January would have them in a winning and confident mindset when entering the championship. But it is a Leinster title that has eluded them and that defeat by Dublin could be a psychologically damaging blow. They have lost game to Dublin they should have won in recent years and it is the Dubs that will stand between Kildare finally landing silverware or not, it may be a challenge they still cannot overcome.
Cork – The Rebels started the league terribly, losing their first two games and looking like being embroiled in the relegation fight. Now they are the form team in the league, winning their last 3 games and looking at securing a semi final place. It was a late goal scored in Down to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat that propelled this winning streak, they then completed the Ulster treble beating Tyrone in Omagh and Donegal in Pairc Ui Rinn. Cork have dominated the league, winning the last three titles and they may well win number four this year. But it is All Ireland’s that Cork crave. There is no doubting they have a talented and physically imposing squad but the real questions for Cork start in August and that is where they will be hoping to provide their answers. They haven’t told us anything we didn’t already know.
Donegal – Donegal have largely experimented with some new faces and also with regulars in new positions. They can make the semi finals with two wins and if Cork lost both their remaining games, or if they win both games and end up level with three or more teams and shade have a better score difference. They are also in the relegation battle but would ease those fears with a win this week in Castlebar. With Donegal being largely experimental and also being later than most back to training, it is hard to use the league as a gauge for them in the Summer. Last year they had pretty much the exact same kind of league campaign, a win on the last day against Armagh kept them up. The way they play in the Summer requires a lot of fitness and this is hard to do in the Winter months when the pitches are heavier, fitness not as high and as well as training hard for the championship, it all means that we cannot judge Donegal in any way based on league performance and they will be hard to beat again in the Summer. The loss to Tyrone will be a boost to Mickey Harte’s men but it may also serve as a useful learning tool for Jim Mc Guinness as well as a reminder as to the danger of Tyrone. It is this loss that may be the thing that Donegal take most from the league.
Mayo – Mayo had a fantastic start to the league, beating Kerry by 6 points and holding them scoreless for 42 minutes. It has all unraveled since then with four defeats in a row, the worst form in the league and the worst run for a Mayo team since 1994. But this does not tell the whole story. Mayo have been competitive in all of the games they have lost which is encouraging in terms of performance. It is the lack of killer instinct in front of goal that has been the issue for Mayo. They have passed up numerous goal chances and at the highest level you get punished for not taking goal chances when they present themselves. Mayo have lost their games by 1 point, 4 points, 2 points and 1 point respectively so not scoring goals has clearly cost them. James Horan has also lamented the sloppiness which has been an element so far for Mayo. They have made handling errors and had turnovers that have cost scores which ultimately loses games. Relegation is a possibility for Mayo. A win this weekend against Donegal would help allay that possibility. Jason Doherty has been a bright spark for Mayo, scoring 24 points so far and showing he can be called upon for free taking duties. If Mayo can start scoring goals, get rid of the sloppiness it will make them dangerous again this Summer. An improvement on those aspects along with the return of Andy Moran and Alan Dillon and Mayo can be confident heading into the championship.
Kerry – Kerry have has a terrible league campaign. Going scoreless for 42 minutes in Castlebar and only scoring 1-6 is not what one associates with Kerry. They lost their opening 4 games and by some big margins, 10 points to Dublin being the biggest. They have also scored the least of any team in all of the divisions, again something not associated with Kerry. However, Eamonn Fitzmaurice has had to plan for the league without his big name players. Colm Cooper has not played in the league due his club being involved in the club semi finals and then taking a break before the Summer. Declan O Sullivan only returned last week for the Kingdom’s first win of their campaign against Down. Paul Galvin has only just returned too, so in the Summer the Kerry team sheet, particularly in the forwards will have a much different look. Kerry may well get relegated from Division 1 but they will still be very dangerous in the Summer with a full squad to choose from. What the league has shown is that Kerry over rely on a core group of players and this campaign may be a preview to leaner times when this group start to hang up the boots.
Down – Like Kerry, Down have just one win from their fives games. Like Mayo, they have been competitive in the games they have lost. The biggest margin of defeat was 5 points to Donegal, the most agonising defeat was to Cork who beat them by a point with a goal in the last minute of the game. Down’s one win came against Mayo and it is that win that has tightened up the relegation battle. Down have been looking at improving their defence this year after exiting the championship to Mayo in a 12 point defeat and losing the Ulster final to Donegal by 11 points. They have notably gotten more players behind the ball in the league to date. In Donal O Hare they have the joint highest scorer across all divisions. Down have always had talented players and will be hoping with an improvement in defence it will augur well for the Summer ahead. They may get relegated but if they have the balance right for the championship they will accept that.